Shame as a place of beginning

My son, Justin, gave me a book a couple of years ago.  Reverence, by Paul Woodruff, has been forming my life in some incredible ways.  Professor Woodruff’s basic thought is that reverence is one of humanity’s virtues.  And although he acknowledges that reverence can be focused through one’s view of God, he insists that all of us would be better people, whether or not we believe and trust in God, if we will draw three elements into our daily living.

Those three elements, Awe, Respect, and Shame, are interrelated and truly do create an aura of “remarkability.”  Awe for a power that is greater than us.  Respect for others in the context of our awe.  And Shame as a constant check on who we are.

I’ve shared the book with students as a guest in one of their graduate courses.  Twice a year, I sit with a dozen or so of them and we talk about the way that reverence plays in our lives through these three elements.

Shame is the element that draws the most criticism in these discussions.  I suppose the reason is that Shame is pictured as a burden.  Because of that, it does seem to be ill-fitted to make up our virtue of reverence.  Although I have spoken strongly in favor of its inclusion, I think I have too quickly slid into a comfortable spot of thinking that I should start with Awe as I pursue reverence.  (By the way, despite Dr. Woodruff’s assertion that this doesn’t have to be about God, for me, it’s all about God.)

And so, for a few years, I have been caught up with the notion that I must  establish Awe as the cornerstone.  In truth, it is the cornerstone.  Yet, I battle with myself constantly.

I missed the importance of confronting my Shame.

The beauty of the life that God has given us is His unfaltering willingness to forgive me for my failings.  He doesn’t want me to fail.  And I certainly don’t want to.  Yet, what I have missed is the mystical power that accompanies my ability to recognize where I don’t measure up and then to bask in the glory of a Creator who loves me anyway.

That’s why I can hold him in Awe.  That’s how I can come to recognize His true power.  That’s the only way that I can even begin to understand His love.

So today, I’ve concentrated on my Shame.  With a renewed desire and energy to do better tomorrow, I am beginning my path to reverence.  And as with everything God has given us, the path is filled with the fullness of Him.  My view of my Shame gives me hope.

Awe and Respect will happen.  Shame forms us.  Thankfully, with God our Shame doesn’t have to overpower us with guilt.  He holds something better for us.  Shame is my opportunity.  Shame is a place where I begin.

God offers us continual reconciliation.  Through Shame, we gain the wisdom and the motivation to reach out and grasp what He offers.


Just over five months ago, I fought to open my eyes and focus on the face of a young woman who was doing her best to explain what my immediate plans were for the afternoon.

Over the course of the next hour, I slowly came to the realization that I had been in an automobile accident. I say “realization” rather than “recollection” because, to this day, I have no memory of the collision. During that first hour of consciousness I had a number of thoughts.

I wonder . . . where the accident happened . . . where my car is . . . if anyone else had been hurt . . . whether or not I should cancel my 4 p.m. appointment . . . whether I am seriously injured.

During the second hour, I began to take inventory. At some point, that nice nurse had slipped my driver’s license and a little brochure from the police department in my left hand. My wallet was in my back pocket. I had all of my keys, except for the one to my car. My cell phone was on my belt and still working. And it was about that time that it occurred to me that I was alone – I was surrounded by strangers.

When I look back on that moment now, it seems pretty odd that I didn’t think to reach for my phone and call my wife. The phone worked, after all, and I knew her number. But making the call never made it to my list of options. Eventually, the nurse, in response to my anxiety, made the call.

People in conflict have moments like that, too. The immediate circumstances close in on them along with the distractions and worries that accompany disputes. And, even though they have the skills and the ability to handle conflict appropriately, they don’t.

Frustratingly, that’s true for me as well. It is difficult for me to properly deal with conflict in my own life. And that’s a little embarrassing to admit since I make my living helping others work through their conflicts. Yet, it doesn’t matter who you are, when the conflict is personal, surfacing to a place where you can respond appropriately is hard to do.

As you walk through each day and are confronted with challenges, remember to pause and allow yourself to surface. In almost every instance, the skills and opportunities for solutions and reconciliation are at your fingertips. And, if you still can’t quite reach them, don’t be afraid to ask someone else for help.

Value in Faith, Part 2

I’ve been accused of not listening. Actually, I’ve been convicted of the charge.

And my “not listening” is not confined to what the weatherman just said about the forecast or the announcement blared out over the plane intercom. Nor is it limited to those vital moments in a television show or football game when I really need (in theory) not to be disturbed with outside information. No, it’s been pointed out to me that my most grievous period of inattention comes in the midst of those times when I appear to be willingly engaged in conversation.

I, for one, find it ironic that this is a problem for me. After all, I teach people how to have difficult conversations. And, on most occasions, I am very successful in listening to others and conveying my interest in what they have to say.

