Rejecting Shame

In second grade, I got paddled at school nearly every day for about a month. 

First, you should know that this was back in 1975, and I went to a fundamentalist Christian school, which eagerly espoused the idea that if you "spared the rod," you would most certainly "spoil the child."

So, the reason for my oft-daily whooping was that I had difficulty concentrating and forgot to bring my subject notebooks to my desk from the cubby hole where they were kept when we changed subjects throughout the day.  

The rule in the classroom was when you forgot your notebook, you got a mark.  When you got three marks, you got a paddling. 

I forgot my notebooks a lot. 

The paddlings would occur before the end of the day at a time of the teacher's choosing, and they always happened in the girls' restroom. There would be three licks with a reasonably large paddle designed for such occasions.  

Everyone in the classroom would see you being led away to your doom, listening for the blows that would follow, and then staring at you as you walked back to your desk, red-faced and fighting back the tears. 

While this was not my first brush with the power of shame, it was definitely one of the most indelible. 

It was shame that got me to figure out how to control what I now know was a form of ADHD and launched me on a path where shame became the most powerful motivator in my life. 

Shame teaches you that you aren't enough, aren't worthy, deserve punishment, and are most likely a worthless wretch. 

We learn the power of shame at an early age, and it often follows us throughout our life, guiding our decisions (or indecision), dictating how we interpret failures and missteps and offering us very little in the way of genuine growth.  

I recently read this excellent quote from Melody Beattie that is not only instructive but also life-giving: 

Learning to reject shame can change the quality of our life. It's okay to be who we are. We are good enough. Our feelings are okay. Our past is okay. It's okay to have problems, make mistakes, and struggle to find our path. It's okay to be human and cherish our humanness. 

That last line really does it for me:  "It's okay to be human and cherish our humanness."  This speaks to me of the love of God for us.  As Fr. Richard Rohr has said, "God becomes what God loves," and this mysterious truth gives me such hope.  

You see, each of us is cherished by a God who cherishes our humanness so much that God became one of us to rescue all of us.  

I'm talking about Jesus here, in case you were wondering, and it's Jesus who helps us see how God values humanity--so much so that God is willing to do whatever it takes to demonstrate God's love to us. 

How can we not, in turn, learn to accept even the brokenness, lostness, and mistake-proneness of being human?  How can we not learn to reject shame, and begin to love ourselves as God loves us? 

May we have the strength to do this today and every day from this day.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, now and forever. Amen. 


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