I remember growing up being terrified of my basement.
It was unfinished- uncarpeted stairs and floors, random poles everywhere, medieval washer and dryer, and some creaky exercise equipment. Unfortunately, it also housed the foosball table. If I wanted to engage in some competitive leisure, I had to venture down to the basement.
What definitely scared me the most was the uncarpeted stairs- the bogeyman was going to grab my legs from between the steps and pull me into an abyss. I always ran up and down so he couldn’t catch me. I was convinced that one day Gilbert the Goblin was going to take me down. I had what professional phobia experts would call bogyphobia: fear of bogeys or the bogeyman.
Looking back at it now, it seems silly, but we all have some legitimate fears. For example, I also struggled with atelophobia (fear of imperfection), autophobia (fear of being alone), and athazagoraphobia (Fear of being forgotten). Those are just the A’s in the list; I could go on and on. These are legitimate, but I think the greatest fear we all face is the fear of being disconnected, and that is called shame.
That’s how I once heard shame defined: the fear of being disconnected.
We were made for relationship, to be connected with other people, and especially to be connected with God. Shame is the inordinate fear that we will not be good enough or worthy of connection, that what we have done and even just who we are will separate us completely from others.
My terror of my basement dwarfs in comparison to my terror of someone abandoning me because of something I did. I always protected myself from people because if they found out anything, they could judge me, and then possibly abandon me.
Where does this fear or shame come from? Let’s take a look back at the beginning with Adam and Eve:
When they heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God then called to the man and asked him, ‘Where are you?’ He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked so I hid myself.’ (Genesis 3:8-10)
God created Adam and Eve in a bond of perfection connection. They were not afraid of who they were- completely naked and vulnerable with each other and God. Then when the snake deceived them, they no longer saw each other as complete gift to one another and God; they began to hide themselves. Why? Because they were naked. Not only does this apply to their physical bodies, but to their whole selves.
Adam and Eve feared being disconnected from each other, but even more so they feared being disconnected with God. When we experience shame, we fear alienation from other people, but if we are believers, we might also fear alienation from God our Father. We don’t feel that He can totally love us, even though we are His beloved, made in His image and likeness.
We can see the brokenness in our family and friends because of this perception of God. It can paralyze us and cause us to be enslaved. We need an answer.
How do we break this fear? In Jesus Christ and His Church, we experience the deep healing of our fears. Jesus wants us to face our fear and our shame:
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, ‘Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.’ Peter said to him in reply, ‘Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.’ He said, ‘Come’. Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ After they got into the boat, the wind died down. (Matthew 14:26-32)
The disciples weren’t just terrified of the wind and sea, but also by Jesus! But Peter has the courage to reach out to the Lord. The Lord is asking him, and us, to trust in His power. He can calm the storms in our life! He is asking us to face our fear, get out of the boat and reach for Him; He will always be there with merciful hands catching us.
This doesn’t happen by numbing or using coping mechanisms to face our fear; it comes with being vulnerable, showing people who we actually are and sometimes revealing that we are weak, just like Peter did.
Even when we turn away from him he is merciful. “’Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’” (John 21:15)
Wow: look at the power of Jesus’ mercy not to point out Peter’s denial of Him, but to restore his heart and send him out to feed the sheep. This is a deep calling for each of us to acknowledge and move past our weakness, to go out and feed His sheep.
How are you showing compassion to those who struggle with fear and failure? Are you showing compassion to yourself? It is only when we have compassion on ourselves and become vulnerable with our own weaknesses that we will have compassion on others.
The Lord is telling you: “Be not afraid, take courage, it is I.” Do not be afraid of your weaknesses, and show others that they should not be afraid of theirs either. This is what Jesus came to do, seek and to save what was lost; set captives free; open the eyes of the blind; break the bonds of slavery to fear.
“Do not be ashamed of the Gospel. It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jews first, and then Greek.” (Romans 1:16). Whether we are ashamed of what we have done in the past, being alone, or the cookie monster, there is power in God’s hand reaching out to us; we just have to get out of the boat.
What are you doing to get out of the boat and walk toward Jesus?