One of my greatest longings is that shame would cease to be normal in the church.
I just wrapped up my last day working with the beautiful children of Battle Creek, Michigan where I offered home based care as a Certified Trauma Practitioner (CTP).
Upon reflecting, I think back to week one. As I looked through the file of one of my first clients, I learned about his abuse, the suicide attempt, and his trouble in school. I headed straight to his third grade classroom to meet him and hopefully offer some emotional support during his school day.
When I signed in at the office and asked for my client, the receptionist literally laughed out loud, rolled her eyes, and said, “good luck”. I inquired if he was having a bad day to to which she explained that he has a bad day every day. Apparently that morning he had unplugged all the computer equipment and monitors, flipped desks, cussed out classmates, and kicked his teacher in the shins.
I took a moment before heading into C’s classroom to ask God what C needed to hear from me.
God told me to tell C that he’s a good kid.
When I walked into his classroom he was sitting in a desk all by himself facing the corner, arms folded, with a scowl on his face. I talked with him for a bit – fully engaged and interested in him. Sometimes all a kid needs is for someone to find them important enough to be granted their full attention.
He was pretty short with me and closed off. I think he probably expected me to view him as impossible and out of control like everyone else does. His face was covered in shame.
I looked for a good opening and soon spoke the truth God shared with me. “You know, C, I think you’re a really good kid. I was wondering if maybe youd be my friend?”. Immediately, his demeanor softened and he started inviting me into his world. Perhaps, one of the greatest honors I’ve ever been given.
I spent a lot of time with C at his school throughout the duration of my employment. When I was with him, his behavior was impeccable and he excelled in his work. This made his teacher mad to some degree actually, which I found slightly humorous. Mr. T explained to me one day with full frustration that he appreciates the load taken off of him when I’m around, but that this isn’t who C actually is. He attempted to help me understand that C was tricking me or something – that, in reality, he is disruptive and impossible.
I smiled and told this teacher that, “all C has needed all along was someone to believe that, in reality, the kind, obedient kid before us right now is the real him”.
I decided to take C back to my office one day to work on some things with him. I believe in therapy, but honestly, I believe in the love and power of God more. Therefore, I sometimes choose to ditch the therapy and get back to the basics. On this day, I was utilizing the sand tray. My major focus remained helping C believe that he’s good – that he is not the person others may see him as. He’s not his worst behavior. Of course I worked with him on emotion identification and regulation and whatever else, but it wasn’t the most important thing to me. His identity was more important to God so it became more important to me.
I picked up a hand full of sand that day and shared the concepts of Psalm 139. I told C that God’s thoughts of him are more than all the sand of all the sea shores.
I then picked up one single grain of sand, placed it in his hand, and asked, “what do you think this thought is?”.
He looked down at his toes, full of shame, and quietly muttered, “..that I’m a bad kid”.
I looked him in the eyes, full of tears, smiled, and slowly explained that God’s thoughts of Him are ONLY and ALWAYS kind.
Puzzled, he asked, “well, what is that thought then?”.
“This thought right here is that you are a good kid with a good heart”.
There’s a concept that has found it’s way into the American church that I have believed most of my life. It’s the idea that we are all merely “sinners saved by grace”. In other words, our heart is evil, but God loves us anyway. I now believe this to be one of the most disastrous misconceptions in the church today. It is as if people are scared to think highly of themselves – it’s a false humility, really. It also keeps people trapped in the very paradigms Jesus died to free us from.
Yes, the Old Testament speaks to the heart of a man being evil. However, we live on the other side of the New Testament, where, through Jesus, we have a new identity and God makes all things new. My heart is not evil. In fact, anything evil in my heart is not me. My identity is no longer a sinner and never will be again. I am a saint. I am righteous. Holiness runs through my veins. If you know Jesus, then you are family and this is your identity too. If you do not know Jesus, He has an open invitation waiting for you. In fact, He has been setting a place for you at the dinner table all along. He waits patiently, excited for the possibility of introducing you to yourself.
I continued to work with C a lot. One particular day, I rounded the corner of his classroom to find a very angry third grader screaming at his teacher and attempting to run away.
He turned around, saw me, and immediately froze in his place. This is the first time I had ever witnessed his bad behavior. The look on his face broke my heart into a million tiny pieces. If it could talk, it might have said, “oh no, she’s seen the real me, now she knows I’ve been a phony, now she knows I’m a bad kid!”.
Crying, he quickly ran and hid under a table in his classroom. Naturally, I crawled under there with him. Keeping his face inbetween his knees, he wouldn’t talk to me or look at me. I couldn’t seem to pull him out of his shame, so I decided to simply be with him instead. I didn’t say much to him that day, but I sat under that table with him for over an hour, waiting. I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t going to run out on him just because I saw his “ugly”. When it came time to leave, I leaned over to him and reminded him of who he is – that I see him as good.
It took a couple of weeks and sessions for him to make eye contact with me again. But over time, he started to believe the truth about who he is. I slowly but surely saw Love free him from his shame.
Through this experience, I learned that a person in shame needs two things above all else.
First of all, a person in shame needs to be pursued. I believe there’s an 8 year old kid inside of all of us who really wants to go hide under a table whenever we mess up. Idk about you, but I’ve learned that Jesus always follows me under mine, and waits patiently there until I make eye contact with him again.
Secondly, a person in shame needs honor. Not only does God always pursue us when we crawl under the table to hide, but He sits before all of our “ugly” and views us in high regard anyway. To have someone see the darkest parts of you and think highly of you in it’s presence – that’s the Love of God. It has the power to bring infinite freedom.
If you are a friend of mine, I vow to always think highly of you in this way. Even in the midst of discovering your darkest parts.
I worked with C for months. I’m happy to report that he is an altogether different kid than he was a half of a year ago. His anger has dissolved, and in its place is the kind kid God saw from the beginning. I’m forever thankful that God chose me to call this forth in him – what a privilege.
I had my last session with C today. We spent time playing in the sand box. As I sifted through sand, C recounted a memory from a while back that must have stood out to him. He made a comment about God having lots and lots of thoughts. I picked up a grain of sand and placed it in his had. He smiled, and with words as light as a feather, he exclaimed in full assurance that this specific thought was that God thinks he’s a good kid.
I learned a lot about God through being friends with C, but perhaps the greatest thing I learned is that knowing who we are (and who we are not) is one of the most important things about us. Second, only to knowing who God is.. and who He is not.
You are not your depression or your addiction. You are not your biggest mistake or greatest weakness. You are not worthless, stupid, crazy, or any of the other rediculous things people have labeled you as. These things are not your true identity.
I’ve realized that I am a lot like C in many ways. I have believed a lot of lies about myself for a long time. Thankfully, God continues to pursue me, honor me, and speak His truth to these lies every day. With each passing day, my identity is being both shaped and further walked in as God reminds me of who I am. With each grain of sand that I begin to believe as truth, God is calling forth the real me. You know what, I’m a lot different person than I was 6 months ago too.