Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Releasing Shame

By Tanya Warrington

A Sesame Street book taught me a revolutionary principle when my children were young. As I read the often requested book to my kids, it's truth sunk into my soul. The book's title, Everyone Makes Mistakessaid it all. Big Bird had a rough day of blunders, including pulling down a long line of freshly cleaned laundry down onto the ground.

In my childhood, I would have been sweating and worrying big time if I did something like that. Most likely I would have paced, feeling frenzy and panic, debating with myself what I should do. I would have thought of going in and making a confession and bravely bearing whatever the consequences were. I would have thought about running off to a friends and behaving as if I knew nothing about the situation. I surely would have felt like running. I hated how small and helpless I felt under my mom's fury that was sometimes icy and silent and other times quite loud with yelling and punctuated by spanking or yanking. I would consider the possibility of confessing to my dad, because sometimes he seemed nice, but most of the time he seemed very gruff and angry in a very controlled way, and he had a way of making me feel utterly stupid.

And then there was the secret that I tried to keep even to myself. The horrible incest that tore me apart and felt like it would kill me. My dad was the one who did those things to me. So I avoided my dad when I could and felt relief when he did something nice or when he was distant and unapproachable.

The options just weren't pretty in my non-picture book life. But I was a good girl. What sense of self I had was tied up in trying to please my parents and earn their affection. I was never good enough but I kept on trying anyway. So, I would have told the truth. I would have faced consequences, feeling brave inside and proving it by trying to suppress the tears that threatened to spill. I would have felt like a failure. I would have been "ashamed of myself," just as my mom chastised me to be so many times. I would have felt so small and worthless--because I messed up and did something wrong, again, despite good intentions.

But in the Sesame Street book, Big Bird doesn't hear, "Shame on you!" No, he didn't. He heard life-giving acceptance of our common human condition, even though he was a bird. He was told over and over, "Everyone makes mistakes" and was allowed to fix the results of his mistakes. As I recall, he even re-washed the laundry with the kind help of an adult.

My children loved the book and so did I, after I wrestled through my old memories that were so contrary to the simple picture book. One day when I apologized to my daughter about missing an important date on the calendar, she smiled at me and said, "It's okay, Mom, everyone makes mistakes." Such a gift she gave me! I felt like weeping, but I gave her a smile and said, "You're right! We all make mistakes sometimes, don't we."

I wonder how many readers of this post have battled with shame. Misplaced shame is a common result from abuse. We feel deep shame over small things and feel absolutely buried under shame when we make mistakes that hurt others. And we feel shame that is really beyond description over the abuse that we did not initiate and could not control. We felt and continue to feel the shame that the abuser refuses to feel.

Once we are free from abuse, it takes time to let go of shame. Time to show kindness to ourselves when we truly do make a mistake. Time to refuse shame when it really belongs to the abusive person(s) of our memories. Healing takes time, but it does happen when we allow it. Our Lord is powerful, good, and kind in his ways and he is ready to give us a big, gentle hug as He wipes away our stress with an understanding smile. "It's okay. Every human on the planet makes mistakes. Share your pain and confusion with Me, I'll comfort you and help you sort things out."

We don't have to keep carrying shame. Jesus can take it away and leave us with peace and gratefulness. One memory at a time, one day at a time, we can walk with Him and release the shame.

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