After further thought, it dawned on me that I am most guilty of this behavior in my “everyday” conversations. I’m not arrogant about it nor selective. No, I see these times of exchange as a necessary moment to dispense MY information.

An additional irony emerges as I consider that my inattention transmits my disregard for the other even though these “everyday” people are family and friends who I dearly love.

This is a problem, I thought. And being a problem-solver by nature, I came to the notion that I should list my special “everyday” people and give my best effort to listening to every word they say. I was about 5 people down on the list, when I recognized that I “talk” to God everyday. And thus, my second clarifying statement on faith emerged:

To realize the value I place on faith, I will spend more time in prayer in order to listen to God.

More time praying with the intended result of hearing more from Him.

For a doer and a talker, this is a big step for me. Yet, I tried it just this morning. Sat down. Pulled my chair close. Breathed deeply. And heard God.

No booming voice came out of a thundercloud. No stone tablets were pushed across the table. No . . . only silence and calm. And thoughts and ideas that seem clear now — and some that will become clear some day. My God whispers. He has nothing to prove.

And when I can stop and listen for that whisper, I come to know Him. My faith can’t help but grow.

[This is one in a number of notes about my personal journey to identify and enhance my values. It’s personal. It may not address where you are and may not align with your value system. You may not agree with me at all. That’s all right. If I’m missing something or you’ve got some thoughts that would be helpful, please do. Thanks for reading.]

Escaping Orbit

As I gaze out the window of my oft-times harried life, it seems to me that I often see the same landscapes.  Over and over again.  And planted in those larger scenes are the faces I’ve seen before with voices echoing the same messages I’ve heard before.

Face pressed against the window pane of my existence, I marvel, perhaps even delight, in seeing the replay of my most frustrating moments.  I see the anger and injustice that I perceive grows from others.  And I, almost unknowingly, reach over to hit the rewind button.  I feel justified in my own anger and malice toward those who do things to complicate my life.

I now realize that when I act this way, I have chosen to orbit the challenges and problems.  For whatever reason, I have chosen to keep them close.  I have chosen my misery.

“Chosen” is a convicting word.  Some who are in a similar circumstance may wince a bit at its use.  Why, we all ask, would we choose to do what is painful?

I believe we choose to act this way because, deep down, we think we have the power to make a difference . . . to bring about change.  Actually, we do have some capacity for that.  Yet, when we target change to happen in others, we lock into a circular path that leads nowhere.  In doing so, we orbit.  We spin around.  We turn the problems over and over again in our hands like some sort of a puzzle.  While in the force of that recurring nightmare and our attempts to stabilize everything about us, we rarely find the key to unlock the puzzle’s secret.

The problem with orbiting is that over time our energy begins to wane and we begin a spiral down into the problem itself.  We want to own the situation and manipulate it.  Without fail, that sort of fixation allows gravity to pull us into the central mass of negativity and pain.

I’m discovering (but have not mastered) the concept of letting go.  By releasing those things I truly have no control over, I am freed to go on with my life without the constant reruns of my bitterness, helplessness, and hopelessness.  Indeed, I am freed to navigate to where I need to be and want to be — almost at will.  Or, if I’m not totally successful in releasing, I gain the blessing of a wider orbit, one that includes greater experiences and relationships.

The key is in deciding what I am truly responsible for and what is outside my realm.  I am responsible for me.  I am responsible for how I interact with others.  I am responsible for my relationship with One who is greater than me.  And while that is a tremendous set of responsibilities, it’s a burden that each one of us is totally capable of bearing.

Let go.  Share heavy things with others.  Escape your orbit around the negative things that can capture your heart, mind, and soul.

If the shoe fits . . .

Last night, a new acquaintance began telling me about his recent experience buying sandles. He walked into a store last week, found a pair that he liked, and then asked the clerk to bring

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him a size 10-and-a-half and a size 11. He explained that his shoe size was 11 but that his experience with sandles was that they are often a little bigger than the size professes.

The clerk returned with two pair — sizes 10 and 11. “We don’t have half-sizes,” he reported. My new friend tried on the 10 “just because it was there” and was amazed when it fit perfectly. Curious, when the clerk left to ring up his purchase, he grabbed the contraption that gauges feet and found, indeed, his foot measured a size 10.

“I have a closet full of size 11 shoes,” he told me, “and now I’ve discovered that I’ve been buying the wrong size — most of my life!”

While I found the story interesting, I didn’t have a clue of his rationale for telling it. Until he added, “I’ve learned a lot through this experience. It seems that I’m quite capable of limping through life with the assistance of things that don’t really work. Now, I’m on the lookout for things that fit me and giving things a chance that I’ve refused to even consider. The future seems much brighter now.”

Openness to doing things differently — thinking, talking, listening — does tend to brighten up the future. Try on a different size shoe today. Particularly if its well-worn by someone else. You might discover some new possibilities.