I had so much shame as a pastor. (It still shows up!)
Shame is keeping leaders lonely, exhausted, and fractured.
Shame is an intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy. (Brene Brown).
In 2015 I became a single mom with two small boys who I call my boy joys. That summer I moved to a new church. Imagine a new position, new city, new house, two small boys. I was overwhelmed with no idea how and if I was going to make all of this work.
Entering this new church, I didn’t speak about myself or my situation but people could see my struggles. One of the days my shame reared its head was when I declined to do a wedding. The couple met with me and I asked if they were sure because I was divorced and frankly I didn’t know what I thought about marriage anymore. They replied that maybe doing their wedding would help me in the healing journey.
I remember thinking now who’s the spiritual leader here? LOL. I finally began to talking about my shame (in safe and appropriate ways). Now to be clear, I spoke to close friends and colleagues but I rarely spoke about my reality with parishioners. In talking to friends and a therapist, I started to let down guards. When I did, I saw and received support in ways I’ve never allowed myself. Parishioners watched the boys, brought us food, gave me breathing breaks, and perhaps the most precious and valuable gift was their stories. Several older women shared that they were in second marriages and not to give up hope.
One way to navigate shame is to cultivate shame resilience. Keeping shame secret only controls our lives more. So finding space to speak of it lessens its intensity. Name it to heal it.
What’s at stake?
A leader in shame doesn’t enjoy the fullness of community. It is easy for them to be the one placed on a pedestal as a model for others to follow instead of being one with the people. We are all people and too often leaders draw thick lines between themselves and those they follow. When we do this, we’re assuming that our leadership separates us and more than that it elevates you over them. We feel protected in some way but we miss the gems of wisdom, the contributions that our congregations can offer. Um, you know you can’t build the reign of God by yourself, right?
Romans invites us not to be ashamed of the gospel.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile”. Romans 1:16
That gospel sets us free- even from the shame that’s not related to sin. So let’s not be shamed pastors preaching unashamedly of the gospel. The dissonance wreaks.
Action Brings Clarity: I pray you have trusted colleagues. Speak with one of them about how you might be allowing shame to keep you lonely, exhausted and fractured. I pray for you and your ministry that both would be whole, healing, and full of love and grace..