Well shame seems to have been following me around this week. It all started with last week’s blog post receiving the smallest readership in a long time and shame had a field day. Then I went to see the movie, The Mercy, which graphically portrayed the unimaginable power of shame.
It’s a true story about Donald Crowhurst, a loving husband and adored father but a man who hasn’t had a lot of success in life. Unable to make it in the Air Force or Army, he turned to business. As the story begins its clear that wasn’t going well either.
Donald was an amateur sailor and Sir Francis Chichester was his hero. When the Sunday Times launched the Golden Globe round-the-world yacht race in 1968, Donald began to imagine following in Chichester’s footsteps and winning the 5000 pound prize money which would save his business from financial ruin.
He mortgaged his home and business to finance the journey. But Donald didn’t have the skills or experience required for such a dangerous and demanding undertaking and he quickly discovered that his boat was totally inadequate. The trip was a disaster and he was making little headway so he hatched a plan to falsify his positions so people would think he was further along than he actually was.
Alone with the relentlessness of the sea, a boat falling apart, desperate loneliness and depression, he decided that he couldn't keep going. But he couldn't face going back either, the humiliation of not finishing the trip, the exposure of his dishonesty and seeing his family destitute; the shame was too great. He committed suicide.
Death was preferable to facing shame.
Then on Friday night, after what must have been the longest flight of their lives, I listened to Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith face a media conference. I saw their shame, humiliation, remorse and grief but mostly I saw courage in their willingness to face their shame head on and be vulnerable before the media and the Australian people, accepting responsibility and asking for forgiveness. My anger and disappointment dissolved into respect. That’s what vulnerability does.
Vulnerability isn’t weakness but strength. Shame thrives in secrecy and silence and withers when exposed to the light. When I’m willing to be vulnerable and face my shame and share it, I not only discover I’m not alone, but realise that it looses its power over me.
It can become my idol as I invest all my energies in making sure I‘ll never have to publicly face my shame. The only antidote is grace.
When by grace I know my identity as a child of God, shame need no longer define me, but instead God can use it to point to the areas in my life that need to be transformed. I won’t be free of shame in this life but I can face it, and refuse to let it have power over me. Then I am free to love others without any hidden agenda.
“There is no freer person in the world than one who can no longer be shamed.” John S Webb