When I was a child, I really liked board games. Who am I kidding – I still really like board games! There’s a hint of competition, a hint of challenge, ideally more than just a hint of fun. Unless, of course, you’re with someone who doesn’t recognize that it’s just a game – a game that will go into a box at the end, and be put away.
Have you ever played a game with someone who took it too seriously, too personally, too harshly? When that happens, it ceases to be fun. It ceases to be a chance for learning skills, for positive interaction, for good memories. Someone who brags that they knew the who/where/with what in Clue, someone who has memorized (and shares!) their highest ever Scrabble score (because, of course, it’s higher than yours), someone who takes a little too much delight in Monopoly when you get that “Do not pass Go, do not collect 200$” Go-To-Jail card. Suddenly the ‘game’ has become stressful – unhappy – negative – a place of shame for the loser.
Isn’t it ironic that we will try to teach our children positive self-image and healthy self-confidence, yet then can watch them have that torn apart by shame – from a game. Some families work hard against this, of course. They take turns choosing a game, they will play cooperatively or without keeping score or in varying teams to pair strengths and weaknesses. Yet the shame, sadly, can still happen.
I find it’s not just in games where we see this shame. If you do a quick search online about shame, you find all sorts of examples. Things that would make any of us feel shameful – that embarrassment, dishonor, humiliation. That emotion that brings our heads low, our shoulders forward, our faces covered. Because that’s where to word ‘shame’ comes from – it means to cover.
And we see these shaming examples about our celebrities, about our public figures, about our society, even about our pets. Our tabloids are filled with stories and photos of celebrities having a bad hair day or –gasp- seen without makeup!. We hear about politicians and their off-hours habits and immediately cast judgement about what a horrible person they must be. We culturally shame others because we disagree with their views or actions or lifestyle. We shame our pets when they misbehave – seriously, there’s website dedicated to photos of dogs holding signs about their misdeeds.
We have come to be a people who have no problem assigning shame to others. It’s in our vocabulary and has become commonplace: her dress was shameless (though our assessment was not), his admission showed no shame (though our judgement certainly did), the group’s statement – well shame on them! (But not on us, of course).
So what happens when we do find ourselves in a place of shame? What happens when we do allow ourselves to honestly assess our own thoughts, words, and deeds? And I’m not just talking about our fashion faux-pas and misquotes. I’m talking about the things that matter, the things that weigh us down.
We all have them – we all have things in our lives – memories when we know we could have acted better, when we could have chosen more caring words, when we could have chosen to be compassionate instead of having to be right. There are things that we have done – intentionally and unintentionally – that we should feel shame for.
But here’s the good news – this is not a burden that were meant to carry forever. This is not something that is meant to weigh us down, to cause us to cover and stoop and shuffle for the rest of our lives. Instead, these are things that we are called upon to address. Where we have acted wrongly, we are challenged to see that wrong and do what we can to make it right. Where we have spoken harshly, we are challenged to consider how our words have been heard, and amend them as possible. Where we have closed our hearts, we are challenged to seek out opportunities to re-open them and be delighted at what we find. Where we can see our own shame, we are challenged to acknowledge our faults and promise ourselves – and God – that we will do better. And then – the hard part – we need to make good on that promise, trying our best no matter how many times we fail, not taking for granted how many times we get it right.
When we think about shame, as today’s readings ask us to do, we are challenged to identify what is holding us down, what is imprisoning our spirits. And then we’re invited to trust in the promise of forgiveness that Jesus has given us. Whether we come to him on the Sabbath or on a workday or in the middle of the night. The timing isn’t important – Jesus himself says so. What is important is the desire to be free, the desire to feel forgiven, the desire to be liberated. If we want to break free from the prison of our shame, we need only come to Jesus. If we want to stand tall in the presence of our friends and families, we need only ask for Jesus’ help. If we want to feel whole and beloved for being exactly who we are, we need only allow ourselves to be uncovered by the goodness of Christ’s mercy.
When I was a child, I really liked the “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly. Celebrating my life as a child of God, I really like the “get out of shame” card that Jesus has already paid for.