Living Loved: On Seeing Past Shame to a Flourishing Life

An author’s tweet and blog post got me thinking.  “Why is it so hard to live loved?”  It’s so easy to forget the blessings and the reasons why I am loved.  It’s so easy to focus on the negative and become disheartened, but that’s no way to live.  I’m trying to find a different way.

I’m learning to count my blessings.  (One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp)

I’m learning to accept change and the beauty of life and change.  (Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace and Learning the Hard Way by Shauna Niequist)

I’m learning that being vulnerable is a good and healthy thing.  (Daring Greatly by Brene Brown)

I’m learning that I may be flawed but I am still loved.  (God Loves Broken People by Sheila Walsh)

In light of all of my reading and thinking, the Bible’s creation story that I usually skim over gained new significance.  For the first time I noticed how shame came early on in this religious narrative.  It’s noted that Adam and Eve are naked and unashamed, and then with knowledge of good and evil they choose to hide.  That comparison, what’s good and what’s not, is so powerful and so subjective.  What is natural and not worthy of shame can seem shameful.  I constantly compare myself to various standards.  I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, nice enough, not like that other person.  I have knowledge of what is good and not so good.  I know it’s good to try to be wise, to take care of myself, to be a kind person.  However, I distort it, chasing down an ideal instead of being thankful for what I have and who I am.

I view vulnerability as weakness and shameful, but it is actually a natural part of life and beneficial.  I watched Brene Browns TED talks (one on vulnerability, one on shame) and I was greatly moved by her distinction between shame and guilt.  Guilt, you feel bad about what you do.  Shame, you feel bad about who you are.   Guilt is healthy.  That can be responded to, owned up to, and learned from.  We all make mistakes.  Shame is beyond guilt.  It has to do with the self.  Our actions weren’t just wrong, but there’s also something wrong with ourselves.  And out of shame we hide and cower, covering up our vulnerability with anything that will distract from what we fear is inappropriate to show: who we are.

But the first chapter of the Bible is a description of life and creation.  It’s about love.  It is a narrative of celebration and an urge to grow, to live, to THRIVE!  Who we are is worthy of celebration, encouragement, and love.  I’ve missed that level of beauty in this story, maybe being blind to it through my own layers of shame.

“According to the Talmud, every blade of grass has its own angel bending over it, whispering, ‘Grow, grow.’” – Barbara Brown Taylor from An Altar in the World

So instead of focusing on what tears me down, I’m trying recognize that I’m surrounded by love and the affirming prayers to grow, to flourish, to accept that I am good enough.  It’s difficult.  I often don’t see my worthiness of love.  Brene Brown refers to living a life that embraces vulnerability as living wholehearted.  Brown and I both struggle with that.  Nevertheless, I’ve decided to continue struggling along to accept that life can be delightful, to recognize the potential and not just the uncomfortableness of being vulnerable.  I try to hear an angel whisper, “Grow, Faith, you’re wonderful.”

To live loved I have to be fully present.  Shying away from vulnerability prevents me from experiencing life.  That shame keeps me from accepting love.  Also, downplaying personal successes prevents me from accepting happiness.  I downplay achievements and things I’m happy about in an effort to be humble.  But at a point it becomes dishonest.  All I show and all I focus on are the trials and my shoulders sagging from the weight the worries I carry.

Where does humility fit in?  I’ve downplayed much in an effort to be humble, but I was recently reminded of a sermon I heard a couple of years ago.  Meekness was described as power under control, like a tamed horse.  The horse is just as powerful as before, but that power has direction and purpose.  Abused, the horse may become fearful and act unlike a horse normally would.  Any living being will.  But when properly treated and respectfully trained, we can be who we are without apology.  We are powerfully ourselves and in control.

So in the dark moments when I rush to hide, I can replay the good times, the successes.  I can remind myself that I can make it through life a more wholehearted person.  Why not work hopefully, seeing things not so dreary, because life is not completely full of disappointment.  There’s grace and beauty in who we are, something worth owning up to.

I do not want to forget that I am loved and that there have been so many lovely moments.  I can flourish if I let in those small, numerous, powerful wishes and prayers to grow.


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