“You are the worst mom in the whole entire universe!” I hear this as a door slams in my face. And how do I get this amazing title? Is there something terrible I have done to my sweet, innocent child? Not likely. Usually I hear this phrase when I have just caught said child doing something wrong. I may not have even raised the idea of punishment yet, but my son knows it’s coming. So he runs to his room, places the blame on me and my poor parenting skills, and refuses to discuss it. “Can we at least talk about this?” I ask. “NO! Go away!” responds the sweet, innocent child.
And so my child has a choice to make. He can remain in his room, feeling shame for whatever wrong he committed, letting his resentment toward me grow. He can continue feeling alone, unloved, and unworthy. Or he can come to me, tell me what he did, apologize, and make it right. At which point he will hear me confirm (for the hundred thousandth time) how much I love him no matter how many times he messes up, and he’ll receive a big hug.
Thankfully, he has learned to choose the hug. If only we all could learn this same lesson.
I recently read an amazing follow-up book to The Shack, called The Shack Revisited by C. Baxter Kruger, PH.D. One of the many lessons that book pointed out to me was how our deep and agonizing shame drives us away from God. It all started with Adam and Eve in the garden.
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” ~Genesis 3:9-10
We are ashamed of our sin, and rather than discuss it with God, we choose to hide ourselves and tell God to just go away. This starts a relentless chain of events, snow-balling and driving an ever-growing wedge between us and our Father. When we finally start to really feel the pain of the loss of that relationship, we look back toward God and see the huge chasm between us. It’s overwhelming. How will we ever get back? How will He ever accept us now, after all we have done and said and become?
So like a child in a room, we are faced with a choice. Should we start the humiliating and excruciating walk to get back to our Father’s arms, which will result in a warm and loving hug? Or should we keep pretending He’s not there, He doesn’t want us or love us, and move forward as we’ve always done?
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. ~Matthew 7:13-14
It won’t be easy to cross the chasm we have created. And some who do find the narrow path back will decide it’s still too hard; their shame is too great to think God will accept them.
Jesus shared a great parable to help us understand why that logic is flawed. It’s found in Luke 15:11-32. The son in this story was so sinful that he didn’t feel worthy to be called his father’s son anymore. He decided to settle for servant. So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
The father didn’t wait until the son was perfect and fixed and all cleaned up. He ran to him while he was still a long way off from perfect. And it gets even better. The father doesn’t just hug his long, lost, sinful child. He throws him a party with the best of everything he has to offer!
I don’t know about you, but I want my hug. And a party where everyone is rejoicing because I finally made it back sounds pretty good too.
So how do we start that hard walk of shame back to our Father?
I didn’t know it at the time, but a couple of years ago my best friend gave me the exact tools I needed to start this walk. (That’s how the Holy Spirit works – using magic you can’t always see or understand at the time! Just go with it, you’ll understand later!) She introduced me to the work of Brené Brown, who has done extensive work understanding the concepts of shame and vulnerability. I especially found the books The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly to be the most helpful. Brené also has a great TED talk called The Power of Vulnerability that I highly recommend.
And why is this so important? Because to get back to God, I had to understand shame and what it was doing to my self-worth. I had to get to a point where I could face the shame, so I could face my Father. How did I do that?
1. I had to learn to admit my sins to myself. It helped me to actually write them down and stare them in the face. If I didn’t think I was worthy of my own love and forgiveness, who else could possibly love and forgive me?
2. I had to get comfortable being vulnerable with other people and understand that I am worthy of their love. Whether they choose to love me is irrelevant. I just need to know that I am capable of being loved, faults and all. I started in a “safe” environment by just admitting my screw ups to my best friend. Then I apologized to people I knew I had hurt. I found it especially important to apologize to my kids and spouse when I fail them. I saw first hand how my failures did not affect their love for me. In fact, having these conversations has made our relationships stronger and more meaningful.
3. Only then could I start to comprehend how the Creator of the universe loves me. A terrible sinner. Only then was I strong enough to truly admit my sins to Him, because I had been practicing with others. And now that the air is clear, and I’m practiced at coming to my Father, it’s not just happening when I sin. I come to Him when I’m happy, or sad, or excited. It’s a real relationship.
It will take a while to get through this first shameful part of the walk. That’s okay. The work is worth it, and God is patient.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. ~2 Peter 3:9
Learning that He is patient with me, that He loves me, and He desperately wants me to come to Him offered me hope. Hope made me think it’s possible to get back across that chasm of sin I created. Hope made me think that if I work with the Holy Spirit, instead of slamming the door and telling Him to go away, the wedge would be removed much faster. I started to picture the difficult walk becoming a fast run back to my Father’s outstretched arms. As the feeling grew, my momentum grew. I could feel the light on my face, the warmth in my heart growing and growing.
Yet even as I raced towards Him, I tripped and fell again. And as this journey continues, I will repeatedly trip and fall. And I will find myself back in my room facing my shame and fear.
Satan’s greatest weapon is fear, and when you start racing toward God, I guarantee Satan will get out his weapon. Be ready, and don’t let him use it this time. Don’t hide from your Father. Run to Him and tell Him what you’ve done. Work with Him to make it right. Allow Him to hug you and tell you for the hundred thousandth time how much He loves you no matter what. Feel the warmth of His love growing and growing and growing.
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. ~Isaiah 40:31