What A Shame

I witnessed something the other day that I almost missed. It is hard to identify something that has all but ceased to exist. But there it was, in the form of a woman who needed assistance from our office.

After years of working in a non-profit organization, first as a volunteer, now as Director, most of the people we deal with live in poverty. I am always on guard when I feel that I am becoming hardened by those in 'need', taking steps to make certain that my capacity for compassion is not impaired. There are days I have to step back and regroup and remember why I am here and what I believe God asks of me in this position. Some days are easier than others.

Our volunteers who work with these clients are a constant source of balance for me. They are wonderfully loving and giving and are always going to bat for these women, even with their Director who, by necessity, tends to be a bit more judicious in determining need vs. reality. They keep me centered.

So, imagine my surprise when covering a shift for one of these wonderful ladies that this woman came in. She was older than our usual client, and very obviously pregnant. We talked for a bit as she wondered if we could help with her situation. This is not her first child, it is her third. What struck me about her was her peaceful, quiet demeanor as we spoke. As I tried to assess her support structure, I asked about the father of the baby. She looked directly at me as she quietly answered "he is in prison" then, quickly looked away.

My heart broke. It was not what she said, but her eyes spoke volumes. I could hear her over and over again asking herself "how did you get here! You knew better”. As we began to talk about her needs, the gravity of the situation was evident on her face. Yes, she was still working. Her job is physically demanding and left unsaid was what will happen when she takes time off to give birth. How will the rent get paid? With the family provider now in prison, things were starting to fall apart. The electric was due. We went over some resources and information she would need to find assistance.

I let her know the things we could help her with and she was grateful. It was only after she left and I was trying to get her information in order that it dawned on me. What I had just witnessed was something I haven't seen in years. Shame. And I have to tell you….it was refreshing. Almost as if a window was thrown open and the stale, dank air of this dark world was being replaced by a vibrant, cooling, soothing breeze.

Think about it. When is the last time you witnessed shame....or felt it? I think it started disappearing from our culture in the 60's. Can't have that burdening us in our quest for the ultimate in freedom--doing what we want, when we want, how we want, with whom we want. I think it has become the new 'American Dream'. One problem. Shame is the one thing that can bring us to the end of ourselves and prompt us to turn our lives around. Without it, we have, well we have 2010 in the West. The death of the culture began with the cancer of sin. Not just sin, but unrecognized, unrepented sin.

In addition, we were not content with not allowing ourselves to feel shame. No. Suddenly, our children would suffer irreversible harm. They must not feel shame. The people around us that were dealing with seemingly insurmountable problems due to lifestyle choices, recreational drugs, illicit sexual relationships can all be 'dealt with', but they must not be made to feel shame. That was the only unpardonable. We must show charity and keep quiet about the obvious. How far we have fallen. With all semblance of shame gone, we don't have to deal with the whole idea of sin. What a relief.

What a shame.

Now, it goes without saying that God expects charity toward all from us. But do we not show more love and charity when we don’t run from the struggles that wrong choices bring to our families, co-workers and friends? The conversations may be awkward and difficult at first, but God has provided for us through our very own struggles. We just need to lift the mask and allow His light to replace the heaviness of our own sin and then share what we have learned in the process. Nothing is more freeing.

We have only just begun to work with this client. But I am more than confident that she will get through this time in her life. Just behind that veil of shame lies pure, unadulterated determination. With it, she will be able to let the example of her life shine for her children. This is the lesson that too many have never learned. When you get to the end of yourself, complaining, making demands and raging against our lot in life does not solve anything. Learning from our experiences and the experiences of others will go a long way to heal what has broken down in us to the place where we don't even recognize the cure that is -- shame.


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