Last week we talked about how to enjoy a holiday as a current or recovering perfectionist.
I was ready to keep things in perspective, accept my limitations, focus on loving people, and be oh so thankful. And honestly, it’s the best I’ve ever navigated a holiday.
Nevertheless, there I was the day before Thanksgiving, teetering on the edge of a meltdown.
When I tell you the reason, you might think I’m ridiculous. But that’s a risk I’m willing to take. It was what it was, whether it makes any sense or not. Today we are going to use this handy example as a template as we talk about the concept of shame.
Here’s what happened:
Wednesday afternoon, I began to suspect that I had underestimated how much corn casserole we would eat. Our Thanksgiving dinner was to be a small one, so I had only purchased the ingredients to make an 8×8 pan. But I hadn’t taken into account how much we love leftovers.
That was it.
I might not have estimated our Thanksgiving side dish properly.
How on earth would this trigger a meltdown? It sounds like a fairly simple dilemma to navigate. But the day-before-Thanksgiving me had a harder time.
There I sat at our mudroom bird-watching table, staring blankly at my corn casserole recipe, willing it to tell me what to do.
I had been doing so well up to this point. That morning I had written “Enjoy getting ready for Thanksgiving” on my list. I had let go of many unnecessary to-do’s. I had even set aside a break to watch an entire Christmas movie with the kids.
But that didn’t keep my throat from tightening into the horror-shame ache.
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Should I go get more ingredients?
I knew this would happen. I am so bad at estimating. I’m screwing everything up already.
I started to imagine the pivotal failure moment when we would be shamefully out of corn casserole before everyone had eaten their fill. My contagious second-guessing spread to the turkey, how I wasn’t sure if I’d put it in the fridge early enough to be thawed in time. And what about the stuffing? Maybe I wasn’t making enough of that too. But the recipe is for the crock pot and I only had one crock pot.
On and on it went.
It wasn’t about how much food I should make. These inanimate side dishes had come to represent my self-worth. Which meant there were heavy implications if I failed to pick the right quantities. Then there was the fact that I was falling apart about it. The embarrassment that I was so unsure of myself. What did that mean about me?
The swirl had commenced, all of the details flying around and around my brain until they coagulated together into one condemning sentence.
Why did I ever think I could be in charge of Thanksgiving?
After this wave washed over, I did what I knew to do. I texted my husband and told him two things. One, the actual dilemma about food quantities, and two, that I was warding off panic over it. (He is well-aware of how things go down.)
He assisted me with his opinion about the side dish: More is always better. And he confirmed my suspicion: None of these things were worth going over the edge.
I made a quick trip to the store and we had a lovely Thanksgiving. (With way too much corn casserole.)
A Closer Look at the Pattern
This is what I do.
I turn small facts into implications. They join with other facts and other implications. And pretty soon, I am completely falling apart.
Maybe you don’t do this, but I’ll bet that somebody in your life does. And you have no idea what’s going on. One minute they seem fine and the next minute it seems all hell has broken loose.
I’ll bet you anything this tendency is involved.
If you know what I’m talking about, I think I’ve stumbled across the reason many of us are falling apart.
The details almost don’t even matter. My triggering facts can come from anywhere, from the details in my own life, the words or actions or even facial expressions of other people, memories from my past, social media, and even from my own feelings. They can range from ridiculous to legitimately devastating. But I am doing the same thing.
It’s as if I take these facts that should be viewed objectively and I allow each one of them to tie an invisible string around my heart.
It’s so subtle. Nobody else can tell that I’ve done it. But I feel it. Especially when the string starts to squeeze tighter and pull.
Now imagine that there are a hundred different strings, some of them loose, some of them as tight as a tourniquet, but all attaching me to people, and facts, and memories. Even to Thanksgiving side dishes.
We’ve allowed all of these things to define our identity. To have a say about our self-worth.
But they don’t.
We’ll talk about brushing these strings aside, but without first understanding who we are, the knots can seem to be a tangled mess.
As God’s child, only our Father has the right to assign meaning to us. Not our mistakes, not the wounding words of others, or the events that have happened.
You know those toddler harnesses people use in the mall? That is how I imagine God’s hold on me. You and I are tethered with an immovable cord to our steadfast Father. Those other strings can feel impossibly tangled until I see them in their proper light. Compared to my Father’s grip, they are merely spider webs.
This habit of assigning deep personal implications to simple facts wrecks havoc on my soul. It fuels my need for everything to be perfect. For everyone to like me. It causes resentment towards people who are not actually responsible for my happiness.
Stop and feel the grip of God’s steadfast love and let those other lesser strings fall away. You don’t need them. They are only making your life miserable.
The Need for Community
The struggle with shame is often silent. Your closest friends and family might have no idea why you are falling apart. They don’t know about all those invisible strings. It can be hard to explain why you are so tangled up all of a sudden. Or maybe you didn’t even realize this was what you’ve been doing.
This is a battle best fought in community.
Yes, I know. It might feel humiliating to admit the actual things that are tripping you up. But it is so important to have someone to help you separate facts from implications. Don’t wait until you are under the full weight of depression. Start noticing the small tugs of shame, signaling that you have forgotten your true worth. Bring them out into the open where they can be exposed for the lies they are.
As with everything, this is a journey. My prayer today is that we learn to rest in the steadfast love of God and let Him be our defining truth.