I hid in the back corner of my bedroom closet, crouching as low as I could, squeezing myself smaller and smaller until I disappeared. The forest of clothes dampened the volume of the screams that shook the closet walls, and the walls of my being with them.

If I pressed far enough into the back wall maybe I’d fall into Narnia.

There was a thud down the hall. Our walls were so thin you could hear a hanger scrape on a metal closet rod 3 rooms away. I was very careful to crawl beneath the clothes so no hangers were disturbed from their resting places.

Maybe I’m the broken one. Maybe I’m the one who caused this latest explosion of fury. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe if I just disappeared everyone would be better off.

Shame whispered all the maybes that day.

I just wanted an adult to come and find me, and tell me shame was a liar. No one did. The adults were otherwise occupied.

There are many ways to be lost in a closet. There are many ways to be trapped in the middle of your own story.

I’ve been thinking a lot about shame these last weeks.

The shame that shrouds our souls and makes us hide from the very connections with one another, and even ourselves that are the beginnings of a journey forward towards wholeness. Shame wounds us in relationship, and then isolates us from the very thing we need most to heal… relationship.

Shame sets us up to feel at home in closets and cultures designed to keep us small.

Shame feasts on fear and chokes out creativity. It is visceral and soul-crushing. It smothers all other storylines under its weight.

The shame we weave into our theologies and religious structure separates us from even our own personhood. It cuts us off from the sense we could ever belong, especially if God is involved.

The shame that strangled me in one very broken family system would set me up for shame to feel familiar and be more readily accepted in other kinds of abusive and unhealthy situations later in life. Because obviously, if there is a problem in the picture, it was me.  If someone was to blame, it was me as well.

Shame is an inherently ego-centric, soul-sucking bastard.

Nowhere have I personally seen it be more pervasive than inside many evangelical expressions of Christianity.

Shame makes you shave off parts of who you are to fit. Fitting in is to belonging what pharisaical door-guarding is to the open-armed welcome of a Creator God who is Love.

I want to start to unpack this thing of structural shame and how it affects our humanity, creativity, and theology, in part by getting brave and telling some of the ways it has shaped my own story, even without me knowing it.

Shame can stop us from showing up in the ways we most desperately want to.  It confuses our perception of our own story.  It makes us doubt our own intuition.  It has as its zeitgeist utter disempowerment. Shame is the ultimate gaslighter.

I’m slowly realizing I can’t write meaningful anything while leaving 3+ decades of my life hidden in a wardrobe simply because I have grown past some of what my 30-ish-year old self talked about quite loudly a decade ago.

Shame-induced blank slates erase central parts of our stories. Parts, that if we hold and nurture and one day let them speak, they might become the voice that shows up for someone else wishing for Narnia while hiding in a closet.

And for me, that is a risk worth taking.

Up next: Why theologies of shame are at their core anti-Christ. I’m getting saucy and breaking out the hermaneutics because the problem in the garden isn’t sin, it’s shame.