Once upon a time . . .

Once upon a time there was a kingdom.

From outside the kingdom, the landscape looked quite pleasant. Sunny. Bright. Ringing with freedom. Brimming with kindness. A place that any person wanted to dwell. However, if you were able to step inside the kingdom, you may be in for a surprise . . . a shock even. Contra to outside impressions, the life inside the kingdom was one of fear and anxiety . . . fear of being unduly reprimanded by being thrown into a dark, cold dungeon for days.

The kingdom was a repressive regime as it was ruled by King Should and Queen Should Not.

Although people toiled hard in this kingdom, the King and Queen continued to regularly declare, “It is not enough.” In fact, it was never enough. Some gardens in the kingdom looked quite lovely, in the absence of weeds and with sufficient moisture and ample amount of plant food and sunshine. Yet, the patrols of this repressive regime regularly discovered something not quite right, and a brutal tongue lashing ensued. Some outsiders perceived that the punishment did not fit the crime; however, the residents were so accustomed to the harsh treatment that they assumed this was how it was . . . and supposed to be. They could not imagine any other way of life. They were anxious for fear that one day they would step too far out of line and be rejected. For them, it was the only life they ever knew; thus, it simply was the way life was in this kingdom of shame.

Some outsiders labeled the tyrants as despots and wondered why people did not simply leave. Some even told the residents to leave. “Just get out,” they said. However, such exhorters only added to the residents’ shame, as the exhortation became another item on the list of why the residents were not good enough. Actually, they would leave this kingdom if they could, but the reality was: each resident was his/her own police person, employed by the King and Queen of the kingdom of shame.

  • The internalized voices of the kingdom had similar sounds: I wish I would have  . . . I really should . . . I shouldn’t have . . . I could have . . . I should . . . I need to   . . . I must . . .
  • Then there were also the internal labels: You’re so stupid. You’re lazy. You’re crazy! You’re nuts! You idiot!
  • The inner accusations: You said too much. You should have spoken up. You should’ve known better. How could you be so stupid! It’s your fault.
  • The all-or-nothing language: I don’t do anything right . . . I never say the right thing  . . . I always do it wrong . . . Everybody hates me . . . They all think . . . nobody likes me.

What kind of motives were behind maintaining obedience to the rules in the kingdom of shame?

Fear of abandonment from those outside the kingdom, for one. Therefore, obedience to the rules of the kingdom were frequently driven by the preferences of outsiders, and these preferences meant a resident gave up a piece of him/herself. Fear was in the driver’s seat when being driven by the preferences of others. As such, the residents longed for outsiders’ approval and acceptance, which emerged in their proclivities towards perfectionism, as in “Be spotless,” or they surfaced out of a sense of duty, such as it was their duty to live this way because the King and Queen required it.[1]

Of course, when living in such a kingdom, it was the kingdom’s characteristic to keep the residents ignorant of the kind of kingdom in which they resided.

This was done when the residents utilized various methods to protect themselves from the knowledge that they lived in the kingdom of shame. Some of the residents fooled themselves into believing that they had escaped the kingdom of shame—They didn’t live in the kingdom of shame at all. Instead, they believed that the kingdom of shame was established in others who appeared shy, silent, or hidden, or it was a part of those who were always in trouble, failing to live an upright life. What these deceived residents neglected to understand was that one of the tactics of shame was to hide or cover itself up in various ways, such as a resident being unaware of his/her feelings of shame.

  • The hiddenness of shame was seen in addictions. Oh . . . and not just the obvious ones either like alcohol or drugs, porn or gambling, but also gaming, television, work, exercise, or food.
  • It was camouflaged in vitriolic rhetoric by attempting to deflect the internal tyrannical voices by blaming or being critical of others. It appeared in reminding others to keep doing their duty while the person who did the constant reminding was really a resident of the kingdom of shame.
  • It appeared in its competitive nature. “I must have more money. A bigger house. A fancier car. A bigger church.” Or by saying, “My Dad is smarter than your Dad.” Or “I did not do that as well as  . . .” Or “I am not as good as . . .” Or “I must do more . . . I need to do more.”
  • It was masked by some who believed they were simply playing or being humorous when they utilized digs, humor that cut close to the painful truth of the other or by making fun of the other or by stating comments in a sarcastic or sardonic tone.
  • Shame masked itself as the voice of encouragement, which stated, “You are not good enough.” It sounded like, “I must do more—I am not doing enough.” It was continuously dissatisfied and told that one might have become complacent; thus, the I-must-do-more eventually became more personal: “I am not pretty enough . . . thin enough . . . smart enough . . . nice enough.” Yet, exactly what was enough? Well  . . . that remained clearly undefined. Thus, if outsiders complemented them, some residents discounted it with, “It was nothing” . . . or thought to themselves, “If you really knew me . . .” Many residents had learned how to magnify their flaws. This meant that these residents were unable to embrace their gifts because every small smudge that accompanied the gifts was magnified, condemning them.[2]

Some residents tended to look backwards. They continually went into the playback room, picking apart any act or spoken word or by continually regretting what they had not done, unable to enjoy the now.

