Heart Cry: The Courage to Confess
The secret she was keeping welled up into tears. “Mom, I have something I need to tell you.” Most of the time she didn’t have the opportunity to keep secrets – somehow, she always got caught. Yet, this one thing – this one really important thing – she managed to keep hidden for months. But she couldn’t keep it hidden any longer. Her confession came just days after I got offered a contract to write a book. In the midst of her confession, the truth came out – she was afraid that what she had done would ruin my reputation as an author and kill my book deal. My heart broke, and the tears that had been welling up in her eyes came pouring out of mine.
One thing I wanted to be certain of as a parent was to distinguish between poor choices, bad behavior and “being bad.” So, my husband and I try to remind each other not say things like, “bad girl” or “I can’t believe you were dumb enough to do that.” We try to correct bad behavior, and encourage them to make wise choices. We try not to shame them.
We’ve heard about the difference between guilt and shame:
- Guilt = I did something bad/wrong
- Shame = I am bad/wrong
Guilt is supposed to lead to confession and when wrong things are corrected, hopefully guilt leads to transformation into being more properly human. On the other hand, shame almost certainly leads to hiding wrong behavior for fear of rejection and abandonment because of the idea that doing something wrong means there is something fundamentally wrong with the core of who I am.
But, no matter how hard we try as parents to correct wrong behavior and avoid shaming our children, somehow shame still manages to infect them. We say, “that was a bad thing you did” instead of “you are so bad!” We train them to ask for forgiveness and try to teach them how to make better choices. Then, we say we forgive them, but we keep treating them as if they are going to keep doing that wrong thing we corrected them for last month. We try to trust them to learn from their mistakes, while we question them and give them the third degree making them prove their goodness over and over again. Somewhere deep inside we know they will make poor choices again, a part of us remembers they are not perfect, but we have forgotten that it’s kindness that leads to a change of heart.
As my heart was breaking, I reached over and embraced my precious daughter. My heart was not broken over the really important poor choice she had made. No, it was broken over the fear of rejection that kept it hidden for so many months, the fear that her poor choice might lead to my rejection too. Not only did she imagine that what she had done made her a bad person, but she feared it would make me bad too. You see, shame is infectious. It spreads like a dragnet catching many in it’s trap. It sweeps us in, and before we know it we are snatched out of the life-giving water of grace and acceptance and dumped onto the hard, dry ground of fear and self-loathing.
I wrapped my arms around her and told her how much I love her. I assured her that she had not ruined my reputation. I reminded her that she is not defined by her mistakes. I am amazed by the courage she showed that day. In the face of paralyzing fear, she opened her heart and let me see her cry. She shared her pain and fear of rejection. She confessed that she felt like she had failed me, and failed herself. I held her tender heart in my hands as she melted in my arms.
Some youth at church knew of the trouble she had gotten herself into – the things she got caught doing, the things that rumours had revealed. It was hard for her to go to church knowing they knew those things about her, knowing they might sit in judgment and talk about her behind her back. Even “good Christians” gossip. But gossip isn’t something you can go to jail for. Some Sundays she felt the condemning glances more than others, but she kept showing up and opening up her heart to those she trusted to keep on loving her and accepting her no matter what. Somedays she felt like she didn’t really fit in. Was she even worthy of being called a Christian after all those mistakes she had made?
There was a bit of subtle shunning and shaming that troubled her heart. She was rarely invited to be a part of the events for students who were “on fire” for Jesus. Some assumed she didn’t care about Jesus as much as others who talked about their faith all the time. But Jesus is as real to her as to anyone else. Maybe even more real. She knows about grace. She knows about unconditional love. While some are standing around raising their stones of condemnation, she hears Jesus calling her daughter. She hears Jesus inviting her to go and sin no more. She hears Jesus and answers, with a cry from deep within her heart, yes, I will go.
It’s hard to shake the labels of shame – sinner, heathen, failure, troubled teen, rebellious, uncommitted, unfaithful, worldly, materialistic, selfish, hypocrite, lost, and out of control. Those are just a few of the labels that get thrown around in Christian culture – the culture that is supposed to be the fount of grace, the bringers of hope, the bearers of good news. It takes courage to share your heart not knowing whether grace will be offered or shame will be smeared.
My daughter has shown such courage. She keeps opening up her heart to me and to her friends and has found power in her vulnerability. She stands stronger today because she had the courage to confess, to let me and others see her failures and listen to her heart cry as she needed to know she was worthy of love even in the midst of her deepest sorrow and regret. She may have made a few bad choices, but haven’t we all?
Dear daughter, I love you and always will. I love your courage to be honest with me no matter what fears may be tempting you to hide in shame. I love the beauty of your deepest heart cry, your longing to love and be loved, your hope to find grace and peace in a world filled with shame and fear. I love your passion to help deliver others from the power of shame and systems of oppression. I love the way you offer grace to others and refuse to pick up stones of condemnation. I love the way you stand strong and offer strength to others when they are feeling weakened by shame and fear.
Dear daughter, I offer this poem as encouragement to help you know you are not alone. I am with you in this struggle of faith and hope and will always love you more than you know.
There is place within me – my spirit, my heart, my soul,
That place of deep emotion that prompts the tears to roll.
That place of voiceless moaning struggles to find an ear:
Lord, are you listening? I need to know You are here!
Lord, tell me, are you out there? Have you heard my cry?
Please, Lord, pay attention, I’m afraid you’ve passed me by.
Have I sinned one time too many, are you counting each time I fall?
Is there some logical reason why you don’t seem to answer my call?
I have heard that your grace is sufficient to meet my every need,
And in every way that I have failed, your purposes still succeed.
I anticipate your voice, Spirit of Wisdom and Truth, I know I have been heard.
That place so deep within me clings tightly to your word.
In the dark night my soul gets weary and my heart begins to fail.
Yet, I know just like the morning, your light will soon prevail.
O daughter, when you’re darkened by fear and you sense and endless night,
Remember Jesus our Redeemer who alone can make it right.
Jesus cleanses us from all our sin and makes us white as snow.
Like a mother, our loving, kind and gracious God loves you more than you’ll ever know.
This post is part of the June Synchroblog: Ordinary Courage, where bloggers were asked to write about Brené Brown‘s idea that “ordinary courage is putting our vulnerability on the line.” The other contributors for this month are:
This Is Courage by Jen Bradbury
Being Vulnerable by Phil Lancaster
Moving Forward Takes Courage by Paul W. Meier
How to Become a Flasher by Glenn Hager
Ordinary Courage by Elaine Hansen
Courage, Hope, Generosity by Carol Kuniholm
The Courage to Fail by Wendy McCaig
The Greatest Act of Courage by Jeremy Myers
Sharing One’s Heart by K. W. Leslie
All I See Is Rocks by Tim Nichols
I Wonder What Would Happen by Liz Dyer
What is Ordinary Courage? by Jennifer Stahl
Loving Courageously by Doreen A. Mannion
Heart Cry: The Courage to Confess by Elizabeth Chapin
The Act to the Miraculous by VisionHub
the spiritual practice of showing up & telling the truth by Kathy Escobar
It’s What We Teach by Margaret Boelman