The topic of shame and isolation came to the surface of my heart in the last little while when a friend shared with me the gentle and honest talk on addictions by Canadian physician, Gabor Mate. I have been ruminating since then on the presence of pain, isolation and loss that exists in the life of someone who struggles with addiction. I was struck by how Gabor shares not only about his addictions and the common experience of addiction, but also how he paints a picture of how addiction can begin and can continue to grow in a persons' life. For example, he states that "the addiction to power is always about the emptiness that you try and fill from the outside".
Have you known or do you know a form of this emptiness? What have you found to fill it?
Also, I read (and posted previously) this article about The Real Cause of Addiction -- expressing that isolation is the foremost cause of addiction. This was one of my favourite lines: "The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection."
I think there's a reason that when the restoration of God's people is talked about in Isaiah 49, it talks about it being realized in a picture of prisoners being called out of their cells and the darkness they have been sitting in. They are set free, and then, they are lavishly provided for to the extent that the paths they take away from the 'prison' are lined with food -- to the point where they will 'not hunger or thirst'. God calls people our of the darkness they experience. That's what God is about. God wants not only freedom, but the safety and security of being given what we need. We need human connection.
I am blessed to know people who suffer from and have suffered from addictions of various kinds. Addictions to prescription medication, alcohol, pornography, attention, cocaine, MDMA, marijuana, money, work, control, and many other vices. Although it's very sad, it is often not surprising that these people don't come running to church with their crippling pain, fear, addictions, and great shame. In church, we are often not characterized by our grace and understanding. And, this, I find sadly ironic.
Why aren't Christians the best at this? Why aren't we known for welcoming people into the light from the darkness they have been experiencing to be their best among a community? We ourselves know what is it to be welcomed in, don't we?
Christians have got to begin landing on the compassionate side of scenarios where someone is vulnerable, made to feel alone, and there is mud-slinging taking place. Please hear this: if you believe and have the experience that in Jesus you are found (Philippians 4:13), welcomed to rest securely in the arms of Almighty God (Isaiah 40:11), found without blemish (Ephesians 5:27) and forgiven (Matthew 6:14) -- just go love people. Don't make it complicated. Don't get caught up on the wrong side of the shaming and isolating of people finding their way and those who are hurting. Remember you were much the same once, and maybe, you have forgotten your new identity, the freedom that is rightfully yours and your first love (Revelations 2:4).
There is a story in the Bible of a man who was summoned to the courts of his king and is asked by the king to pay back money he owed. The man knows he cannot repay his debt even if he sold all he had and if he and his whole family worked towards the debt their whole lives. The king, in an act of great mercy, forgives the debt. The man goes free. Then, the man, perhaps having just accounted for all his money, remembers a poorer man who owes him . He confronts the man and instead of allowing him to take the time to work and pay back the debt, he has him thrown in jail. The king gets word of this, is deeply grieved, and throws the man who owed him but was forgiven his debt into jail. This story is called The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Don't we so often do this? We call someone out on failure or shortcomings we notice when we know the grace we've received was lavish and unwarranted. Speck and log, anyone?
Shame is a damning and dark experience. I heard the distinction between shame and guilt the other day. Guilt is sociologically very healthy while shame can be very damaging to a person's social relationships. Guilt can often mean a person is owning the hurt and having remorse for the pain they have caused by their actions. Guilt can propel you forward to make a change and move towards restored relationship. Shame fosters internal isolation.
The story of the Prodigal Son is always a favourite. I believe it is a story of lavish and unearthly grace. The moral of the story to me is about letting people go free. The older brother in the story, the one who is the 'good son' and doesn't ask for and spend his inheritance before his father is dead, doesn't understand this grace. He doesn't want his dad to go all-out in the party for his son when he comes back, begging for a spot on his servant roster. I can be like that. I can think: "He's not doing it right! He didn't do the things in the right order and you should punish him for that! He doesn't think like You would!" (I'm really ornery.) But this story shows a different way. The father in the story had every right to bar the door and stand on his protected property and wait for his son to leave again and never come back. He would be shamed, and some would say "rightfully so". Instead, the father sees him coming 'a long way off' and runs to meet him (I always pictured it as more of a WEEHHEEE!! skip all the way down the driveway). He welcomes him back home.
I don't think we can ever make too much of open arms or a welcoming stance or inclusive speech. I hope I can do a better job of seeking out those who are isolated and need to be set free from the darkness around them.
I love this verse in Isaiah 58:12. I like to think of it as best-case-scenario for a job description (and titles!):
"Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in."