I’m feeling an enormous amount of shame today, shame and worthlessness and everything that comes with them: hopelessness, sorrow, anger, lethargy, self-judgment. The trigger was a typical “not what I’m looking for” rejection, nothing significant, but I think I must have been ripe for the attack of shame and the sense of unwanted-ness that has now haunted the past three days because it has left me fighting old demons. Old but clearly not defeated.
The thought that I don’t deserve happiness or that I am just plain not allowed to have happiness has become persistent. My reason for this lack of deserving and allowance? God’s will. Why would I think God has willed such a dark life? The reasoning comes from my religious upbringing, the knowledge passed on to me by church elders and youth group leaders.
One, I have never been meant to be happy. God knew this before I existed. The assumption is that some people just aren’t meant to know happiness in love. My churches taught that some people are meant to remain unmarried for their entire lives, and that if you are chosen for this, it should be accepted and adhered to, as it is God’s will. Certainly, if God wants people to remain unmarried, he must also mean for hearts to always be broken. In essence, this has always been his plan for me.
Two, I’m being punished for something I’ve done, so I will not be allowed happiness until I’ve repented or made up for my offense. Was it the divorce? Is it because I’ve had sex outside of marriage? Until yesterday, I hadn’t seen these things as sins for some time. But now the fear of God preached by my church pervades. What if I’m wrong and what I was taught was 100 percent correct? What if this is God’s judgment? I was taught that if we disobey God, he may choose to cause terrible things in our lives until we turn back to him. Is the worst yet to come? It is quite possible I deserve this brokenness.
Or three, perhaps the brokenness is God’s way of loving me. He’s calling me back, and he’s doing it through the breaking of my spirit. Let me feel unlovable and unwanted and alone because then I’ll realize I need God and that I’m not living life according to his will. FYI, I know I need God.
Four, God intended for me to be happy, but I messed up his plan seventeen years ago when I fell in love with and married my now ex-husband. Had I followed God’s plan, I would know peace and joy now, but instead, I’m cursed to remain lonely and sad for the rest of my life. I missed my chance and I must pay the price for my misjudgment.
I suppose all of these come down to the ever-present conflict of “God is love” versus “God is a jealous god,” a complicated dichotomy that has plagued me since my confirmation days. Is the character of God truly summed up in “I love you but disobey me and I’ll destroy you”? And is there nothing I can do to change it? Because I was taught that though I’ve been given free will, God will do whatever he pleases. So I’ve wondered for much of my life if prayer is even worth it. If God will do whatever he wants, can my prayers ever sway him?
Christian readers, do not fear for my soul. It is not my faith that is shaken; I know Jesus died for my sins and I love him dearly for it. Rather, it’s a question of how to live this life here on earth. Do I spend the rest of my life accepting loneliness, heartache, and the feeling of unworthiness as the payment for my crimes, or part of God’s plan, or God’s way of loving me, or the price I must pay for the choices I’ve made? Do I decide this is God’s will and accept that I cannot change it? Do I accept a life of utter joylessness and pray that I won’t live too long? Or do I tell myself this is shame speaking and that these things aren’t true and that God wouldn’t allow me to experience such a dark life? (A persistent voice says the last isn’t true; just look at the biblical figure Job.)
I don’t have an answer today. Shame is sucking the life out of me, and I don’t know how to stop it. I’m writing because speaking the hurt and shame aloud is supposed to be the key to healing. Shame researcher Brené Brown (http://brenebrown.com) says that we need to acknowledge shame and share our stories because shame thrives on silence. It’s difficult but necessary:
Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.
So here I am writing to you, being vulnerable. I don’t see any more light than I did an hour ago, and I don’t feel any more wanted or hopeful, but maybe it’ll come with time. At least I’ve said something. At least I’ve confessed these things I’ve feared my entire life. At least I’ve broken the silence. Wiser people say this will help me heal, help me have hope, help me to see the value of me. I hope so because I don’t think anyone deserves to go through life feeling unlovable and worthless.