If you know me, my personality is not the kind that likes to insert myself into places that I haven’t been invited. I’m never going to walk into a meeting that I wasn’t invited. I’m not going to invite myself over to your house or to your gathering unless an invite has been clearly extended.
I think it points back to my personality, combined with a deep fear of rejection. It’s safer for me to only insert myself into situations where I know I am wanted and welcome.
Looking back, this even impacted the way that I did ministry. For instance, I never even wanted to insert myself into someone’s crisis unless invited. If I heard someone was in the hospital, I’d usually wait until someone in the family invited me before visiting. I was, what I thought, “politely indifferent” and “courteous” to not insert myself.
And here’s an example that I truly now regret: my response if I heard about a friend had messed up. Maybe they made some really poor choices and lost their job, or maybe their marriage was unraveling. I’d usually sit back and hope they’d reach out to me so I could extend grace and love, but for some reason (even in those scenarios) I often didn’t take the first step.
So the reality is, I watched a lot of people (in fact the overwhelming majority of people) never reach out and continue to suffer in shame, likely completely alone. I never thought much about why they didn’t reach out—I just assumed that for one reason or another, they didn’t want or need me in that moment.
I thought to myself:
“I’m sure they are surrounded by people who are helping them through this.”
“I bet they just don’t want to talk about it.”
“If they wanted to talk about it, they would come to me.”
I now know that it’s completely false! In fact, that assumption most likely robbed me of what could have been some of my most important ministry moments.
You see, here’s the deal: when someone has screwed up or failed at something miserably, or disappointed a bunch of people by not living up to expectations, shame comes flooding into their life. And that shame does some crazy things to people.
At the root of it all, it makes you believe that you’re not good enough. It robs you of the confidence you need to approach people and tell your story. In fact, you’re already on emotional life support and you think if you were to share your story with the wrong person, it would be like pulling the plug.
I was recently telling a buddy of mine that there was a period of about eight months after my resignation from Cross Point and divorce that I wouldn’t even go to the grocery store until 1AM when I thought nobody would be there. I’d sneak into the laundry mat with my hat pulled low over my face and my hoodie draped over my head praying nobody would recognize me. For months and months, I would walk everywhere with my head down scared to death of even making eye contact with others.
All those years, I was expecting the people in my life who had experienced a public failure of any kind to reach out to me if they needed me. But they couldn’t. Even on their better days, it was still too much of a risk. They didn’t need my polite indifference or my silent prayers. They needed me to rush into their life and speak words of love and grace. They needed me to catch them on the bounce.
In the story of The Prodigal Son, Jesus says, that when the father sees the son, he takes off running for him. That always confused me a bit. Shouldn’t the son be the one who runs to the father? You’d think that way if you’ve never been overwhelmed by shame. The fact is, the son couldn’t run to his father. He didn’t have that kind of confidence. (Remember the son was coming back just hoping that he might be able to be a servant to his dad’s household.)
A pastor friend was telling me the other day that in Biblical times, servants and slaves were not allowed to make eye contact with their master. Since this was the posture of the son, we can assume he wouldn’t make eye contact with his own dad. He’s probably looking down in shame.
He also said, that even though this detail isn’t included in Jesus’ story, he’s always imagined the father putting two fingers under his son’s chin and lifting his head until they make eye contact. What a beautiful image that is.
And that’s what I want to commit my life to. I want to run to the people who are overwhelmed by shame. I want to put two fingers under their chin and lift up their head. I want to remind them that their sin doesn’t make them second class—that they are not what they’ve done. I want to encourage by telling them that I’ve been there. I’ve walked around with my head hanging.
Brené Brown says, “Empathy’s the antidote to shame. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.”
We all have people in our lives right now who desperately need healing. They don’t need you to tell them what they should have done right or hold them accountable in that moment, but to hold them close. They don’t need your polite indifference, but your engagement. They don’t need your judgment, they need to hear “me too.”
Me too. And yet by the grace of God, I have experienced people’s love and belonging. And you will too.