Monday, July 18, 2016

A Hole in the Trunk

Last day of vacation so I decided to run out and pick up lunch. I was driving home when I saw a car with a gaping hole in the trunk exposing lots of personal property once hidden inside. And it was full of stuff, an ugly mess. I think I may have gasped at the sight of it; it was a bit shocking. Seeing inside the trunk of someone's car in this way made me consider what kinds of things I store in my trunk. Sometimes my trunk is filled for weeks on end with things I mean to donate to the thrift store. Other times my trunk holds the basics: back pack for work, car emergency kit, spare tire and a pop up bag for groceries, which rarely gets used because I forget it is there. I often have something in my trunk to return to someone. Putting something in the trunk seems to have a way of wiping it from my memory temporarily. If I have something of yours, you might check the trunk of my car.

While I was thinking about what people might see if my trunk was bashed open, it occurred to me most of us have an emotional trunk where we stuff feelings and memories we want to forget or don't know what to do with, things we don't want others to see. OK so I am a counselor and yes I have to tie the exposed trunk to our psychological mess. Please bear with me. I do believe a lot of what we try to ignore in our emotional trunks keeps us trapped and unable to live in freedom.

Without making a full disclosure of all we hide in our trunks, let's consider the bottom line: shame. Maybe shame isn't all, but shame seems to be the big white elephant we all stuff into the trunk and lock it in tight; we for sure don't want others to know how much shame we feel. Here is the interesting thing I have discovered in my work, most of what we are ashamed of aren't things we did wrong (though there is some of that). People are most often ashamed of things out of their control. The big snow ball of shame begins as a child by the things others did or said to us and it keeps on building from there. Shame is based on the lies we believe and shame paralyzes us. I love this reminder in Psalm 34:5 (NIV).

Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.

Brené Brown, an expert on shame, wrote, “Shame is that warm feeling that washes over us, making us feel small, flawed, and never good enough. If we want to develop shame resilience – ability to recognize shame and move through it while maintaining our worthiness and authenticity – then we have to talk about why shame happens.”

Oh no! We have to pull shame out of the trunk and into the open. Brown goes on to write, “Shame is basically the fear of being unlovable . . . There is a real fear that we can be buried or defined by an experience that, in reality, is only a sliver of who we are. . . . Shame needs three things to grow out of control in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment. When something shaming happens and we keep it locked up, it festers and grows. It consumes us. We need to share our experience. Shame happens between people, and it heals between people. . . . Shame loses power when it is spoken.”

Like me, many of you may be wondering: “Aren't we supposed to feel ashamed of some things?” Brown simply explains the difference between shame and guilt in this way:

Guilt = I did something bad.
Shame = I am bad.

We all have stories that have shaped us for better or worse. Shame can keep us from seeing any good, anything of worth in our stories. Shame can make us hide and pretend until someone rear ends our emotional trunk and our pain gets exposed. Ultimately we each have a choice in whether or not we allow our stories to be used for good or buried inside to decay and shame us. I am learning it is better to embrace the story I've lived, sift it for all the good God has brought from it, be a humble encourager of others from a truer place, than have my protective bumper ripped away and all my stuff instantly and violently exposed.

Peter Scazzero writes in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, “Our fear of bringing secrets and sin into the light, however, drives many people to prefer the illusion that if they don't think about it, it somehow goes away. It doesn't. Unhealed wounds open us up to habitual sin against God and others. . . . You see, even the worst and most painful family experiences are part of our total identity. God had a plan in placing us in our particular families and cultures. And the more we know about our families, the more we know about ourselves – and the more freedom we have to make decisions how we want to live. We can say: 'This is what I want to keep. This is what I do not want to bring with me to the next generation.'”

Of course we cannot make such healthy decisions without looking in the trunk at the things hidden away. We don't look to blame and we don't look to dwell; we look to expose it to the light and to be set free. Shame tells us not to look. Being whole and healthy requires us, not only to look, to sift through and expose our lives to the light of truth. It is only by truth we are set free.

All this to say opening our emotional trunks is not the same thing as exposing hurt and hurtful people on social media. We have dulled our senses from overexposure and do not realize this has the same effect as ripping open a trunk and exposing everything at once. This is not healing, not useful and is not without shame. Our stories aren't meant to be weapons. It is through the grace of God we are able to expose our wounds in a healthy way, bringing all the ingredients of our lives, and allowing our stories to be woven into His beautiful message of love and redemption to the world.

I find hope in the words of Henri J. M. Nouwen, “There are two ways of telling your story. One is to tell it compulsively and urgently, to keep returning to it because you see your present suffering as the result of your past experiences. But there is another way. You can tell your story from the place where it no longer dominates you. You can speak about it with a certain distance and see it as the way to your present freedom. The compulsion to tell your story is gone. From the perspective of the life you now live and the distance you now have, your past does not loom over you. It has lost its weight and can be remembered as God's way of making you more compassionate and understanding toward others.”

Maybe it's time to inventory your trunk. How are you doing as you sort out what is usable and what is not? Are you willing to give shame the boot so you are free to offer up the mess for God to use? If the idea is overwhelming, don't do it alone. We are to encourage one another and bear one another's burdens. Find a trustworthy person to buoy you up in the process.

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