Yesterday made me face some things that I have struggled with for much of my life, and after I shared the lessons with my husband he encouraged me to publicly share them on Facebook.
After seeing the response to this story, it encouraged me to share it here on the blog. I really believe this is a message that so many of us need to hear.
Because if we have learned anything over the last few months it is that sharing the good and the challenging is where you authentically connect with people.
Over the last several weeks our pastor has been teaching about things that hold us back from serving God and living the life He has prepared for us.
The first week he taught about Fear. The next week he taught about Pride, and Sunday he taught about Shame.
All of them resonated with me in deep ways, all of them are areas where I need progress, no, not progress, BREAKTHROUGH!
But Shame hit me so stinking hard on Sunday.
Our pastor read a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book “Till We Have Faces” that brought me to tears:
“I felt ashamed.
“But of what? Psyche, they hadn’t stripped you naked or anything?”
“No, no, Maia. Ashamed of looking like a mortal — of being a mortal.”
“But how could you help that?”
“Don’t you think the things people are most ashamed of are things they can’t help? “
Holy wow. It rocked me to the core. Because of all the things that have ever caused me the most trouble, it has been exactly that.
The shame of being mortal.
The shame of having weaknesses, the shame of imperfection.
The fear of being known as weak.
The pride of “never needing help”, the pride of “never needing anyone.”
Oh my goodness guys, if I had any clue how much that all was about to be tested…
Then Monday night came. And I couldn’t swallow.
I ate a piece of watermelon and it got stuck in my esophagus. Thank God I could breathe with no problem, but the pressure and pain of the watermelon in my throat was overwhelming. In the past this has happened before, usually with things like chicken or rice or bread. Watermelon was something unusual.
I was furiously angry that my body couldn’t even do the simplest thing…Swallowing!!! I mean how broken must I be to get something stuck in my throat and not be able to clear it?
It took me six hours to go to the hospital because I was ashamed. It seemed like a little thing, a stupid thing. Then when I got there they told me that it wasn’t a little thing. That if it were left untended to, I had 24 hours before it could be far worse.
It took me six hours to go to the hospital because of fear. What could they possibly do? It would probably hurt, or maybe I would choke. Or maybe I’d get worse and something would take me away from my family.
It took me six hours to go to the ER because of pride. What would they think of me for coming in with such a stupid problem? Would they judge me in some way? Would they even think that what I was going through was a real thing? Or would they treat me like a hypochondriac?
Well, it turned out that it was good that I went, but when I got there and the fear departed (it was fixable, there was something they could do), and the pride diminished (I wasn’t a fool, they understood why I was there, there was no judgment), the shame intensified.
Shame that I was going to be costing my family a lot of money.
Shame that my husband would miss a day of work because of me so he could care for our children.
Shame that I was worrying family and friends.
But guys, I was ashamed of being MORTAL!
Several friends offered to come sit with me, but I declined because I didn’t want to inconvenience them. Even though I was lonely and scared.
After all, those friends had things that were bigger than this that they were dealing with, and I thought that I was just adding to their stress. I told some of them not to come.
They didn’t listen.
In the end, I was glad that they didn’t listen.
I was scared, and I was alone.
I needed to throw away the misplaced shame of being a mortal.
I needed chapstick (yes, I was embarrassed to admit I needed something).
I was ashamed of not being invincible, of not being completely emotionally self sufficient.
I needed to show my face. My REAL face, not the one I thought would be best received, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
And when a friend asked me if I wanted her to bring us dinner I was too ashamed to accept myself, so I had her ask my husband instead. Because of course I should be expected to make my own meals less than 6 hours after being released from the hospital, right? And her life is already busy and stressful enough without me adding to it.
But you know, I learned something for the first time.
It is OK to want to be cared for, and it is not right to refuse the love and care of others.
Even if you think you should soldier through.
Even if you think you are an inconvenience.
Just let people love you.
Even as I sat here tonight putting these thoughts into form at the computer, a knock came at the door. A friend from church was there, with a bowl of mashed potatoes, some mini meatloaves, and a cake (a family special recipe). Just to say she cared.
And so I practiced the lesson God so graciously allowed me to learn, and let the feelings of love and acceptance wash over me. I accepted the gift as it was given and will enjoy it thankfully as I accept and internalize that love into my heart.
That has historically been a huge struggle for me: letting people love me. And so I find it completely unsurprisingly appropriate that the CS Lewis quote may as well have been written for me.
So here is my re-writing of it.
“The things I was the most ashamed of were the things I couldn’t help, and the worst of them was the fear of appearing mortal. “
Thank God for allowing me the opportunity to learn how to be cared for, and not just be the caregiver. Thank you for the opportunity to be mortal.
And thank you especially, for my friends who insisted on letting me be mortal.