“You’re taking up too much space.”
The thought bubbles up from somewhere deep within me and yet also right below the surface, as though it were tired of being shoved aside. Today it has decided to crowd out everything else, growing bigger and louder like a toddler’s temper tantrum, demanding my energy and undivided attention.
Unable to push it back anymore, I concede.
“Yes,” I think, “you are right. That is precisely how I feel.”
I know this feeling. It has a name, and I am learning to call it out accordingly. Hello, Shame. I see you there, trying to lurk behind the corners of my mind, growing in the dark like a shadow that lengthens as the sun goes down. When I acknowledge you, you begin to shrink back, afraid of the exposure.
I know I am battling shame as I walk in my new, brightly colored Easter dress down the breezeway to the open door of our church. Today I have made myself taller with my wedge sandal shoes—“normal height,” I think, compared to my short stature. I’ve made myself look more put-together with extra makeup and a fresh haircut. “Too short,” I think, self-consciously brushing my bangs aside and then pushing them back down where they were before brushing them aside again.
I look around at the other women my age and realize that I stand out in my white dress with the bright splashes of blue and green flowers all over. I don’t want to stand out; I want to disappear, to fold into myself so no one will notice me. I am taking up too much space.
I go to worship and have a little trouble losing myself in the music at first. The pastor says that Jesus loves us and asks us to reflect on how that makes us feel. I have been overwhelmed by His love for me many times, but at this moment, that is not my initial response. Right now, I don’t relate to any of the examples the pastor gives—indifference, happiness, or skepticism. No, this time, when I hear that Jesus loves me, I want to shrink away, unable to let myself be seen and loved. I know this feeling. It has a name. Hello, Shame. I see you.
I worship You with my lips, but my heart has been distant. I want to be with You, but lately I’ve felt like I can’t get to You or let You get to me, like there’s a barrier between us. I look at it and try to name it. It’s not exactly a wall, just a bit of a gulf between us, something to wade through. I haven’t been letting You in. Forgive me.
Then the worship music is playing again and the refrain cuts through the fog and pierces my heart: “The cross has the final word.”
I listen to the whisper of a thought, “They don’t get to define who you are. I determine your identity. The cross has the final word.”
Forgive me for allowing society, culture, other people, and my very own sinful self to hand my identity to me like an entree on a platter, prepared by someone else. That job is only for You, and You say my worth to You is equal to the cost of Jesus’ perfect, sinless life, laid down and poured out for me.
Shame says that my struggles will always be the same, that real transformation is a lost cause.
You say I am a new creation.
Shame says that I am not worthy of belonging, that I don’t fit in.
You say I am Your child, a co-heir with Christ.
Shame says that You look at me and are angry, displeased with my inadequacy.
You say I am beloved.
Shame says You won’t want to deal with me until I’ve dealt with my mess first.
You say I am Yours, just as I am.
Shame says I am separated from You by my shortcomings.
You say I am forgiven and restored.
Shame says that when I open my mouth and talk about my true self, people see what a mess I am.
You say I am clean.
Shame says I am only as good as my last accomplishment.
You say I am worth the most precious thing You have to give.
Help me to accept the love You desire to lavish on me. Help me day by day, moment by moment, to accept Your love, to believe Your truth, to love You back with my whole being. I can only love You in proportion to how I have been able to receive Your love. Soften my heart and remove the barriers which I thought could protect me. Perfect love casts out fear. When I abide in You and in Your perfect love, the fear falls away. A loved person is invincible because she has that which matters most and cannot be taken away.
Your perfect love lifts me from shame as You see me exactly how You made me to be. You look at me with the gaze of One who knows all and sees everything and loves anyway, and then You hand me back to myself. I am changed even as I become who I already was in Christ. Shame says I’m a lost cause. You say that I am being renewed day by day. Praise to the One who promises to complete the good work He has begun in me but loves me just as much now as He will on the day of completion.