Find me now at Lucid Renewal
Children have a knack for being vulnerable. As a 3rd grader I created my own skit, a type of self-revealing monologue if you will. I performed it in a talent show held in the gym in front of elementary students. Ah, an 8 year old is a special combination of the hubris of youth and absolute naivety in the ways of the world. My teacher was ecstatic, not because it was necessarily well-written or expertly performed—as the first try at such a task I doubt it was that good. She was one of those teachers who kept waiting for her quiet and introspective student to speak up, to take a risk, and this one—me—finally had. Feeling accomplished, I climbed the bleachers to sit with the other students. A girl two years my elder and decidedly prettier and cooler than me commented, “You are so weird.” And that was it—my last monologue. She could have said I was a Nazi or a total idiot or the ugliest girl, and the effect would have been about the same. At the time I focused on the “cruelty” of her comment, but time has a way of making the supposedly obvious irrelevant. This isn’t an essay about bullying but about how we handle those deeply revealing moments in our lives. I’d like to confess it not as an indictment of her but of me. I want to focus on my battle with the embarrassment of that moment and the fear it exposes. A person can spend a lifetime waiting to not be “weird” in the eyes of others, waiting for the shame to abate, praying the embarrassment will end.
No past embarrassments could have prepared me for the shame of divorce. For a full five years I seldom uttered the words, “I’m divorced.” I never referred to my ex-husband by that title. He was always the boys’ dad. It was humiliating, and I was fully culpable in my own humiliation. It revealed me to be what I am: a weak sinner. My other sins had justifications or were simply hidden. My weakness could be masked under stoicism or when that failed, sarcastic wit. Existing as a divorced mom left me nowhere to hide. I remember having to apply to a Christian school and make sure they were okay with me teaching students as a divorced woman. I stood there naked.* Not one of my Christian friends was divorced. I was hurled into singledom by my own hand and left to watch as they talked about marriage and interacted with spouses. Again I stood there naked. There was grief and pain, but what stands out is the abject shame: I am weak. I am everything I thought I was, and everyone knows. I was Adam with no tree to hide behind.
And here is paradox: the only act that brought any ultimate relief was allowing myself to stand in that shame. Pick up your cross and follow me. As I said, sometimes I avoided any reference to being divorced in an attempt to protect myself; however, I would relent and let the shame hit me again and again. Some might protest this as self-loathing or a rejection of God’s mercy. I admit practicing a combination of self-pity and self-loathing at times. It is a common sin, and I am a common woman. In the end, I was by no means rejecting his mercy. I was letting it wash all over me. At just the moment when I knew I am the worst of sinners, I also knew the power of His mercy.
Much of what I have been writing as of late and plan to write is like that 8 year old’s monologue. It’s me, vulnerable and exposed, full of quirks and sin. For starters, why must I be so embarrassingly self-revelatory? Because, I am. I have opinions and they are often about myself. I have other opinions about politics, science, history, religion, parenting, friendship, and on and on and on. Who doesn’t? But I seem to be compelled to write them down. At some point I realized that the shame and the writing were connected. I was avoiding the shame of failure by not writing. Not everyone likes to write, so it wouldn’t be avoidance for others. It’s true for me though. Avoidance meant not revealing any more of my sins and not being called weird. They had become two of my greatest fears. I have a dozen or more completed blog entries that I keep waiting to post. I have stories and movie reviews and essays just sitting there. Waiting for what? To be less weird and less me, to reveal less sin and less weakness. That’s like waiting for a fish without scales or a rattlesnake without venom. I’ll be dead and it still won’t have happened. Enough of that.
I’m risking the pain, slaying the ego, and embracing the shame. As my students say, “You’re a nerd, Ms. Hines, but it’s okay. You own it.”
*I am much obliged to Father Stephen Freeman for introducing me to the possible healing aspects of shame. I did not realize how similar my language on this topic had become to his work until I researched shame in his blog for this article. A good place to begin is here.