This Little Light of Mine

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine

This little light of mine

I’m gonna let it shine

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine

It is a children’s song, a gospel tune, a spiritual, and a song of civil rights. It has been featured in church, on the street, at funerals, in movies, and at a royal wedding. Children have sung it, pop musicians have recorded it, and protestors have declared it.

To be honest, I have often associated this song with doing good works. That is, the shining of my light is associated with what I do. This is probably due to the fact that as a child, I learned this song in church in which the song was associated with Jesus words:

 “You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14–16).

However, I recently began to ponder, “How would this song change me if the shining of my light included not only doing but also my being, who I am? Furthermore, if I include my being, what, then, is something that causes me to hide my light, my very being?”

One possible answer is:  Shame.

Shame is defined as perceiving myself as being bad—namely, I am not good enough. It is different from guilt, which centers on an action—that is, something I did was bad. Shame has an insidious nature, I believe. It does not boldly come out and say, “Hi! I am shame! How do you like me so far?” It does not declare itself with bright lights and the wearing of flashy clothes. Instead, its very existence thrives on being hidden. Pentecostal Austin Bailey writes, “Part of the difficulty in learning through shame is its complexity and elusiveness from personal and public consciousness.”[1] As such, when it impacts you and me, we, too, want to hide without even being aware of our shame. We want to cover ourselves up. We want to withdraw. We want to hide our being, who we are, from others. Our very essence is not good enough.

  • The color of my skin is not the right color;
  • My gender is the wrong one;
  • I am too short;
  • I am too fat;
  • I am too tall;
  • I am too thin;
  • I am too poor.

So, we find ways to be more acceptable—that is, to unknowingly fight our shame.

  • We may seek approval from others. In using research from Dr. Linda Hartling, Brené Brown speaks of this as “moving toward” in that I try “appease and please.”[2] For example, do I write this blog for your approval or because I enjoy writing? Am I teaching classes because I find it fulfilling or because it is expected of me? It may also appear in my perfectionism. My appearance, my writing, my grades, my house etc. must be polished in order for you to accept me. Or I am so concerned about what you think of me that I make attempts to care for you. I become more concerned about what you desire and think than what I desire and think: What do you want to do? Where do you want to eat? Is the reason you did not text me back or like my Facebook post because you do not like me? Because I offended you? Because you are angry with me? So, I attempt to do all I can to keep you happy. Shame, then, may be couched behind all these concerns, which is saying, “I am not good enough for you to like me . . . for you not to reject me.”
  • It may appear in competitiveness. Brown describes this as “moving against” by attempting “to gain power over others, by being aggressive, and by using shame to fight shame.”[3] I must appear bigger and better than you in order to keep my self-respect or self-esteem intact. If my house is not bigger than your house or my car is not nicer than your car or if I do not receive as many likes on Facebook as you do, I am not good enough. I may call you names or label you in order to fight my own shame—that is, I put you down to try to build me up.
  • Shame may steal my own voice. Brown says this is “moving away,” and it appears “by withdrawing, hiding, silencing ourselves, and keeping secrets.”[4] I may remain quiet because as a woman, I do not want to appear controlling. It may be shame when I keep silent when my needs are not being met, so I go along with my co-workers, friends, or family. I may cover up my light by eating food, watching television, or playing digital games.

While each of us may use all of these, it is significant that shame’s appearance does not look identical each time. While at times we may seek to please others, we may also use rebellion, distance, or cut off when shame encroaches. Rebellion is still allowing the other to silence my voice by the mere fact that I am being the opposite of you. Distance and disengagement may indicate that I am unable to be who I am in your presence, so I remove myself from you.

In short, shame silences the real me, be it by my moving towards, moving against, or moving away.  It chokes out who we really are through our own anxiety. It gives away a piece of our very essence, our own selves. Oh, we may cover up our genuine humanity by using power over, but this is not who humans are intended to be.

Shame, then, conceals our being and in so doing, hides our good works, our doing.

You see, as humans, we were intended to be is loving, peaceful, joyful, kind, gentle, good, patient, faithful, and self-controlled. This is genuine humanity, and as a Christ-follower, I believe that genuine humanity, as well as genuine divinity, are seen in the person of Jesus Christ. This means that I do not believe God intends being to be separate from doing. Why do I say that? Because in Jesus Christ there is no distinction between who Jesus is and what Jesus does. The being of Jesus is also God’s act of ministry. That is, God sends God’s Son (a person, a being) into the world so that the world may be saved (John 3:16–17). Or through Christ all things are reconciled to God, which speaks of a person, the being of Jesus (Col. 1:20–21). The being of Jesus Christ, then, is action—it is God’s act of ministry. If I am a Christ-follower, I am in Christ—my being is joined with Christ’s being. That is, my person, who I am, is in Jesus Christ. I am embraced for who I am. When I know my being is embraced, then good works (doing) follows.

