I just heard a story about an 18 month old who woke from her nap and called out from her crib with joy filled expectancy, “see me, see me!” When her Mama went into her bedroom to see her she was covered with Vaseline that she snagged from her changing table and smeared all over her head and face. She was proud of what she did and couldn’t wait to show her mama. I could only imagine the look on her mom’s face when she saw the mess. I bet it was anything less than the joy that the young girl was expecting. It is in moments like these where we learn shame. Kids come into the world free from shame, and little by little it gets dripped and dumped upon them.
One role I played in my family of origin was to be the shame receptacle. I used to move through the chaos like a clown holding a huge bin. “Got it! I got it!” I wear a form fitting shame suit like skin with my steel toed shame boots and my spider man like shame head and face covering. It is inescapable and debilitating. I don’t think anyone ever assigned me this job, I think I chose it on my own. I am hypersensitive. Because I have always felt so deeply, I often feel on behalf of those who are numbed out or unable to feel for themselves. I read it on faces and in tone and body language. I study behavior and know intuitively feeling – both my own and those around me. I am a peacemaker. If I see or sense a fight or a mess, I would love to avoid conflict at all costs. To swallow the shame like a hoover, felt like a good way, at the time to keep the peace and clean up the mess. What happens when you eat shame and swallow it whole? The mess and chaos live and dwell and have their being within you. It blocks the flow of Spirit, and prohibits you from living into the life that is really life.
I believe one of our most primal needs is to be seen and known. It brings me great comfort that the almighty God of the universe cares about me enough to see me and seek me even when I hide from him in my shame and fear. In the beginning of the bible in the book of Genesis, God created man, and women, and all was good (for about 10 minutes). When sin entered, they hid from God. Even though God knows everything, he met them in their hiding with a question: “The Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). I believe He still asks this same question today. When I am feeling alone and far from God, I want to curse and cry out “My God, why have you abandoned me?” If I am really honest, I know that it is not God that has left me, but me who has turned my face from Him in my shame. How am I to look upon the face of God when I am covered with shame and cowering in fear and terror?
Through engaging my story, I have become aware of my biggest tendency to sin against God which is playing small, and hiding/ cowering in fear and shame. As I have begun to tell my story, I have learned that it is safe to come out and face the sunlight again. I have learned courage to stand in integrity in the places that I have kept hidden for too long. In the telling, there is clarity and healing, and more love and compassion then I can often bear in the faces and tears of those who encircle me and are strong enough to stay with me in the pit of my despair and brokenness.
In the book of Genesis, there is another story of hiding. Hagar, Sarai and Abraham’s slave, ran away in her shame and despair. In the wilderness, an angel of the Lord found her. He greeted her with more questions: “Where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:7) These questions call us to reflect back and name our past so that we can own our future. It is very tempting to shove the past under the rug and press on. I entered counseling, in the midst of processing my story, feeling like I had these gaping internal wounds that just would not heal, no matter what I tried. My counselor reminded me that the deep wounds need to heal from the inside out. No amount of Band-Aids on the surface will do. Deep healing takes time and happens in the context of caring community. It is in the telling of the story. As we begin to bring our stories of shame to the surface we begin to see them differently. We see, like Jesus, through the eyes of grace and compassion!
As shame loosens its grip on us, we begin to step confidently into our calling. I have found in this stepping, my knees get weak and wobbly. I trip over my feet and I forget. I climb back into my familiar place of trembling and hiding, hoping that My God won’t notice. He does! He calls me forth and all of the tender and compassionate eyes that have seen me with tears flowing, and have held me in my brokenness, all of those beautiful mouths that have spoken truth, mirror to me the face of God. My community reminds me that it is not ok to hide. They encourage me to grow. They support me and cheer me on. They pick me up and help dust me off when I fall. Because they see me, they notice my absence, and invite me over and over again to presence. In the safe context of community, I am free to come as I am. I am loved for my broken beauty. Messy is always welcome at the table! They hold me accountable to use my story and my life for good and in the service of others.
“You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)
Jean Masukevich is a special education and yoga teacher. She holds an advanced certificate in grief and trauma from the Allender Center and is passionate about facilitating healing spaces for children and families. She teaches and encourages integration of mind, body, and the Holy Spirit through yoga/narrative/art therapy. Jean loves to play outside and enjoys quality time with her husband and four awesome children. You can find her here.