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How to Be Free From Shame and Disappointment

How to Be Free From Shame and Disappointment

He rounded the bend and eyed the knotty pistachio trees standing like ancient, faithful guards along the path. The path he had run a thousand times against his older brother, racing down and back to see who was faster. Conveniently, the day he beat his brother, his brother declared his retirement from foot races.

But this time was much different. He labored up the hill, already beaten, shoeless. His blistered feet mirrored his pride. With each tree he passed, he rehearsed his speech, recited his story. “Father, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son, but maybe you can hire me?”

Scared and scarred, he approached home.

His father had been watching and waiting, months passing by on the front porch. His employees kept quiet around him, did their work and minded their business. Another setting sun, the color of honey sliding down a fresh, warm raisin cake, signaled the day was ending.

But then they heard it. The pounding of sandals against dusty, dry ground. What was that? They looked at the porch. Was their master . . . running? Were those his bare legs? What in the name of Jacob’s Well was going on?

When the father saw his son, his heart flooded with compassion. And he started running. Compassion will do that: make a grown man sprint. He fell upon his son, kissing him with the seal of forgiveness. All this before his youngest said a word.

Most likely you’ve heard this story one hundred times or more. The prodigal son, the loving father, the entitled older brother.

But it’s the way the son rehearsed his story that caught me a few years back. Because it was my line, too. And mostly like yours.

I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter.

That’s the story of shame. Telling us not only did we do something bad or something bad was done to us, but now this makes us bad apples. We are no longer worthy to be called sons and daughters. But maybe, if we’re lucky, we can clean the castle toilets and earn a rusty old bed and a tattered worn blanket in the basement.

I lived with a great deal of shame for years. For me, it began with sexual abuse—which bred a cycle of perfectionism and failure, anxiety and fear, disappointment and hiding. I had a variety pack of shame-managing behaviors.

Shame will tell us our shoeless feet have no home, our self-inflicted scars have no hope. Shame whispers to us how damaged we are, how much damage we’ve done. Shame tries to starve us from the healing Good News of Jesus; it tries to starve us from using good tools like spiritual practices, therapy, medicine, and community.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, researcher, psychology professor, and bestselling author Brené Brown asserts that the remedy to shame is to move into a space of empathy. This space will include courage, compassion, and connection.

And in Luke 15, Jesus painted this exact picture.

The moment the son chose to turn around and walk home, he chose courage in the face of his shame. The moment the father saw his son, he felt compassion overflowing. The moment the father embraced the son, there was a healing connection.

Jesus told this story to water our thirsty souls. He knew we needed a new nourishing narrative. This story has been such a gift in my journey to finding freedom and hope from shame. I come back to it over and over, seeing new things almost every time. My Father’s arms leave no room for shame.

So how do we do this? How do we let this story be our story?

We make a spiritual diet change.

But, dearest reader, please hear me. I am not here to heap more productivity or performance onto your plate. I hope to take a compassionate look at the plate you already have and to swap out what is starving your soul for what will nourish it.

So I offer three practices. I offer three meal replacements to move us from shame, anxiety and disappointment to freedom and hope.

Instead of hiding, practice vulnerability.

For me, hiding looks like perfectionism: keeping everything ordered and tidy, having my to-do list mastered, and responding to others’ questions about how I am feeling with a canned answer which is fairly honest, but not quite vulnerable. All of these practices prevent true connection.

I wish vulnerability—bringing shame to light—wasn’t so critical. But if the son hadn’t turned around and come out of hiding? He would have missed the connection with his father. He would have remained shoeless, felt unworthy, and perhaps starved.

But to come out of hiding doesn’t mean you must clean yourself up and work harder. It means you simply come as you are, a ragamuffin in need of the relentless grace of God, just as Brennan Manning taught us.

Around the 75th time I read Luke 15, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before. Not only does the father meet his son with a compassionate embrace, but he also gives his son gifts. In the face of selfish squandering, the father restores the son from his very own closet. He gives his son the best robe, a ring, and new sandals. A robe was a covering and a symbol of restoration into the family. The ring had his father’s signet on it, saying who it belonged to. And then finally sandals. Only sons wore sandals; slaves went shoeless. Each item is rich with significance and identity, and could have only been given when the son came out of hiding to face the father.

So for us, how do we practice vulnerability?

First, ask the Holy Spirit to show you a compassionate friend to share your story with—someone who can be the arms of Jesus to you. And then take a brave step to share with them. Secondly, seek counseling or therapy to help you see what you cannot about shame in your life. Thirdly, trust God is the keeper of your soul and your story. He has you and keeps you when you step out in vulnerability (see Psalm 121:5). Fourth, ask God to restore your soul (see Psalm 23:3) and be attentive to how he will do that. God gave me a new story of his rescue from abuse when I was reading Psalm 18. Ask Him to speak to you.

Instead of rehearsing shame, rehearse the Father’s compassion upon you.

Jesus gave his hearers a new way to imagine God in Luke 15. There are five verbs assigned to the father in verse 20 that are worth memorizing and rehearsing to yourself.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20, NIV

God sees you, even in your hiding. He is filled with compassion for you. He is running toward you because He wants you close to Him. He is throwing his arms around you and restoring you with kisses. Use your holy imagination to picture the Father doing this for you, often. Rehearse this story each morning and ask God to renew and transform your mind (see Romans 12:2).

Instead of scrolling for relief, sit in silence and receive God’s love for you.

Our souls are starving for silence, the space-making practice to receive God’s love. And so often, it’s the last thing we want to do. To be fair, sometimes scrolling our phones can bring a much-needed break or distraction. But so often the break becomes a habit, and we lose the ability to practice silence. Silence makes space for us to hear God. Silence helps us practice being loved, simply because we breathe. Silence is a long-lost spiritual practice.

Start small. Try a few minutes at a time. Find a cozy spot, put your phone away, slow your breathing. Richard Foster, in his timeless book Celebration of Discipline, suggests an exercise called Palms Down, Palms Up. Face your palms down for a few minutes, naming and releasing your anxieties and fears. And then, after you have released all you can, face your palms up in a posture to signal you are ready to receive God’s love and compassionate heart for you. Simply enjoy being loved in God’s presence.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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