I have crooked toes.
The second toe on each foot makes a 45 degree turn away from my big toe. I'm not sure if it holds intense resentment towards the big toe, or just desperately wants to cuddle with my third toe, but either way, it has issues. I probably went a good 10-15 years avoiding sandals because of the shame these toes created in me.
"Oh, wow, what's wrong with your toe?"
"Does it hurt?"
"What happened to it?"
"Must be tough to wear sandals..."
These toes created a lot of shame in my life. And they're JUST TOES!
I wish all shame could be as light hearted as a strange toe love triangle. But that's not reality. The truth is, shame is often a deep painful wound in our life. Sometimes our shame is the result of poor choices, mistakes, or failures. Other times, our shame comes from something that happened to us or something that we were deprived of. Our shame might stem from something that happened decades ago. Or, it might be from some something that happened last week. Often, we can feel ashamed just because of who we are.
I've carried a lot of shame in my life, and it's from more than just crooked toes. I was also made fun of all the time about my right ear. For some reason, I have the right ear of a vulcan, while my left ear remains more like Captain Kirk. I got called Spock and Alf all the time, and I hated it. It’s one of the reasons I kept my hair longer in high school.
In elementary school, I wanted desperately to fit in with the "cool" kids. And finally I did, But more as the guy thy liked to pick on. I was the weird kid. I could make them laugh, but I also puzzled them with my bizarre antics, crazy catch phrases, and spastic energy. In high school, I felt like many of the teachers saw me as a loud, unfocused, talkative, underachiever. Probably because I was.
Each of these began to lay a foundation of shame in my life that carried into adulthood. So every time my voice cracked while singing, every rejection from a girl, every up and down battle with my weight - they just added new bricks to what was already built. And because I never let anyone know, I never pursued or allowed the loving, supportive intervention sledgehammers to step in and to break down these thoughts.
Now that I'm reflecting on my past, I could probably fill up an entire post with things that have created shame in my life. But I just wanted to highlight a few, each of which were shameful issues about who I am. They can be summarized by two statements:
I am a reject.
I am defective.
Perfection Is Overrated
Show me someone who's perfect, and I'll show you a liar.
Shame is almost always the driving factor in our desire to put on a mask, carefully sculpt an image, and live as someone else. We can create our idealized self to keep our shameful self protected. This way, if we experience rejection, it's not us, it's our alter-ego. Living this way might prevent us from getting hurt. But it is also a guaranteed recipe for living in loneliness.
There's a book I read several years ago called Everyone's Normal 'Till You Get To Know Them. The author, John Ortberg starts off the book talking about how items on a clearance rack are sold "as is" because of a flaw or defect. Each of us also has an "as is" tag, something we try to keep hidden to feel more valuable or prove our worth to others. We all have something about us that we aren’t proud of.
It wasn't until a couple of months ago when I discovered those feelings of being a reject or defective. I've been working through issues of self-worth for quite a few years now, but getting to the root of those two phrases has been such a powerful breakthrough for me.
Stepping Out Of Shame
This mission of BEHIND THE IMAGE is to encourage people to step out of shame, face their fears, and find freedom. It's time for us to take the first step. We have to start taking off our masks.
Now, I'm not crazy (shhhh....I know what you were about to say). I'm not saying we need to go up and reveal our deep rooted shame to strangers. "Hi, my name is ________, and I've hated myself for decades. What's your name? And would you like to see my crooked toe?"
I am asking that we stop for a moment and begin to picture what a life of freedom from shame could look like. Can we imagine a scenario where we aren't crippled by the things we feel ashamed of?
Unfortunately, there's no quick fix to our shame. "Hey readers, if you'll just follow my easy three step process, I guarantee you'll feel 87% less shame in three months." This isn't some late night infomercial; we can't P90X this bad boy. But, I can encourage you to start on your journey with three words...
Talk about it.
What do you have in your life that creates shame?
Is it something about who you are? Is it something that you've done, a result of choices, mistakes, or failures? Or is it something that has happened to you?
Who do you have in your life that you can share some of this shame with?
I'm not going to tell you who that should be. But I can tell you what helped for me and offer a few suggestions. My journey began in the church, but not necessarily on a Sunday morning. It happened in small groups. It happened through meetings with my pastor. It happened through genuine and trusting relationships who had something that I lacked: the ability to love themselves.
Some of our shame is a result of traumatic events that have occurred to us. In those instances, I highly recommend seeking out the help of a professional. In fact, I recommend talking with a counselor regardless of the cause of your shame. Talking with a counselor doesn't mean that you are broken or damaged. It means you are stuck and need some help.
Our shame could be as simple as an environment issue (no, not global warming). What if some of our shame was simply because we are a square peg trying to force ourselves into a round hole? I guarantee If you hire me to be an administrative assistant, it will probably only take me about nine minutes to feel a sense of shame. I'm just not wired that way.
The greatest source of healing in my life has come through developing a trust in who God says I am. There's a scripture that I memorized that has changed my life:
For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus to do the good works he prepared for us long ago.
Of all the things that I find beautiful and special in the world - an incredible sunset, a breathtaking view of mountain peaks through the clouds, the powerful sounds of the ocean - He calls US His masterpiece. We aren't junk. And even if we have things that we deem as "defective," he wants to redeem them and use those "defects" for the benefit of others. Step out of shame. Face your fear. Find freedom and purpose in who you were created to be. Be you, because you are a masterpiece and there is no one else like you. If you pretend to be someone else, then the earth is robbed of the special gift that you can bring to it.
Join The Conversation
Do you struggle with shame? If so, what kind? Is it because of who you are? What you've done? What's been done to you? Or are you on a journey of healing and restoration as a result of previous feelings of shame. Share your comments below or contact me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn.
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