You know the feeling. A cold, clenched stomach. Darkness. A pounding heart. All you want to do is hide. You beg the eyes fixed on you to disappear but they won’t. They gape and you wonder what they must think, how they must see you. You feel worthless. Exposed.
I’m talking about shame.
Is there a more miserable feeling?
Growing up with a seizure disorder left me with plenty of fodder for times to reflect on this feeling. Most of the time I felt normal. Included. And then suddenly, my world would go black. Time would stop. I felt as if I were walking out of a dark hole where time had disappeared and I couldn’t quite place what was wrong. Slowly, sleepily, I would come to the realization that everyone was staring at me.
It was odd and terrifying. Surreal and confusing. Yet there was little I could do.
Of course, there are other moments of shame that stick out in my memory. For instance, playing on the basketball team my junior year of high school. The ball had bounced around on the rim before I managed to brush my fingers across it, pulling down the rebound before using the adrenaline in my body to immediately put the ball right back up. It fell through the net with a satisfying swish.
It would have been a glorious moment if that particular shot hadn’t been for the opposing team.
Anyone who has a pulse has experienced the horrid emotion of shame at some point. Sometimes we can look back on those moments and laugh them off. Other times, the pain cuts too deeply, its scars are too jagged and thick for laughter. Just thinking about that moment causes us to relieve the shame all over again.
Thankfully, I feel that cold emotion far less these days. Not because I don’t mess up just as much as ever but I’ve learned that shame is a fiery dart flung by the enemy. He wants me to wallow in misery, to turn in on myself like a hermit crab, to push people away. But I refuse to do it anymore.
Several days ago, I was driving in the car with my kids, reflecting on these very thoughts. We had been enjoying a fun day, one of those rare times when everybody was in a good mood and the laughter was infectious. I reached an intersection where a huge log truck was preparing to turn left. I slowed early to allow the driver plenty of room to turn but he had other ideas.
He wanted me to go first, to turn left despite the fact that I couldn’t see who might be approaching from the other direction. When I hesitated, he threw up his hands and began screaming at me from the cab of his truck. Ugly words. Hateful words. It didn’t take a lip reader to understand what the irate man was saying, ahem, cussing at me.
And suddenly my happy balloon burst as feelings of inadequacy and hurt rushed over me. After all, he was cursing me out right in front of my kids, compounding the insult. And they noticed.
My good mood dissipated for a moment before I remembered a verse I’d studied the week before.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” -2 Corinthians 4:7
We have this treasure…Jesus.
It doesn’t matter what that cranky driver thought of me. I have this treasure…
It doesn’t matter when I’m accused or when mean people lie about me. I have this treasure…
It doesn’t matter what society tells me about how I must look or how to cling to the fading scraps of youth. I have this treasure.
I have Jesus.
This simple reminder is a shame buster. It’s impossible to want to hide and cower in fear when you remember that Jesus is crazy about you. He’s living in you. He took all that shame on Himself and crucified it to the cross. It’s gone and you’re free. You have a Treasure the rest of the world doesn’t understand and many can’t claim.
As I drove away, I patted my chest with my free hand and whispered to myself, “But I have this treasure….” And I left the screaming, miserable truck driver in my rear view mirror.
No matter how you’re treated, remind yourself that if you’ve been redeemed, you have this treasure. No one can take it away. It’s yours to keep.
And it’s the perfect way to stop shame in its slithering tracks.