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Simple and Difficult | Week 26

By: Andrew Collins

Posted in Program Updates on March 9, 2017 | View all posts

The most profound moment from our week with author and psychiatrist Curt Thompson and his associate Kelsey Meyers didn’t take place in the classroom. It happened, as so many of life’s profound moments do, around the dinner table.

“Life is actually very simple,” Curt said, “and excruciatingly difficult.”

It was one of those bits of wisdom that immediately rang true for me even though it verges on the paradoxical. In my one-on-one meeting with Curt the next day, I spoke with him about an issue in my life that has been a cause of much worry and shame. He was gentle, affirming, and kind through the entire conversation, but he described the path of healing ahead of me as comparable to the task of digging a hundred-yard trench.

“But not just a little divot,” he elaborated, “a trench two feet wide by four feet deep, so you can’t even stand in it, through packed clay in a Boston winter, without a backhoe or any other machine.”

There it was again. The task is simple: dig a ditch. But it sure ain’t easy.

This theme of simplicity and difficulty was everywhere during Curt and Kelsey’s second visit to the Trinity Fellows Academy during our time here. They came to talk about one simple thing: shame.

We all know what shame is. We’ve felt it. We’ve hidden it. We’ve shied away from people because of it. And—as Curt endeavored to show us—we’re controlled by it much more than we’d like to think.

Shame and sin, he said, go hand in hand in the biblical narrative. Shame is there in the garden of Eden at the moment of the Fall when Adam and Eve realize their nakedness. And shame is there when Jesus was stripped naked and hung on a cross in a public spectacle.

What makes shame so devious and destructive is that evil uses it to keep us from living as God lives. It saps our vitality, stops us from taking risks, and severs relationships. Put simply, it incapacitates us, keeping us from pursuing the creative, life-giving endeavors God calls us to.

What, then, is the antidote to shame? Curt said it starts with making yourself vulnerable—opening up to being truly and deeply known—and then finding that others respond with acceptance and love.

The beautiful implication of this is that helping our loved ones overcome shame doesn’t require profound words of wisdom or some sort of exclusive insight limited to the exceptionally spiritual or knowledgeable. Instead, healing comes through patiently listening to, accepting, and affirming your love for the friend mired in shame. It comes through weeping with those who weep. It comes through staying with them in their shame when we’d rather run away.

Again, this is simple stuff. Be present. Look people in the eye. Hug them. With all due respect to Curt, you don’t need a medical degree to do these things. But they’re often really difficult.

The fact that overcoming shame will take hard work frightens me at first glance, but it also means we have hope. It means that even if we were victimized and hurt by people and forces outside our control, we aren’t inescapably defined by and bound to our past. Some of us have a harder path out of shame than others, but God offers the same grace and redemption to all, and He doesn’t leave us to undertake the difficult journey alone. He gives us a Brother who has walked a much harder road than any of us—all the way to the bitter cup of the cross—and who scorned shame along the way. Indeed, in the loving embrace of God, opened to us and assured for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there’s simply no place for shame.

I like how Jon Foreman’s song “Run Free” captures how God works alongside and through the hard work we undertake in our own hearts to break free of shame. Our Father’s divine power has taken away our condemnation and granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness, so let us run free:

“A crown of beauty for your ashes

Shake with laughter instead of fear

A coat of praise instead of darkness

The God of light’s gonna meet you here

Lift up your eyes now

He takes your shame

Rebuild the ruins

Resurrection is the Maker’s name

Come on won’t you run?

Come on won’t you run free?”