Updated on August 24, 2014
The Shame of Going Back
I stepped in the shower yesterday morning and paused, thinking about whether I would wear my hair curly or straight. I grabbed my new “microdermabrasion in a bottle” and starting scrubbing my face, hoping it would glow like I just had a facial. I washed my hair with my “straight hair” shampoo because I decided I look slimmer with straight hair than with curly hair.
I spent extra time on my make-up. Lots of concealer and making sure I got into all the nooks and crannies (aka wrinkles) with my foundation. I chose the eye shadows that I feel make my eyes look the brightest. I dried my hair carefully, spending extra time on that spot on the right that never looks quite right. I picked out my long black skirt to wear with my new black wedgy sandals. I tried on four different shirts before deciding on one. I chose my jewelry carefully, making sure to put on an eye-popping necklace that would draw attention away from the extra pounds I have put on.
Why all this fuss on a Saturday morning?
I was going back. Back to the church where I spent 18 years, five of those as the Women’s Ministries Coordinator. The church where I first experienced divorce and the heavy weight of shame that goes along with that kind of failure. The church where I was championed as a leader and given opportunities to lead women and develop leaders. The church where I sang in the choir, sang on the worship team, was the sister of a great youth pastor. The church wherein I was known.
Being known makes you vulnerable.
Because of changes in leadership, and my resignation from the staff, we moved on. I left the church I had called “home” for 18 years. It was hard to move on, and in hindsight, I wish I had never left. But it’s too late for that now. Twelve years later my life is nothing like it was then. I’ve struggled. I’ve experienced heartache I never thought possible. Because of that, I’ve grown into a different woman… one who is confident and assured. Since I left that church, I’ve experienced the effects of alcoholism on a family. I’ve experienced divorce. Again. I’ve experienced being a mom to kids who want nothing to do with my faith. I’ve experienced new love, new marriage. Healing. Those deep wounds that pulled me deep inside are scars now that bear the evidence of a life lived very “humanly.”
But did I say confident and assured?
Where was that woman yesterday? She, who fought her way to a sense of dignity. That woman became a jumbled mess of insecurity and questions when faced with going back to attend a women’s tea and hear a dear friend share her story.
While driving that old familiar route to church, I kept saying to myself:
Your value is not determined by others’ opinion of you.
Yeah that. It’s one of those “easier-said-than-done” things. My head knows what’s truth. My heart on the other hand, remembers only shame.
Shame. Deep, toxic, suffocating shame.
And another word: Exempt
I’m exempt you see, from ever being “in ministry” again. I’m exempt from telling my story in those traditional places and spaces. I’m outcast, damaged, unworthy, without value. I know that’s not how God sees me, but I just can’t help myself. That shame. It just won’t leave me alone. And I know that there are those who see me that way too. I failed at marriage not once, but twice. They can’t understand. They don’t know what I’ve been through. They have no idea about me. Why do they matter? No, why does their opinion matter?
I fought hard to come out of that place of hiding. I struggled with God and with myself trying to accept that, to him, I’m Beloved. And all I want to do is scream out in defense of myself and tell “them” that I have worth. I have a story that screams God’s grace and faithfulness. I am not damaged goods!
Instead, I chose hair and makeup and clothing to prove my worth. And then I remembered, a woman isn’t all of that. She is valued by The One who trumps it all. He calls me daughter. He calls me His Beloved. His opinion is all that matters and when I truly believe and rest in that love, I can be at peace, knowing there is no battle to fight. There is no worth to prove. There is no story to scream.
It really was a beautiful event. I’ll have more to say later on the story my dear friend told and how God used that in conjunction with several other things this weekend to show me His concern for me. I connected with many old friends… and they love me just as I am.
And another thing. I was reminded how very human I am. How shame hurts. How easily I fall back into that place. How the church has shamed so many people right out the door. How I wrote a paper in seminary about the “Shame-Based Church” and found this book:
And I remembered why I fight so hard to defend those whose lives and lifestyles are barriers to being accepted in the church. That church, that place of toxic shame isn’t The Church. The Church has no walls. It is you and me loving others and pointing them to Jesus, who calls them His Beloved. We are loved. We are worth it. We are enough.
Believe that today. You. Are. Loved.