This past weekend, my wife, Kim, and I went to a friend’s house.
I confess it has been hard for me to access JOY these past few months, for reasons I suspect are affecting many of us, so this particular visit with friends was a welcome respite. At one point, I was telling them a story about my childhood and we were all laughing hard – again, such a welcome moment. Here’s the story:
I was confirmed in the Catholic Church when I was 8 years old. Confirmation is one of the Sacraments of Initiation in the Catholic Church. It was meant to be a spiritual cleansing, a concept that was especially hard for my 8-year-old brain to grasp. In one of my first confession experiences, I said to the priest (both of us were in small closet-like space that hid our identities from each other, which was also a little unnerving to me), “Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been a week since my last confession. In this past week, I lied to my mother 100 times (I remember this number specifically!) and thought badly about my siblings X number of times.” Remember, I am 8 years old and I was told to be specific with the number of times I had sinned but I did not fully understand numbers yet!
Well, the priest was appalled that I lied so many times in a week and proceeded to discuss it with me. Each question he asked, such as “Why are you lying so much?” and “Are you afraid to tell the truth?” caused me to go deeper and deeper into shame and confusion. Every response I offered was another lie, which further compounded my angst. I could not imagine how to wiggle out of the situation I was in. I could not even fathom the possibility of simply saying I was trying to be a good confession rule-follower, that I did not understand that 100 was a lot, and that, in truth, I had made the entire thing up. I thought saying I lied was a “good sin” – much better than yelling at someone or stealing. I could not even fathom what my actual sins were, let alone have the maturity to express them to someone else, especially to a stranger behind a screen!
It was excruciating back then.
Today, it makes me laugh because I have so much empathy for my little girl self who did not know how to navigate the complexities that inevitably occur in relationship with others. And the more I tried to pretend, the deeper I dove into shame and hopelessness.
Can you relate to this? Maybe not the confession part, but have you ever found yourself in a situation where you could not see a good option no matter how hard you looked? Or have you ever done something you felt ashamed or embarrassed about and struggled to release the shame?
Much of my earlier adult life was spent living in this state. I walked through life in shame. Sometimes I felt guilty about things I did not even do because I was part of a group that was being confronted about something. Some years ago, I learned a faithful antidote to this: straightforward honesty / authenticity.
When I am honest and forthright, I am not worried that someone will discover the truth because I have already told them. I do not try to remember what I said to person A or person B because the answer is the same. If I make a mistake, I own up to it immediately because waiting only brings more angst. I do not pretend that I know something I do not know. I do not try to pretend I am someone I am not. If I do not see any options that feel good, I say that. And, if I cannot figure out how to navigate a situation, I ask for help from someone I trust.
This way of life can certainly be embarrassing sometimes, yet I spend way less time in shame. Way less time worried that I will be found out. And, way more time in a kind of humble and flawed freedom.
Please join me this month in embracing humility and, where appropriate, in finding freedom by releasing our tendency to evade the truth… cover up our actions… pretend we know more than we do… or in trying to be anyone but the truly beautiful, worthy, and Divine beings we are.
Blessings to you…