Saturday, September 18, 2010

Silencing the Shame by Giving Voice to It

I'm cheap, which means I seldom go to a movie theater and pay a minimum of $7 for a ticket, $17.95 for popcorn in a paper cup, and a $5 Coke in a cup smaller than what my doctor provides for a urine sample. I had heard good things about a particular movie and I really appreciate Robert Duvall as an actor. So I went extravagant and purchased a ticket, minus the handful of popcorn and the gargle of Coke. It was the best 7 bucks I've spent in quite a while.

Staged in the 1930's, Duvall portrays backwoods hermit Felix Bush--a mean, haggard, eccentric old man who can't live with himself or others because of something in his past. He's the talk of not only the town but neighboring counties. He has many more rumors about him than friends around him. He's a recluse confined in his own self-imposed prison. He decides he wants someone to perform his funeral while he's still alive--for poignant reasons that you will have to discover for yourself.

His sin and the consequent shame drive him to a desperate point where he acknowledges he needs to "get low," i.e. get down to business and deal with the skeletons in his closet. All his life he has done everything regarding his sinfulness but face it.

I know that feeling. Many of us live with, we think and feel, unspeakable sin. Shameful acts done
by us; irretrievable words we have inflicted on another. Hideous abuse done to us; demeaning, soul-searing words spewed at us.

We deal with the unspoken sin done by us or to us in many ways.

Some of us run in an effort to avoid it. If I don't think about then it didn't happen, so my mind tries to convince me. And it works. . . at times. But if there is any unoccupied time of any duration you and I know what surfaces.

Others of us engage in distraction. We keep busy. As long as I don't stop, I don't have to think about it. This coping mechanism of distraction looks virtuous. It's the workaholic that rises up the corporate ladder. We accomplish so much; all the doing is an attempt to soothe my being.

Some of us punish ourselves in an attempt to atone for our sin. You deprive yourself of everyday needs and joys to which everyone else seems entitled. Felix Bush lived alone for decades, depriving himself of wife and children as one means of punishing himself. Some of us inflict physical pain on ourselves. Short-term relief, but no long-term release.

A lot of us engage in numbing/soothing means to assuage our pain. Our addictions serve this purpose. The rush of the gambling, the sedation of the alcohol, the intoxication of the porn--whatever the activity may be--they can all serve as attempts at escaping the pain of what I've done or what's been done to me. Sadly, the pain soon returns after the addictive activity or substance loses its impact, and the deadly cycle is set in motion.

Old, old man Felix has lived with the shame of his sin a long, long time. He's facing death and not only needing but wanting forgiveness. He gets low--and not in any way you'd expect.

We need to "get low" if we are to ever live "high" above our shame, our sin.

Telling our sin, our shame--confession--to someone trustworthy sets us on a path of healing. It is healing to confess to someone who still looks us in the eye, someone who doesn't gasp at what we've done, but grieves with us over what we've done. It is a profound step toward healing to speak the unspeakable things done to us--things we've kept silent since childhood-- and have someone grieve for us and take the responsibility for that sin off of ourselves and on the perpetrator. It mediates forgiveness to confess to someone who does not shrink back in horror, but reaches out in compassion. Their response is God's response to and regard for us. God mediates and bestows his forgiveness through his people. This hearing and caring brother assures me God is hearing and caring. That compassionate sister mirrors God's forgiveness as she listens to your story.

I need to
get low with God if I am ever to get above and beyond the sins done by me or to me.


Anonymous said...

One of the first things I have learned in life is that 'what you resist, will persist'. So yes, I agree with Dr Phil on his saying that you can't fix what you don't acknowledge. However, it is my belief that it's up to each of us whether we look at things realistically and then take responsibility for our own life and happiness. If we insist on remaining guilty, shameful or broken, we will remain those. Having support is helpful in making ourselves better but when it is not used to make ourselves better, that is on us.

Steve said...

Tim, thanks for your feedback.
One of the struggles or wrestling matches for me is not the issue of what I do with my dysfunctional self-imposed guilt and shame, but dealing with the true authentic shame/guilt due to wrongs committed, or on a deep core level-that dark side of me that schemes or wishes evil, if not outright engaging in it. In my opinion, neither therapy nor my own positive self-talk resolves that--only forgiveness.
(Sorry about the lengthy reply; thanks for reading and following.)

Anonymous said...

What it true authentic shame and guilt? Does it really exist if it is a self imposed state of being? Not all people experience it for similar situations, so it is not an unconscious automatic response. It appears to be a form of self reproach employed in order to feel better about what happened. At some point it is no longer about what happened, unless we choose it to be. It becomes about how we function today. I totally agree it is about forgiveness but more importantly about seeing the futility of harboring the past in a way that cripples the present. So many deny any power in that process.
Thank you for your lengthy reply.