Dear Shame

Recently, I’ve been reading through Scary Close, by Donald Miller. The book covers the topic of intimacy, vulnerability, and accountability. The book is incredible, and it’s made for a new favorite pastime; reading chapters aloud with my partner, then discussing what we learned. Try it.

One of the stories in the book tells about when the author was asked to recall the first moment shame entered his life. I remember mine…

It all began when I realized others not only saw me – but formed judgements about me. Up until that point, I saw life as somewhat of a game; it was playful, exciting, and carefree.

When I was introduced to the pain of judgement (or shame), I then saw life wasn’t just a game to play, but one where people kept points, advanced in rank/position, and could be swept off the board in the blink of an eye.

That moment. I remember it like a shot of lightning…

It was a Wednesday night, and I was headed to bible study at my church. Happy as ever, I was a 12 year-old kid who decided to come straight from playing volleyball at the local recreation center, wearing athletic shorts and my favorite t-shirt. Bright orange, it read “Jesus Freak” and I wore it with pride; knowing it was a gift from a friend, and it felt good to have friends that gave you gifts.

Walking through the halls of the church, I paused right in front of the doorway (you know, the one that connects the ‘old’ sanctuary to the ‘family life center’ and heard the words:

“That’s dorky.”

Those words were directed at me, shot like a dart by Kristin C.; several years older than me, who spoke them to a group of girls around her. Friends. Something I was struggling to find at the time.

It felt like the world closed in on me. I remember the feeling of my face blushing red with embarrassment; first, at the group of eyes staring at me. Next came a layer of shame when I realized their laughter was fueled by my embarrassment.

Welcome to life, kid.

I was too in shock to cry. That was also new to me; the repression of feelings, rather than free expression, as I did when I was a hungry newborn. Instead, I carried that shame home with me like a painful wound.

How do you explain embarrassment to a 12 year-old? How do you tell him he’s perfectly ok as he is, when he’s just been embarrassed by the ‘cool crowd’ at his church?

I didn’t know what the fix was, other than to never wear the shirt, or shorts, again.

I’ve never admitted it, but I’ve been living in shadow of those words for many years. Ever since I first heard them, I began to chase acceptance of the ‘in crowd’ – and deepened my belief that I was somehow ‘out’ simply for being myself.

Wanting to fit in is a miserable feeling, because you realize the parts of yourself you’re exchanging in an effort to be ‘cool’, which hasn’t rarely provide you with substance; the stuff that matters most when we’re old and wrinkly.

Many years later, I’ve come to my own terms with being cool. It’s no longer important to fit in, and I often marvel at the amount of energy I wasted trying to impress people who wouldn’t be present at my wedding.

If I could give words back to that 12 year-old, I’d tell him not to sweat it. Being yourself is a lot more rewarding than fitting in. Eventually it’ll hit you and you’ll understand.

Until then, rock the shorts and shirt. You had fun at volleyball, didn’t you?

 

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