Shame is one of life's most devastating emotions. The fear of being found out can be crippling. The pain of feeling exposed, rejected and judged is profound. Shame can undermine courage, confidence, pride, and even love. Shame robs the spirit and steals hope. When we feel ashamed we want to hide from others or lash out to keep others away.
Genesis 3:7-11 tells the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and how they were duped by the snake. “ Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked?” “Who told you that you were naked?” This question from God can be asked in many different ways. “Who told you that you were ugly, stupid, useless, etc.?”
Many of us have been wounded by words that were spoken to us or over us. The initial sting of harsh words may be evident, but the lingering effects of these words may not be as clearly understood. It is an awful experience to be aware that we are seen as deficient by someone we hope will deeply enjoy us. Many people at the Rescue Mission are submerged in shame. They have been pierced by critical words, subjected to physical or sexual abuse, or have ached in the emptiness of being ignored and neglected. Some may be ashamed of events in their past: what they've done, what’s been done to them. Many are embarrassed or ashamed about being homeless or about the downward spiral that led them to homelessness.
There is a misconception in some quarters that homeless people choose homelessness as a lifestyle. Trust me; no one wants to be homeless, dependent, or in need. When people are wrongly labeled or stereotyped there is a loss of dignity that is accompanied by shame. Shame needs three things to grow: secrecy, silence, and judgment. Shame cannot survive in an atmosphere of empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another). Empathy is the antidote to shame. When we look past peoples’ circumstances to see and accept them for who they are shame is rendered weaponless. When we drop our pretense and share our own struggles we lift the veil of shame and are able to walk beside someone.
I personally have a difficult time communicating with perfect or problem free people. I just don’t have anything in common with them. As a matter of fact, I find it almost impossible to even hear or listen when they are talking. On the other hand, the advice from a comrade in the struggles of life can speak straight into my soul. Can you hear me?