Being ashamed is one of my least favorite things. That moment of recognizing that I blew it, that I lost sight of what was important, that I forgot, that I blundered into some sort of awkward remark, or that I made a mistake that really hurt someone I loved – that moment is terrible. However it is even more terrible to try to avoid feeling shame. Without the experience of shame we are doomed to circle about in one level of hell, never learning nor growing nor being truly who we are.
I remember the moment when I learned that shame wouldn’t kill me. I was in charge of scheduling the use of rooms in a community center and accidentally double booked a large space. I didn’t realize I had done this until fairly close to the time for which the events were scheduled. Advertising had gone out. A whole lot of money was at stake.
I had to alert people; it was impossible that both groups could occupy the same space at the same time. I toyed with the idea of sidestepping my blunder with excuses of one sort or another. But after much soul-searching I finally wound up just telling the people involved, and letting them know that it was entirely my fault and inexcusable.
I remember speaking those words, and how shame washed over me in a hot tide. Nobody was at all interested in letting me off the hook, either. Everyone was furious at me, and quite rightly so. It was absolutely awful, and the awfulness went on for a long time.
And I survived. Here I am today, alive to tell the tale.
I think this must be the meaning of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Christ is not so interested in our false humility – in us pretending we are less wondrous in our accomplishments than is in fact the case. But he is interested in us taking responsibility for our mistakes and shortcomings. We don’t have to manufacture them; there are plenty right under our noses. It is important that we be proud, fabulous and joyful in our achievements. There is nothing wrong with that at all. But we also must be able to stand in our shame. We must put ourselves right there where we failed and feel badly, without excuses.. It is essential to our humanity that we own up to what we have done, suffer the shame, and get through it. This is where God meets us, in the truth of who we really are.
Laurie Gudim is a writer, religious iconographer, and spiritual director living in Ft. Collins, CO. To get to know her a little better visit everydaymysteries.com.