Not embarrassed. Not ‘oh dear, that was awkward’. Not discomfort. Shame. The sort of word you lift out of the vocab box with kid gloves. The real deal. That deep, burning in the pit of your stomach, I want to turn myself inside-out and climb into the wardrobe and cover myself in coats and put my hands on my head and then screw my eyes tightly closed and shrink a bit more.
Shame is one of those feelings that can’t possibly apply to anyone but you. It stalks the weak and the weird. Normal people can shake it off with the raindrops. But for those with something to hide, it sticks and it grows and it whispers and bit by bit it eats your strength until you’re too tired to fight it and you lie down and say, yes. You’re right. That’s me. I am that thing.
Sometimes we can identify the source of our shame – an action or omission that makes us feel guilty and exposed. Yet even when we try to move on, it clings like a mist that blinds us in unexpected moments. We thought we’d left it behind, but it’s still there, looking for something to grab hold of.
One of my greatest shames is a lifetime spent fighting OCD and eating disorders. I hate being that girl. I want to lock her in a box and toss her in the ocean and delete her name from my address list and pepper her full of bullets and then run her over – just to make sure. But I can’t. She’s still me. She still likes sorting things into boxes and piles. She likes order and routine. She panics when ‘her’ seat in the coffee shop is taken. She gets into food ruts. She stockpiles. This month it is toilet rolls. Last week it was cat food and cleaning products.
I was reminded of this when shopping earlier in the week. The guy who served me made a comment – something like “You sure like apples!” Instantly, I felt like I was caught in a strobe-light. I’m just like I always was, I thought. He thinks I’m weird and that’s because I am. Nothing has changed. Sure I’m not trying to lose weight, but I’ve still got issues and I always will and I will never escape and what’s the point? Does it matter if instead of fighting hand-washing I’m now hoarding? I’m still totally messed-up and weird.
There’s a big difference between the girl who starved herself to death and the one who stockpiles Weetabix and grapefruit. But in another sense, she’s still there – and I know it. Not the one who wants to lose weight. But the one who thinks she’s weird and out of control and safer when she’s got certain stuff. The one who will still binge-eat when she feels low or clean the kitchen floor at 3am.
So what does this mean? That the gospel isn’t true? That I’m a fraud? Not redeemed? As guilty and ashamed as ever? Does my shame speak the truth?
Or… Is my redemption a process as well as an event? Is it possible that I can be flawed and struggling and yet – by God’s grace- moving forwards? That in the light of the gospel I really can be naked and yet – feel no shame? That although the Lord teaches us the same lessons, each time He goes a little deeper and his love penetrates more fully?
Is it possible that the Bible is true? That the Lord really does take my shame and nail it to the Cross? That I can say, ‘I’m messed-up but I’m forgiven’. That ‘getting better’ is an outworking of the love that is already mine, not the basis for it? That I have been given one verdict that will not change and reads like this: ‘Not guilty’. That there will always be areas in my life for ongoing repentance – but that the Lord can make even these things beautiful. That in the eyes of the world we might need to have it together or cover ourselves up – but grace, grace sets me free to stand in my nakedness and – incredibly – to feel no shame. Whatever I have done in the past. Whatever I struggle with in the present. Whatever my fears for the future.
‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord’. (Rom 8:38-9)