For me, this is particularly embodied in Jesus in the Third Gospel in which Luke frequently uses the motif of eating food.

Luke more than any other Gospel speaks of eating. This is significant when one takes the culture and the time period into account. Robert Kelley says it well:

[D]ining with someone indicated solidarity with that person. To eat with is to identify with. To take a meal with another was to offer that individual the right hand of fellowship in the deepest sense of the term.[5]

Here are just a few of Luke’s references:

  • In 7:34 and 15:1–2, we read about Jesus being criticized for eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners; the criticism in chapter 15 is followed by three parables to illustrate the purpose that Jesus dines with sinners: The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, and The Prodigal Son. Notice how when the prodigal son returns home, a feast is thrown.
  • He eats in the homes of Pharisees such as in 7:36ff, 11:37ff, or 14:1ff.
  • He dines in the home of women, such as 10:38–42, which as Kelley comments, “The meal occasion fittingly provides Jesus with the opportunity to affirm that women have the right to be disciples and that hearing as well as serving is both their opportunity and their privilege.”[6]

In essence, as Kelley notes:

“For Jesus not the food but the people he ate with mattered most.”[7]

How fitting, then, that when Jesus calls for his disciples to institute the Lord’s Supper in Luke, that he refers to not eating the bread and drinking wine again until the kingdom of God fully comes, which Jesus may be suggesting is the future Messianic banquet.

With these thoughts in mind, I invite you to use your imaginations . . .

I want you to think of the day when Christ-followers down through the centuries will sit at the banquet table with Christ. All kinds of believers are present at this supper. You see the Apostle John, Peter, and James. You see Phillip and Paul and Barnabas and Timothy. You see theologians such as Augustine, John Calvin, and Martin Luther . . . So many people who are there who have been used mightily in the kingdom of God. You find yourself standing and watching off to the side. You are feeling a little out of place. You hear the laughter and people smiling, but you do not join them as you are self-conscious. You wonder, “What am I doing here? Where do I fit?” You want to laugh and join people in conversations, but it feels awkward.

You are aware of your own faults. How you tend to get angry easily. How perhaps you are critical of others. How you may demand perfection of yourself and/or others. How you may act or speak without thinking. How you might see yourself as too shy and reluctant to engage in conversations with others, or perhaps how you are loud and bold and tend not to listen. Maybe you secretly struggled with some sin about which no one else knows, such is an addiction like alcohol, pornography, television, gaming, etc. And in that moment, you are self-conscious of all your own foibles, your character flaws. While you see an empty seat at the table, you find yourself backing away. How can you sit among people like this?

Then you see someone at the table turn toward you. He looks at you. You recognize him. It is Jesus. His eyes are full of compassion and deep care. When his eyes lock with yours, his face brightens and a smile comes to his face.

You don’t know how to respond. You sorta give half of a smile. You think that maybe he is looking at someone behind you. You turn to look behind you and around you, but there is no one there. Everyone else is talking and enjoying each other’s company. You look back at Jesus, and you see he is still looking at you. Those eyes are full of love, like a groom who watches his bride come down the aisle.

Then you realize that the empty chair at the table, which you saw earlier, is next to Jesus. You watch as Jesus gestures toward you and the chair. He wants you to sit there . . . next to him?

You point at yourself and mouth the words, “Me?” You watch as Jesus nods his head “yes” and then pulls the chair out for you. You walk towards him. You keep thinking that someone else is going to sit in that seat before you get there.

But that does not happen.

As you get to the table and the chair, Jesus says, “Welcome! I am so glad you are here!” He embraces you with a warm, loving hug. In that moment you realize that Jesus Christ embraces all of you. All of you that is not complete. All of you and your little idiosyncrasies that make you who you are. Your laugh. Your shy smile. Your sadness. Your outgoing nature. Your introverted nature. He embraces what you bring to the table. Jesus receives and uses what you bring to the table. In that moment, you know you are accepted in Jesus Christ. There is a place for you at his table. Your being is embraced.

Know today, my friend, that your being (your little light) is embraced in the being of Christ so that doing may now flow (may shine).

 

A thank you to pixabay.com for the above image.

 

[1] Austin Bailey, “‘Shame on You’: Revising Shame-Based Interpretations for Renewal of Pentecostal Practice.” Paper presented at the 44th Annual Meeting at the Society for Pentecostal Studies, Southeastern University, Lakeland, FL, March 12–14, 2015.

[2] Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (New York: Avery, 2012), 77.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 77–78.

[5] Robert L, Kelley Jr., “Meals with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel,” Horizons in Biblical Theology 17, no. 2 (1995): 123, https://luthersem.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lsdar&AN=ATLA0000905574&site=ehost-live&scope=site, (accessed January 3, 2019).

[6] Ibid., 125.

[7] Ibid., 124.

2 thoughts on “This Little Light of Mine

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