There’s nothing like shame to make you second guess yourself. Over the past year, it seems like everywhere I look I see shaming attitudes, comments, and actions. One person says or does something that another person doesn’t like and instead of just disagreeing and leaving it at that, shameful venom spews from their mouth against it. Then the hurt person either slinks away to lick wounds or retaliates in kind. I keep hoping this shame-fire will die back, but as soon as it starts to wane, more fuel is added and it sparks to life again.
I have seen some real debate when both parties try to express their own views and it seems like they are listening to each other rather than combatting. But still, overall the nation seems to be in a shaming loop. I have felt that shame directed at me, directed at those I love, AND directed at those whose views I don’t agree with. It seems like whatever people do, or don’t do, they’ll be made an example of.
This has been so hard for me personally because I dealt with shame for a good portion of my life. As an adult I have come to learn that even when shame is thrown at me from something outside of myself, I am the one who actually chooses if it gets to hook into me or not. As a child, I didn’t understand this and so attitudes and actions done to me resulted in intense shame for me. As I’ve matured, I can see how Satan is the one who really slings shame and who whispers in my ear and to my heart that I have to wear this shame. Knowing that, I can choose NOT to agree with it. And as a Christian, I have the added victory that Jesus’ blood cleared away all that shame, empowering me to walk in love and confidence.
But… because I am intimately acquainted with the feeling of shame, I sense it easily when it’s hanging around. I recognize when it’s trying to invade my thoughts and make me feel less than the person God made me to be. I want to share a few specific examples that have been heavy on my heart during this past year – Coronavirus response, Racial Incidents response, and the 2020 Election. It does scare me a little to share these thoughts because they are such hot button issues and I’ve stayed away from speaking about them publicly, but nonetheless, I want to express a few thoughts on them and the theme of shame I’ve seen running through them.
It all started about a year ago when we heard reports about a new virus in China. Then we heard how it was affecting other countries and finally we got hit hard too. It seemed like most of the country closed down for a while and more and more health safety protocols/restrictions were put in place. Fear began to build until it was towering over our nation. Fear of sickness and death. Fear of lack of freedom and choice. Fear of hurting the common good AND the individual good. But which one is right? That’s the thing, I’m not sure there is just ‘one right thing’. And yet, the shaming began. If you go out unmasked in public… Shame on you! …If you require me to wear a mask…Shame on you! If you hold gatherings… Shame on you! …If you restrict my freedom to gather… Shame on you! And on and on it goes.
It has become so shameful that contracting Coronavirus seems akin to getting an STD! If you got the virus early on, then people assumed you had done something wrong by disobeying the rules or being reckless. It was then assumed that you passed it on to so many people unknowingly that therefore, you were worthy to be shamed. And now, the virus is almost everywhere and if you get it, you could have picked it up at work (while following proper guidelines) or at gatherings (with or without recommended protocols). Yet, there has been enough shame around it that people still want to remain anonymous when they contract it. (Some, not all.) But how can people reach out to help others who are sick if they have no idea who is sick? How can people safely assess whether or not they themselves should take some extra precautions if they don’t know who it is that has been sick in their midst? My hope is that as this becomes more common, people will feel less shame and negative stigma around contracting it and feel free and clear to talk about their experience with the disease and get the help (can we say MealTrain!) from the community around them.
We’ve had a number of racial incidents throughout all this time too. They have garnered an outcry from blacks, browns, whites, and so many others. Our nation aches with the injustice, anger, fear, and yes… shame from all this. I heard messages like… Talk to your friends of color and hear their stories of injustice to understand all this and if you don’t… Shame on you! …I’m so sick of white people asking me questions just because I’m black! Don’t talk to me about this and if you do… Shame on you! …You must speak out about these incidents because if you don’t…Shame on you! …You just spoke out about these incidents… Shame on you! And on and on it goes.
In all this, I am feeling some similarities to when I’ve read books on transracial adoption. For the most part, many of these books are written from a positive and educational viewpoint. But, there are a few that are quite negative and carry a feeling on them that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. As I discussed the difference between my perceived feelings on different books with an African-American friend of mine, he cautioned me about what he called, ‘white-shaming.’ I hadn’t heard this term before. But as he explained it, a lightbulb went on. Some of the things said are not only to inform and educate, but also to toss a bit of shame onto the person thinking of transracially adopting. I didn’t realize! I suddenly could see what he was talking about and from then on, it was so easy to spot this sort of thing. Since then, I’ve seen it not only in books to the public, but also directly to me – from people of color AND also plenty of whites too. I’m so thankful for the people who speak and write about this topic that truly want to educate readers and help them along what is a difficult journey. These people write from a place of hope and care.
This has been the most watched and talked about election for me in my life-time. I know some will say that the election 4 years ago was just as big, but I wasn’t quite as mentally involved then, so I’m going to speak from my experience of this year. On top of the already very stressful time we’ve been having lately, we then are in the midst of a very chaotic election season and post-season. My heart breaks for the way our nation has divided so clearly. People who talk about their beliefs and ideals on either side of the ‘divide’ are being shamed back and forth. The messages are…You said a positive thing about this candidate (either one)… Shame on you! … You said a negative thing about this candidate (either one)… Shame on you! … You haven’t shown public support for this candidate (either one)… Shame on you! You have shown bipartisan support for both candidates… Shame on you!
It seems like we don’t know how to be a nation that can hold strong ideals that disagree with one another, yet still be united. I read one politician who said, ‘Now that we’ve been divided, it’s time to be united.’ Yes, I agree, but why did we have to be so divided in the first place? Why do the politicians have to use shame in order to gather people to their side of the aisle? Left and Right I’ve heard and felt shame. I would like a leader who knows how to govern ALL PEOPLE with love and kindness. One who doesn’t have to shame and have their constituents join in the melee. We need peace in our nation and I just don’t see it. I know, I know… ‘But Brittany, it’s always been this way since the beginning of our country!’ True. But still, I can dream and hope for change can’t I?
So the shame in this country at this moment is at least 3-fold (virus, racial tension, election) if not even more. We’ve been sitting under this shame for getting close to a year! How have we bared up under it? How have we dealt with the intense pressure to ‘get it all right’ in order to keep shame away? How are we monitoring our own hearts? Are we allowing the shame around us to attach itself to us? Are we struggling under the weight of the shame heaped on us? What are we choosing?
As I’ve looked in Bible to help me understand what God says about shame, I’ve found out that God does not put me to shame nor is His plan for me to live in shame. The bible says ‘No one who hopes in You will ever be put to shame. – Psalm 25:3b.’ and also ‘…hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. – Romans 5:5’ So, when I feel the claws of shame trying to hook themselves into me, I’ll pause and look to Jesus for the hope that will never put me to shame. Then that shame will not find a place to attach and I can move forward in life with my head held high.
I pray that we all experience renewed hope in our hearts today, in this moment. I pray that God’s love will be poured out even more into our hearts through the Holy Spirit and that we can use that to heal our areas of influence. I pray that we will know the Hope that does not put us to shame, but instead raises us up in God’s glory and power with confidence to take the next step in our lives. So, to all of us, let us choose HOPE!