Shame Lifter

We all need connection, but the universal thing that keeps us from it is SHAME and FEAR. (The Power of Vulnerability, Ted Talk by Brene Brown)

From my 2009 Journal. I just finished reading Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz, my former pastor’s wife. She says shame was the undercurrent for all things she did or felt in life.

I, too, admit to feeling an undercurrent in my heart—the shame of inadequacy—a restlessness in my spirit that I’m hiding. It happens when I feel my mind slipping away from me—when I can no longer remember a name or recall a common word or someone tells me they had dinner at my house and I’m surprised because I’ve forgotten, or I’m asked to speak in front of a group. I feel so out of the culture, out of sync, unintelligent, afraid I’ll say something dumb.

The roots go all the way back to my Grade 6 furlough when I had to ask a friend what a word meant—a common English word that was never used in my boarding school in Africa. And even after her explanation, I misunderstood. Here’s how it went:

Someone had scrawled some words on the blackboard of the teacher next door: “Mr. Hart cut a fart.” I found Billie Bean, an African-American classmate, pulled her aside under the fire escape stairs, and asked her what a fart was.

First, I felt her hesitation and embarrassment at having to explain this bodily function. There were inadequate synonyms in sixth grade to explain, and so she pointed to her derriere and said, “It’s what comes out of there.” Okay, now I got the picture: someone was suggesting that Mr. Hart had taken a knife and cut in half a piece of excrement. Why in the world would Mr. Hart do that? And what would possess a student to scrawl that on the blackboard?

When Billie discovered my misunderstanding of this American idiom, I do not remember how she corrected it, but I believe that’s where the shame of inadequacy became planted. I believed the “should”—I should have understood—but even more I could sense her discomfort and the subject felt dirty.

Jesus is my shame-lifter. Being culturally ignorant was not my fault, and I didn’t have to take on Billie’s embarrassment. Perhaps I became the more intelligent one since I now knew that word in two languages!

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