Shame and Restoration - Mark 5

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware

that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Mark 5 (NRSV)

In the summer of 1998 I experienced Jesus for the first time.  It was not very ethereal.  I went to a summer Bible study for middle schoolers and discovered that as I prayed to Jesus something inside me began to change.  So I came back to school in the fall, 7th grade, with a new sense of self—a sense that God was at work in my soul.  A lot of things changed for me that year.  My grades improved dramatically, I engaged in my extra-curriculars with an enormous amount of zeal, and I actually made some friends. Although my “conversion,” was gradual and somewhat unemotional, the concrete change in my life could not have been more drastic.  I really felt like a whole new person. 

That is, until the annual “See you at the Pole,” event.  This is/was an event where well-meaning young Christians meet at their school’s flagpole for prayer before school.  I was terribly excited to join with my new brethren in intercession for our school and world.  But then I found out that the girl I had a crush on was the organizer of the event.  This thoroughly freaked me out. My mother dropped me off early that morning, early enough that I was the first one there.  I got so nervous about being around this girl that I just walked right into the school building, straight past the flagpole, and into the lobby.  With sweaty palms and brow I sat anxiously on one of the cushy benches.  I could see through the window as all my believing classmates showed up.  They began forming a large circle, all holding hands.  Then I saw my crush begin walking toward the school, she walked right into the lobby to make sure that no one was being missed for the event. As the door swung open, there was not a pore on my body that was not frantically manufacturing sweat.  I was the only one in the room when she said, “Are you coming to pray with us!?” 

I shook my head, avoiding eye contact.  

“Well, you’re very welcome to do so.  Everyone and anyone can join us!”

My twelve-year-old voice quivered as I said, “It’s not really my thing.”

“Ah… so you don’t believe then?”

I nodded.

“Well, we’ll miss you.” 

Yep.  That's just what I felt like.
I nodded!?!  What in all creation was I thinking? How could my attraction to this perfectly kind and sincere girl turn me into an absolute spineless recanter!? Jesus had changed absolutely everything about my life, and yet in one short moment of intense fear I had denied that I even knew him.  It was an awful moment.  And what happened in my heart was that I began to believe something insidious—that deep down this was who I really am, a man of fragile faith, feeble courage, a man squelched by fear. There were many stories of failure before and after that served to authenticate this ominous self-narrative.  It became pervasive and followed me like a dubious sub-title:
Matt Ingalls: weak, feeble, afraid. 

I worked pretty hard in high school to accomplish things that would undo this shameful self-story.  But every accomplishment came along with a caveat, something like, well they just didn’t see the whole me.  Or, no one noticed that I didn’t do this very well.  Or, but this person still doesn’t have a high enough opinion of me.  

It wasn’t until college that I began to unravel this complicated quilt work of shame-based identity. There were many things that helped in the unraveling: really good friends, listening and wise mentors, and a couple of excellent books.  But the real unraveling came in the way that God dealt with me in public.  That probably seems odd to say.  Normally we think of time alone with God as the furnace of transformation, but for me this unraveling had to have a public facet.  My shame had to be undone in public.[1]
That’s why I quote this passage from Mark 5. This bleeding woman is unclean.  There were Jewish purity rules that restricted her place in society.  She was an outsider, who probably wasn’t even supposed to be in this crowd surrounding Jesus.  Jesus heals her in a very private fashion.  The bleeding stops and it’s only known in her spirit/body.  But Jesus doesn’t leave it there.  He makes her come forward.  Her great shame is laid bare before the community—can you imagine her trembling? But her public confession allows Jesus the opportunity to declare her shame undone before the whole town.  She is restored internally and socially.[2]  Everyone bears witness to her cleansing.  She is an outsider no more.[3]

There are many stories from college where I felt like God did this to me.  He continually put me in places where I had to face my fear and by his Grace be restored.  There was one moment in particular that also had to do with a young lady.  By accident she and I ended up chatting in a donut shop for hours.  In the wee hours of the morning I dropped her off at her dormitory.  I drove back to my apartment blown away by our conversation.  But that old cocktail of fear and shame was there too—she was just being nice, don’t read into things. Before I had even gotten out of my truck, I called one of my closest friends and told him about my splendid evening and he said, jokingly, “you oughta just drive back there and ask her out.” I knew he was right so I hung up on him and started my truck.

Meanwhile, those same old pores started sweating buckets.  And the shame propaganda spoke-up: Don’t even think about it! You will just totally embarrass yourself!  

But there was another sort of voice, not so much a voice as a feeling that translates into something like, “you can do this.  I am with you. Your subtitle hasn’t been written yet.” So off I went to look this beautiful lady in the eyes and ask her to dinner.  

The rest, as they say, is history.  And in that moment, so too was my shame.[4]  My constant internal shedding of negative self-talk was dried up, right there in the presence of my future wife. He restored me to her, before she even really knew me.

[1] It seems to me that Grace is the antidote of shame.  Too often we think grace is just God’s embracing us as sinners.  But that’s one-legged Grace.  Just as Grace embraces, so too does it restore and refashion.
[2] This word that Jesus uses for her wellness is sozo.  It is often translated as “salvation” or “saved.”  But it really has a deep meaning that relates to wholeness; imagine a broken pot put back together in a way that there are no cracks and every piece is accounted for.  That’s the kind of healing Jesus brings with him wherever he goes. Also, notice he says to her, “go in peace.”  By now I hope you read that and in your think about shalom.
[3] I know that I got this interpretation from someone else.  I’m just not quite sure from whom.  So, credit to an unknown source.
[4] I must convey that shame does not just go away in this life.  It becomes overwhelmed by our identity in Christ.  It can be forgotten, overcome, and marginalized.  Even so, shame endures in this life, rearing its vicious fangs when one of my “buttons” is pushed.


Popular Posts