Shame told me my house is too messy to allow visitors to come inside, so it was tempting to say “no” when a friend asked me to host her college-student son as he traveled to his internship. But I hadn’t seen him for over 10 years, he is one of my favorite people, so while Shame told me I didn’t deserve to have him in my home, that he would be disgusted, I decided I didn’t want Shame to rob me of the reunion. I scrubbed the bathroom, cleared the kitchen sink and made sure there was space for the inflatable mattress on my dining room floor. We had a wonderful discussion late into the night about his career choice, and why he felt drawn to it. After breakfast at a diner, he was on his way, and while Shame tried to convince me that he was disgusted by the clutter, my knowledge of the Twelve Steps reminded me “It’s none of my business what other people think of me.” I was able to spend some time in the sunshine, out of Shame’s shadow.
When the email came inviting me to a Zoom meeting with friends from seminary days, Shame told me to either back out or participate without video. I have gained so much weight it would be embarrassing for others to see me as I am. Shame wanted to rob me of connections and friends. But despite the temptation and Shame’s whispers, I Zoomed, with video, and moved into the sunshine and further out of Shame’s shadow.
Shame whispers that we are not deserving of respect, friends, love, until … until we are slim, until we are tidy, until we are employed, until we have lots of money, we are successful, we have a good career, we do things right. Shame tells us not only did we make a mistake, we are a mistake (from The Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous). It’s not that we have problems, we are a problem.
People whom I dearly love struggle with stuff. Some are ashamed, and so don’t invite people in to fix things or help them: their worlds became small because Shame told them they didn’t deserve help or company, until they were better. Shame wants them and me, and anyone who will believe it, to think that not only should we do better, but we need to be better. The sense that we are not good enough casts a shadow that can make us feel doomed in any attempt to have a better life.
So the little steps I took these last ten days – welcoming a guest, letting former friends see I have gained a lot of weight – are deliberate choices to detoxify shame so I can live beyond Shame’s shadow in my life. That is one of the best gifts of Jesus to my life: God said I would never be good enough to deserve love, but instead to let God love me and then live my life based on gratitude for that unconditional, undeserved grace.
As my MBSR teacher says at the end of my meditation tape, “Remember there is much more right with you than there is wrong with you.”
Today’s Prayer Poem by Mary Oliver: “Wild Geese”
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.