I’ve been doggedly chased by this thing for a long time. While the drama of 2020 temporarily distracted me from it, isolation has given it room to dance obnoxiously at centre stage. In fact, it’s so energetically — and nauseatingly — persistent that I can focus on little else. If I try to ignore it, my anxiety whirls and thunders. It’s relentless.
It’s about me.
It’s about my Father.
It’s about coming home.
I’ve always been teased for processing life through stories. But when I thought I’d skip this analogy — I love how you find me everywhere. So, here we are. My daughter currently has The Lion King on repeat. This movie is one that so profoundly — and perhaps unintentionally — tells the story of identity, shame, deception, home, and inheritance. In short, it’s our story. It’s my story.
Let’s review. A darkly suggestive voice manipulates a son — who longs to prove who he is, who doesn’t know that he need only be — into the deepest pit of shame. He’s chased from home, he owns guilt that isn’t his, and he forsakes his birthright. He embraces a half-baked healing that relieves pain, but robs him of identity and purpose. With the help of an annoyingly persistent side character — hey, I know that guy — what finally sends him home and heartens him to exile shame is the voice of his father: Remember who you are. I could go on — and on — about the parallels of this story to good and evil, deception and redemption — but I’ll stop there.
Shame has long been my judge and jury. Before I did anything to feel this ashamed of, I knew shame. Don’t mistake me — I’ve failed and I’ve massively misstepped. It’s right that I experience conviction and guilt, and it’s right that I make corrections. However, far, far too often what I feel isn’t conviction or guilt — it’s condemnation and shame. Far too often, it’s not kindness or forgiveness that lead me to repentance. It’s zealous self-directed disgust and greedy self-assigned justice.
I, for the most part, don’t hesitate to extend grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness to others. But I assign none to myself. I know every prodigal has a Father at the end of the journey home who is readily watching and willingly — if not inelegantly — running to offer welcome. I don’t know, though, if this prodigal knows how to come home — all the way home. I easily agree that Jesus covers the full multitude of sins. But I don’t feel that it’s just that mine be covered — and, therefore, I don’t feel they should be. I have no trouble believing that God loves everyone. I even believe he loves me — but, like, begrudgingly… I think. I fully recognize the theological error in these sentences. But that doesn’t change what I feel.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wondered how I can understand something in my head — i.e. Jesus loves me — but not perceive and receive it with my heart. I recently listened to a guest (Christopher Heuertz) on my favourite podcast (The Puddcast) talk about how we can have faith in things we don’t believe — and my mind was blown wide open. There are truths and tenets of my faith that I agree with (see the above list); I’ll share them all the live long day. But do I believe them? Do I feel they apply to me? Do I accept them for my story? That’s another thing entirely. And the answer to those questions is, I think, no.
This past week I completed a questionnaire on the Soultime app — which I highly recommend — that was made up of 61 statements about how I do or don’t connect with others, the Triune God, and myself. The assessment had me determine the frequency (often, almost never, etc.) of a phrase like, “I feel loved …” or “I … feel like I’ve made mistakes that even God can’t forgive.” You get the picture. My summary report was shocking. Shocking. As I read it, my eyes stung, my jaw clenched, my grip tightened, and my feet kicked spasmodically. In blunt black and white I read about how poorly connected I am to myself and to God. It was acutely painful. And terrifying. And true. I don’t know how I’m here after a lifetime of following Jesus, but here is where I am.
The truth is that I know the voice of shame well. What have you done? What will [insert important person here] think? Those are the words of a character, but they are really, exactly the kinds of words shame says to me. The truth is also that I want to know the thundering James Earl Jones voice much better: Remember who you are. I want to understand what that means and believe it. The truth is that I can know all the things and I can do all the things — I can read and study and write all day — but I don’t know how to do this.
I don’t know how to be unashamed and loved.
If there was ever a piece that’s about process and void of a tidy conclusion, this is it. I have no well-formed, truth-declaring finale for this. I’m unpolished, unfinished, and in the making. I’m healing. And —
The thing is: Healing takes as long as it takes.AUNDI KOLBER