Understanding Respectful Families and Shaming Families for Christian Maturity is an important way we work out walking in the Fathers love.
Consider the examples of shame in my own family to understand these dynamics.
“Wow, a dirt bike track!” The year was 1978 and we had just moved to Sparks, Nevada. I had never seen a BMX track. I took off down the hills and around the curves enjoying the thrill. As I came around one curve, out of nowhere, a group of bicycles racing forced me off the track, causing me to crash over the side of the berm. I was so mad I started cursing those guys out. They came back and starting fighting me. I got beat up badly – a swollen lip, black eye. It was a shaming experience and I felt rejected and alone. But worse than the fight was the idea of having to go home and face my dad. The pain I carried was not just from this isolated event, but from a whole system of family life that I lived in. There are two key dynamics that operate in family systems and effect how we mature: acceptance and vulnerability.
Acceptance versus Judgment
There is no acceptance in the shame system, rather everything is “weighed in the balance” and usually you are “found wanting.” Therefore, there is no flexibility and no room for error. You are either right or wrong. These families do not consider life events on their own merits, rather they judge the person as right or wrong. So secrecy becomes huge. I tried waiting a long time before going home that day. I wanted to see if the swelling would go down and maybe Dad would not notice. Facing my dad’s disappointment and anger only added to the sense of shame I already felt. I could not have put it into words back in those days, but something in me knew it was not okay to have lost a fight. It was not okay to have weakness of any kind; I was either right, or I was out. There was neither comfort nor help to overcome, only judgment and more shame.
In a respect-based family, the physical pain would have been just as bad from the fight, but I would not have feared going home. I would not have felt “on the outside” with my own family. I would have known Dad would have been on my side. I could have expressed my feelings of indignation to a listening ear that would not ‘weigh me in the balance’ but would have shown comfort and empathy. Merle Fossum says, “People in respect-based families talk openly with one another about their lives rather than manage their relationships with secrets. They are openly vulnerable and dependent or needy at times without judgment.” The foundation of the Fathers love is there.
In my struggle that day back in 1978, intimacy and personal development could have grown. I could have learned that I will receive comfort in my weakness, that it is okay to fail, and okay not to be perfect. I could have grown in empathy and ability to live in community. Instead, my pain was denied and judged, which taught me to isolate and have unrealistic standards of perfectionism – only perfect people that can defeat a whole gang of kids are accepted.
Shame does not just disappear on its own. If we cannot show vulnerability and weakness to people and still feel okay about ourselves, we will not have a capacity for that kind of intimacy with others or even God. This is why people put on masks and try to appear successful or hyper-spiritual. It has been prophesied for years that there will be an end-time people that know their God, walk in radical intimacy and do exploits (Daniel 11:32). I do not believe this will happen by accident. It will happen as we learn principles from the Bible and apply them.