Some feared pride.[3] After all, one of the messages they heard most loudly was that pride brought them down. Thus, to advert pride, some residents played the same songs over and over: “Not good enough. Not good enough. I must do more. I must do more. It is up to me to do more.” Some outsiders perceived these residents as overachievers, or drivers, who never were doing enough so that they continually pushed themselves and/or others.

Yet some residents of the kingdom of shame were not overachievers. You see, overachievers created space for underachievers, people who were too fearful to try because of their own fear of failure. This meant the kingdom contained both types, overachievers and underachievers, since each complemented the other.

Then, one day a new Resident entered the kingdom.

At first, the King and Queen were attracted to this new Resident as he seemed to advocate for even a higher standard than they desired. Not only did the King and Queen notice him,  but the residents were also abuzz about him. The residents followed him. They listened to him. They loved being with him. He was different from the King and Queen. They discovered an experience of freedom and abundance through him. He embodied empathy in that he was a resident like they were, but he lived above the fear and anxiety. He entered into their lives, their very gardens, and he beautified them as his very presence generated beauty.

Eventually, King Should and Queen Should Not became angry with the new Resident. It seemed like everyone was following him, and they feared that no one was paying attention to them. They were losing control. People were moving out of the kingdom to reside/abide with the new Resident, a temple of healing. These people seemed to have a new dance, a different song than the one they used to sing. The King and Queen became anxious and fearful as well as defensive of their own ways. They warned the residents: “If you don’t pay attention to us, you will throw off all restraint and be rejected. You must keep these rules we have established. You must try harder. You are not good enough. Remember: it is your duty to live by our ways as we are protecting you.” They, then, pointed to other people as examples of those they thought were the rejected ones. Yet, the current residents hungered for a taste of this new Resident’s life, for his message of healing.

His name was Grace-n-Truth.

Unlike the kingdom of shame which forced people to give away a part of themselves, Grace-n-Truth helped them to find their genuine selves. He loved the unique characteristics of each one. He taught them to receive him prior to their being acceptable. He taught them that genuine grace was not dangerous like the King and Queen said. What was dangerous was living without grace.[4] Genuine grace was the liberation of a life to be one of authenticity and integrity, not covering themselves up as in the kingdom of shame. Instead, they were to be who they were meant to be—genuine humans of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This was what it was to be an authentic human, which the new Resident lived out to the fullest. He embraced vulnerability, which gave them permission to do the same. He upheld humanity, which encouraged them not to despise their humanity but to receive it. As Lewis Smedes says, “[W]hen we accept ourselves, we heal our shame.”[5] And this was what Grace-n-Truth did: accepted them and by so doing, he healed them.

You see, the new Resident’s grace was contra to the mathematics of the kingdom of shame’s so-called “grace.” In the kingdom of shame the belief was implicitly held that the residents could become so perfect that grace was not needed; however, the new Resident indicated that this was not grace at all. One did not reach a place in graceland where grace was not needed.[6] In grace, not being good enough or not doing enough did not matter. Why? Because Grace-n-Truth provided ample supply, an abundance of grace and truth. The Truth was: these new residents of Grace-n-Truth saw more and more how much they needed Grace, and this moved the people farther from the kingdom of shame to live more and more in Grace. The more they lived in Grace, the more they saw Truth. It was a continuous cycle of Grace-n-Truth in which they dwelled. No longer were they saying, “I am not good enough” because Grace-n-Truth was saying, “I am” while simultaneously being the “I am.” It was no longer up to them. The I am, in whom they resided, was more than enough.


Thanks to pixabay.com for the image.

[1] Lewis Smedes speaks of how the church contributed to his shame when he heard the messages: “The voice of duty: God required me to be perfect before I could be acceptable to him”; see Lewis B. Smedes, Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 78.

[2] Smedes writes, “Shame-prone people discount their positives”; ibid., 84.

[3] Smedes writes, “Why do shame-prone people burden themselves with impossible ideals? One reason may be their fear of pride”; ibid., 85.

[4] Smedes again writes, “Grace genuinely experienced is not really dangerous at all. What is dangerous is the wearisome, joy-killing heaviness of living without grace”; ibid., 113. Later, he writes, “Her fear of pride was the tremor of her shame”; ibid., 149.

[5] Ibid., 143.

[6] Smedes says, “[S]he will never be so pure of heart that grace is not needed nor so poor of spirit that grace will not accept her”; ibid., 118.