There is a fair amount of chatter these days about how best to observe a Holy Lent. Many people choose the discipline of giving something up – like chocolate or wine or Facebook. Others take something on – a new spiritual discipline, an extra visit to the altar rail for communion or a new 4th Step moral inventory and 5th step admission to oneself, to God and to another human being. Others may wish to make confession to a priest.
On Ash Wednesday, as we marked the beginning of Lent, I avoided the “take-something-on/give-something-up” dichotomy, opting instead simply to be more intentional about time with God, however that may look. That intention continues. But I’ve also decided to give something up and to take something on.
Specifically, I am giving up shame. That corrosive emotion, as I know it, is neither healthy nor helpful. When I give into it, it causes me to turn within, to hide from my brothers and sisters, to lose hope. I hate shame. I hate that I can still be victimized by it. To be honest, I find that I am ashamed that in some areas of life I remain wired for shame, defaulting to a place of self-loathing and self-recrimination.
One area that carries a lot of shame for me is money. This, I believe, is something that was to some degree inherited. In my family of origin, we never talked about money, at least not directly. Money was a source of tension – one that was enshrouded in an ominous aura of shame. My beautiful mother had been raised that it is impolite to talk about money and she taught me well. It is ironic and not by accident, I am sure, that I ended up working as a professional fundraiser for 17 years. Without realizing it, money became my idol. Somehow I became convinced that, if I just had enough money, I would be safe. I had no idea I was making money my idol – I just wanted to be safe. And then I went to seminary. Time to trust in God rather than in my earning potential. As a new priest, the growing continues as I learn to embrace a simpler life. I still imagine that it would be easier to trust God if I had a 7-figure trust fund.
The truth is I am having the love affair of my life. When trouble hits (i.e. an unexpected, dramatic increase in liability insurance or an old oak tree that needs to come down), my body is racked with a visceral sense of deep shame, as I conclude that I will never get it all right, that I will never be able to take care of myself. That I am somehow broken and not good enough, and soon it will be apparent to all.
There is hope. I am learning to not resist this knee-jerk reaction to life’s circumstances — both those I cause and those that I know, at least intellectually, present themselves through no fault of my own. When the deeply ingrained story of shame begins to play, that is my cue to throw myself into the arms of Jesus, to weep and give thanks that with him I have all that I need. All else is temporary. All else will pass away. And then, if I really want to disarm this “enemy” shame, I call a friend and tell the truth about what is going on.
My Lenten discipline is this: I am taking on a practice that researcher and author Brene Brown calls shame resilience (“the ability to recognize shame and move through it while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity”) in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. I am giving up shame – not with the idea that I will never again experience this painful emotion, but rather with a commitment to not let a sense of shame run me.