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Shame On Us

May 26, 2010

I was struck this morning by how isolated we all really are.  The servers that facilitate Facebook and Twitter may occasionally crash due to extreme levels of activity, but rarely do these mediums create a true sense of community.  Now, I realize some may disagree with my thoughts here, but this morning my heart is heavy, and the words that follow simply show where I’m at.

A friend of mine and his wife are pregnant with their second child.  Apparently they have been pregnant for a while, but were experiencing a good deal of complications.  So, they decided to keep the pregnancy quiet until things looked a little more hopeful.  I have no intention of belittling this decision.  He is not a close friend; therefore, I do not have all the details of their situation.  I do, however, hear all the time how couples in their shoes choose to wait until after the first trimester (when the pregnancy is more stable) to make the announcement.  My best friend, my sister, and a good friend’s brother all handled their pregnancies in this regard.  I am not saying they are wrong; I am saying that my heart is heavy for what this says to me about the amount of shame and isolation in our society.  Why do we prefer to hurt alone?

Two years ago my wife and I had a miscarriage.  It was easily the most devastating experience of my life.  To hear the heartbeat of our child one week, only to have it stop prematurely and unexpectedly the next, brought me to my knees in a way I could never prepare for.  The experience brought into question everything I said I believed about God and His goodness.  In the end, my faith emerged stronger, and the hope that one day I don’t have to cry anymore keeps me going. 

I know in part what my friend is going through.  When my wife and I were pregnant again, we had to make the decision as to whether or not to tell our friends and family as soon as we found out.  Essentially, we were deciding whether or not we wanted to bring our friends and family in to share in the joy and possible pain should something go wrong.  There was no changing the elation, thankfulness, and absolute uncertainty; and if we lost another baby, there was nothing that would decrease the utter sorrow we would feel – no matter how many people knew or didn’t know. 

I’m glad my friend and his wife are telling people now.  I hope they realize they are not alone, and I hope I am right in believing they are not alone.  I hope, no matter what happens with the beautiful child she is carrying, they understand we are invited to celebrate and weep with each other in both circumstances.  I pray God brings this baby into the world healthy.

We are isolated because we are filled with shame.  We feel ashamed if we fail (even in a pregnancy), and we are afraid of being known in this shame.  We are all broken clay pots posturing as fine china, but fine china usually sits alone in a cupboard covered in dust.  I wish we would all stop pretending.

I’m not much of a Beatles fan, but John Lennon got it right when he said, “All you need is love.”  Jesus said that too.  Love tosses shame out the back door.  It allows for true community, and true community is a mess looking for a place to happen.  Broken clay pots leak, flake off on the floor, and can be ugly at first glance.  But when a group of broken clay pots realize they are clay pots and begin the process of remolding each other back into the image the potter originally intended it is breathtakingly beautiful. 

Shame, though, disallows us from seeing beauty, because when we are ashamed we hide.  My client this morning recounted a story in which he was walking down the hall in a former school.  He saw in the distance a former professor coming toward him.  Gripped with shame, my client literally snuck into an adjacent hallway for fear of having to converse with the professor.  He was ashamed, so he hid.  What if he would have stepped out of his shame to talk with the professor?  I wonder what healing words might have been born out of such a conversation.

The name of our blog is Fig Tree Counseling, and you may have noticed the tree growing out of the title.  We chose the fig tree for various reasons, but notice how the tree has no leaves.  The roots run deep and the tree is vital, but the branches are bare.  We did this for a reason, and if you are a Christian, you might remember how fig leaves were used by a certain couple to hide their shame.  We decided to just keep the leaves off the tree as a reminder that our instinct is to cover and to hide. 

As a therapist I cannot remove your shame, but I can help you as you learn to stop hiding.  I can help you realize that those leaves you’re using aren’t really covering up anything.  We are all desperate to be known, but in order for this to happen we have to be willing to step out from our hiding places.  We have to be willing to be exposed for the broken down pieces of pottery we really are.  We have to decide whether or not we will enter into community, and embrace the joy as well as the pain.  We all have a lot of shame on us, but if we work together, we can help each other to get the shame off us.

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