Huddling under a table in a storage area attached to the garage of our 1970’s cookie cutter ranch-style home, my heart beat rapidly. Only five years old, the adrenaline was not the result of an exciting game of hide and seek, but instead panic and a hope that maybe, just maybe, I could disappear. News of an older boy coming to my house paralyzed me with fear.
A casual onlooker may have attributed my hiding to my being shy, weird, or defiant, but my disappearance had roots. Weeks before, someone else had stolen a measure of my innocence. So, at this moment, I wanted to hide.
“Jennifer . . . Jennifer! I could hear people call my name, including the comforting sound of my mother’s panicked voice, but I didn’t move. Eventually, fear melted into embarrassment, as it seemed the whole neighborhood was out to find me. Only when I heard mention of calling the police did I make my presence known.
Physically, I came out of hiding that day. But parts of me stayed hidden for years.
Hiding always has roots. If you are hiding, take my hand. From the depths of my heart, hear this. You are not alone.
Hiding in Shame
I grew up in a safe and loving home. Yet because this event from my childhood remained hidden, it continued to speak lies to my heart.
From the age of five, Shame sneered at me, whispering, You’re no good. You’ve done something terrible. It didn’t matter that I had done nothing to be ashamed of. Shame works this way.
Because of Shame, I stopped trusting people. No one was immune, not even God. Or, me. I believed untruths about my identity that permeated various parts of my life. The truth? I thought I was unworthy of a seat at the table.
As I entered my pre-teen and teen years, talks of purity started taking place. Though the adults in my life never knew, these talks left me further covered in shame. In my mind, “pure” could never define me, not anymore. I felt imprisoned.
Superficially trying to fix the broken places in my heart, I lived out the consequence of this jumbled mess throughout my teens and early twenties. Perhaps the greatest casualty of my imprisonment was an inability to authentically love others; especially myself. Shame was winning the battle.
Be A Big Girl
Holding the hands of friends who experienced trauma in their childhood only created more personal shame. Why? Because my own experiences felt extraordinarily insignificant when compared to the ongoing tragedy of others. Why was I such a fragile flower? Why wasn’t I a big girl who could move on with joy, leaving the past behind? Why did it take me so long to stop listening to the voice of Shame?
Here’s the deal. Jennifer, the little girl, created damaging patterns of self-talk. The little girl then became a big girl who continued the same patterns. The patterns were more sophisticated, but contained Shame’s basic lies.
Because I chose to hide what happened, my loving parents could never give me a hug, surround me with compassion, and speak truth into my five-year-old heart. The hug, and the truth, came years later.
At some point in my twenties I realized the compassion I gave others was so much greater than what I allowed for me. I would never dismiss someone who shared my personal experiences, I would not look at them with disgust and judgment. And yet, I judged myself. Constantly.
My greatest challenge was to clearly see the girl in the mirror and learn to love her.
Somehow I never lost sight of the foundational belief that God loved me. In God–who so loved the world–I saw my potential worth. My healing journey began with a simple prayer, “Father help me see myself the way you see me. Help me hear the truth of me.” I repeated this prayer for years.
An incredible turning point took place in my early 30s, when I met my husband and experienced motherhood. The big, messy love of my new family filled my cup, healing my heart and causing me to comprehend God’s love in a new and freeing way. They were a gift; God clearly loved me by entrusting me with these beautiful people.
Yet God wasn’t finished. He had another hug for that five-year-old girl. I had spent fifteen years as a high school teacher, but, in a season I believe God orchestrated, I began working with preschoolers. In those moments, with four- and five-year-old kids, I found healing. Seeing their innocence, their inability to even imagine evil, gave me the perspective I needed so desperately.
Finally, I found compassion for the blue eyed, freckle-faced, pig-tailed little girl who had big dreams and–up until that one point in my life–only knew good. It was freeing to welcome her back into my life once again.
I’ll be honest, I still struggle with whispers of Shame. But the moments are less and the voices not as harsh. More days than not, I come out of the hidden places.
For too many of us, pain hides in our “closets,” which we consciously and subconsciously carry in our hearts. The little girl–or even grown-up girl–full of dreams, is broken (sometimes shattered) by events out of her control. Shame attacks her value and identity as someone worthy to love and be loved. While she may find strength to move forward, parts of her remain wounded and hidden. That little girl, once carefree and kind, stops showing up.
When we hold onto Shame, we fail to see the needs and desperation of people right in front of us. Because we feel unworthy, we believe we have little to give, and this self-fulfilling prophecy becomes our reality.
But here is a big girl message for us, ladies. We must wake up and start fighting to free ourselves from Shame. The world is too broken and unkind for any of us to be hiding. People are hungry for genuine smiles and listening ears, followed by big hugs and kind words.
I’m not suggesting that being a big girl means verbally barfing our past on social media (as I am doing here, LOL). But if we wear Shame more than freedom, we miss the opportunity to show up in the life of someone who needs us most.
No More Hiding, No More Shame
Instead of hiding, let’s grab hands, and together tug on the sleeve of our Father, asking for the hugs which erase those lies of Shame which cover us.
Let’s learn to love the girl in the mirror. No more hiding, no more Shame. Starting today, Shame has no hold on us. With full Southern accent we declare, “We ain’t got time for that!”
Tougher and wiser for the wear, let’s come out of hiding as a growing and unstoppable force of love. As real women with real faith, let’s start showing up.
If you need someone with whom you can grab hands, I’m here. Contact me below.
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