Thursday, July 08, 2010

Teachable Moment: Ashamed

Yesterday we were doing some housework. I went upstairs to find my eight year old daughter hanging her head. I asked her what was wrong. Silence with a guilty expression was returned. I recognized that guilty expression and knew to tread lightly, holding my emotion back for fear of damaging the trust I needed to preserve at that moment. I asked again. What was going on? She mumbled, "I'm afraid you'll get mad." I replied, "I promise I won't get mad. I may be disappointed, but I won't get mad." She said, "I'm still scared. What if I write it down?" After I agreed, she disappeared and returned a few minutes later with this:

Apparently, for the last week or so, instead of hanging up all her clothes, she'd been shoving them into the back of the closet, under the rest of the hanging clothes. It was a lot of clothes. This child changes multiple times a day, and half the clothes were ones she'd not actually worn, just tried on and decided against. In addition, we've been down this road before. She's done the shoving thing on a small scale every now and then. So she knew the rule: No shoving your clothes to the back of the closet. But she had shoved, again and again, hiding each mistake until she had a mountain up to her waist when it all came out.

And a mountain of shame in her heart. After she handed the note to me, she jumped into bed and pulled the covers over her head while I read it. Her eyes were red when I uncovered her. At this point, the imaginary sirens were going off in my head indicating that this was a teachable moment I must not pass up. So I did all the loving things I could think of. I gave her a big hug, I offered forgiveness, I said I'd help her with her mess. But she burst into tears. I said, "Honey, are you crying because you're bummed out at having to hang up all your clothes, or because you're feeling ashamed?" She whimpered, "Ashamed." into my side.

I've never seen my child harbor shame quite like yesterday. I couldn't patch it up with a hug and a helping hand. She had a deeper need. I needed to address her shame and show her how to deal with it. And frankly, I was not prepared for that. (Incidentally, I'm never prepared for teachable moments. Don't think that I rehearse these kinds of conversations in my head ahead of time. But God is always prepared, and always gently prods me forward, giving me surprisingly appropriate things to say. Honestly, I'm surprised. Not by Him, but by my part in it all.)

I couldn't approach my daughter's issue of shame without thinking of my own. What about my pile of sin? What do I do when God reveals something I've been hiding, that's been shoved to the back of the closet? When He exposes something I'd rather not face, it's not fun. I know how she feels. Don't we all experience the burden of guilt from time to time?

But then there's Jesus. Galatians 5:1 says "It is for freedom that Christ set us free." While feeling sorry for our mistakes is one thing, as followers of Jesus, we are not meant to wallow in shame. In eight year old language, I explained this to my daughter. Jesus took away our sin on the cross so that we would be free from feeling ashamed. I told her that the Bible says when you accept Jesus' gift of forgiveness, it's as if you put on His clean, white robe. So when God looks at you, that's all He sees. Your mistakes are totally covered because Jesus is perfect. But here's the thing: even though God always forgives you, He wants you to learn how to make better choices. And the reason you want to make better choices is not because I say you should, or to make me happy. The reason you want to stop shoving your clothes is because you're thankful Jesus gave you His robe.

Something in my little speech clicked, and it seemed my daughter crossed over from shame to freedom. And on about the day we went, simple as that. In fact, she diligently spent over an hour cleaning up her pile without complaint.

I think a lot of us struggle with shoving. We have habits or vices that we keep choosing, and then keep shoving. It can even be something subtle that you're simply leaving room for in your life, like complaining or envy. (OK, maybe you aren't, but those are just two I sometimes make room for.) Don't be afraid to invite God into that closet, even if you have to write it in a note. On Hello Kitty paper. My daughter had a perfect example for us in her two part confession: "I'm sorry," and "I need help!" God is so happy to help you pull the junk out and clean up the mess. Then you and I can show off our matching white robes.

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