I heard someone say many years ago that the reason we don’t like to be known by others is because if they were to see us as we really are, they might not like us. All we have is ourselves and nothing is more painful or debilitating as believing that at the very core of your being, you are not enough. And no matter what you do, you believe nothing will change that.
The shame of being me has been a dark, looming shadow that has followed me since my early childhood. It didn’t matter in which direction the sun shone, the shadow was always there. In fact, the brighter the sun, the darker my shadow would get as if to remind me that I didn’t deserve this moment. It reminded me often not to get too comfortable. It stalked me, hid behind corners, and mocked me at every chance it got. Not knowing its name made it all the more formidable.
It hid in my cupboard and under my bed like a bogey man. Its presence shrouded me with a heavy, but yet vague sense that something was seriously wrong with me. As a child, I used to be afraid of getting in bed at night in case there really was something hiding under there, so when it was time to sleep, I would run and jump onto my bed before whatever was under there, could grab my foot and pull me under. That’s exactly what I did with this intimidating force called shame. I ran from shame in the same way I did from the fictitious bogey man. And I kept running.
The thing with shame is that while it is hidden, it can’t truly be outrun, outmaneuvered, consoled or satisfied and as much as I tried, I discovered I couldn’t even reason with it, unless I wanted it to shout even louder. It was so excruciatingly painful, so out of sheer self-preservation, when I was 9 years old, I gave shame a personality, swapped out my most terrifying emotions and hated characteristics for ones I thought would give me value and worth, and gave her the trash that was me. I had successfully created another little person, albeit an evil, haunted one, and even gave her a name. I ensured she was banished into a forest that was as deep as it was dark to ensure she couldn’t find her way out. And she’s lived there for nearly 40 years.
After I had banished shame to the forest, what was left of me was an obsession for everything to be perfect, I was driven to do well, trying so hard to never make mistakes and flagellating myself when I did. I did far more than I was ever asked to, as if to make up for not being enough. When I was asked to lead a ministry at church, I thought I had finally arrived. On the one hand I finally felt like someone, felt important and believed at last that I was worthy enough to belong. As if being a ministry leader could ever add anything to my life. On the other hand, I felt completely inadequate and spent the first year trying to convince God that I was worthy enough to be called a leader and that He had actually made the right decision in calling me into that role. I did everything in my power to stay away from the edge of that forest and keep that little girl there, well out of sight.
For many reasons, when I stepped down from ministry, my sense of unworthiness completely engulfed me. The forest sucked me in and I came face to face with the girl I’d imprisoned there. It felt like I was haemorrhaging shame.
In spite of my faith crisis, I still believed that God should just remove my shame with a few prayers and and a couple of scriptures later, I’d feel whole again. You know, that quick fix we as Christians seem to fall for. Go for the first aid kit and stick a plaster on the wound. Instead God wheeled me into the operating theater where He kept me for 9 months of surgery. He slowly stripped away each layer of what I now understand to be shame, until it felt like every layer of skin had been removed from my body and each nerve was exposed. I felt so completely raw.
I was terrified to look at myself because I didn’t know if things would be any different once it was over. It took so long to strip everything back and I wondered if at the end of this particular chapter, I’d find I still wasn’t enough. What if I went through all this only to have my inadequacies substantiated? It was frightening to feel so vulnerable. I’ve honestly never felt so broken. But in my brokenness I started to feel liberated. One thing I’ve learned about shame: it has to be exposed. Through exposure, it loses its power to control and you find your voice again which can shout just as loudly as the shame ever did.
I started to taste freedom. At first it was just freedom to be broken, free to be a Christian and a mess at the same time and freedom to not have it all figured out. I no longer cared if people knew what mess I was in. I had faced my worst enemy and realised in the process that God hadn’t turned away from me. He had walked, sat and cried every step with me.
I’m learning how to dig trenches in a different field now, called ‘I AM ENOUGH’. It’s an uphill struggle and I haven’t arrived yet, but when I look back down the road, I can see how far I’ve already come. I am broken, but I am free!
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8