We all have our secrets– the myriad of things we’d just as soon forget. Airing dirty laundry is not our favorite thing. So, instead we skirt around our past failures and hide things in our present lives. We wear masks so as to appear as if we have it all together. In truth, we all hide scars and failure and sorrows, but, more often than not, even when we’ve moved past them and maybe even made restitution, we are still prisoners to our own shame. No one wants to shine a light on that muck, right?
Shine some light...
I grew up in an extended family where many stories were swept under the rug. If there was something that might be perceived as dark or shameful, it was hidden. Whether an unplanned pregnancy, a mysterious death, a divorce, or maybe even a college prank turned bad, all were swept under a massive rug. Things were withheld because “it would kill your father, (or mother, sister, cousin, grandmother, etc.) if they knew.” Hence, we learned there were some things you didn’t share, own up to or ask about. Failure was not to be discussed, but hidden away from curious eyes. We had images to maintain.
I remember for much of my life, hearing others share of their own failures, wrong turns, foolish mistakes, etc, and being amazed at the openness of the one honestly confessing their negligence. It wasn’t until I grew much older and (hopefully) wiser, that I realized shame is a prison of its own making. What we run from, hide behind closed doors, or otherwise intentionally conceal, will ultimately control us. It will hold us in bondage, causing us to believe that others won’t accept us and embrace us if they know the shame we carry.
The truth is, our failures make us human. Olympic Skater, Scott Hamilton, said recently, “If I had to list the ingredients for success, the greatest single ingredient would be failure.” Instead of seeing failure as an inevitable bi-product of living, we see it as something to be ashamed of. Some failures ought to bring shame, but, the story doesn’t need to end there. As we walk through our lives, if we are truly engaged in life, interacting with others, learning, growing and taking on new challenges, we are going to make mistakes along the way. Some are more consequential than others to be sure, but, we will all fall down at some point and need a helping hand to lift us up. Most of us, if we are truly honest, will admit to past and sometimes present behaviors that are shameful and we wish we could undo. I know that’s true for me. But, do-overs are not always possible. Shame is a good thing, when we’ve done wrong. That said, it should not hold us captive, and it doesn’t have to. Instead it should propel us to seek forgiveness and change our behavior.
While we can’t undo the cause of our shame, there is always the opportunity to be redeemed. No matter how far we fall, there is good to be found in acknowledging, repenting (which essentially means, making a u-turn and heading in the opposite direction) and even in sharing our failures. To do so, is to take off our masks, to be real, unvarnished and unpretentious– to be human. When we share our failures with others, it gives them hope that they too will survive their indiscretions. We look at others from the outside, thinking their lives are perfect, that they’ve never been wounded or scarred, but that’s a bold-faced lie. When we allow others to see us as we truly are, we give them permission to admit to their own deficiencies and to have hope that they too can overcome them.
I find it very telling that my last post, (One Good Decision) wherein I shared the very rocky road that lead to our 40th (sort-of, read it!) anniversary, received more responses than anything I’ve ever posted on Facebook. I didn’t share every intimate detail of our life together, but, enough that it was clear we had made a lot of stupid mistakes that could have been fatal to our marriage. I was so gratified by all the loving feedback from so many of you and the opportunity to be free of any notion of hiding it. The proverbial cat was out of the bag. Such freedom! The weight is lifted once you make that u-turn, seek forgiveness and accept your own frailty. Only then can one move forward, unencumbered by the weight of shame.
Set that kitty free!
If you are still carrying baggage that is weighing you down, drop it! If you’re still imprisoned by past shame, behaviors and/or failures, consider letting your cat out, too. Joseph, in the book of Genesis, was sold to slave traders by his own brothers. Imagine their shame and their relief when years later Joseph said to those same scoundrels, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” That is perspective, my friends. Whatever you’ve done, whatever hole you’ve crawled out of, God can use it for your good. So ‘fess up. Set that kitty free.