Putting Shame to Bed
Big crocodile tears formed in the eyes of my youngest as he stood in the doorway of my bedroom about an hour after I’d already put him to bed for the night.
“What’s wrong,” I asked, “Did you have a bad dream?”
He said, through the tears, that he had forgotten about a project that was due tomorrow. He was supposed to provide some “supplies.” He’d forgotten… and now he would never get it done on time. Sobbing now, my boy buried his little head in my shoulder as I tried to console him.
I finally got out of him that what he needed was some “insulation” for a solar house he was building. Newspaper, bubble wrap, or Styrofoam would work, he said. I’ve learned from previous late-night homework mishaps that it seems to work better to just hunker down and get the work done before the head hits the pillow. Otherwise, getting to sleep proves to be a challenge.
So we rummaged around the basement for a few minutes and settled on an old TV box that contained some Styrofoam. He was elated to find that my basement storage room contained many treasures. Truth be told, I could have probably provided Styrofoam for the entire class.
We packed up a grocery bag full of the “insulation,” and put it by the back door. I brought my son upstairs to tuck him in and held him long enough to feel that he was still shaking, and although he was exhausted, he wasn’t ready to let me go.
I wasn’t ready to let go either.
“Why are you still shaking honey?” I said. “You are all set for the morning, and we did it in five minutes. Now you can sleep and tomorrow’s a new day.”
“Mom,” he said, “I should have done better.”
I asked him if he happened to remember what I used to tell him when he was a wee little boy of two or three years. It’s a phrase I used to purposely repeat over and over to make sure my boys knew that my love for them was not based on performance or good behavior or mood.
“Do you remember what I always said to you when you were little?” I asked, just hoping it had sunk in… just hoping he had written those words on his heart.
“Yes Mom. You’d say, ‘nothing I can do will make you love me any less.’”
And in that instant, I was transported back to the times I’d had this same talk with him, after he’d done something not-so good, like coloring all over the walls with my brand new permanent marker, or sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to eat the left-over birthday cake and leaving a frosting trail right back to his room. I remember catching him in little lies and bigger calamities, like when he hurt his brother or hurt me with his words. And I remember the embarrassment on his face, not just because he’d gotten caught, but because he knew he’d disappointed me. Those same crocodile tears…that same burying of the head…that same shame.
And those same words. I meant them now just like I meant them then.
“Nothing you can do will ever make me love you less. Nothing.”
I tell my boys this even when I don’t feel like it, when part of me would rather let them stew in their shame for a while before I offer that hug. Especially those times I tell them, “Nothing you can do will make me love you any less. Nothing.”
I tell them this because God tells me this. Every. Single. Day. He doesn’t hesitate when I forget to act Christ-like toward people who wrong me. He doesn’t waver when I forget to spend time with him. He doesn’t withhold his love when I use my words as daggers that hurt instead of as words that heal. He doesn’t hesitate when I wrong my neighbor or my husband or myself. He picks up my face in his hands and whispers, “Nothing you can do will make me love you less. Nothing.”
I envision this type of treatment when Jesus encountered so many, like the woman caught in adultery who was crumpled in a heap on the ground. Once the accusers had left, I envision Jesus going to her, reaching down, and lifting her head so that their faces are close. Her eyes are looking down at the ground but he keeps repeating something like “Look here, child. Nothing you can do will make me love you less. Nothing.”
I envision Jesus doing the same to Peter, his disciple, who had spent the better part of three years traveling with, and learning from Jesus during his public ministry. This same Peter, who denied even knowing Jesus the night the crowds sentenced him to death. I can’t imagine this disappointment Jesus must have felt to watch what he foretold come to fruition. Yet, when Jesus returned to Peter three days later, he didn’t let his friend stew in his shame for a while. Quite the opposite. While the Bible doesn’t give us all the details, I envision Jesus reaching down and lifting Peter’s head so that their faces are close and repeating those same words, “Look here, friend. Nothing you can do will make me love you less. Nothing.”
I continue to stumble, but God continues to lift my head too. And yet, I forget. Day after day I find myself asking for forgiveness for the same things that I tried to tell God I would try not to do again. Why is it so hard to forget the simple fact that while we might be flawed and while we might forget, that our God is so secure in his love for us that there is truly nothing that we can do that would ever take that love away?
As I tuck in my son, I ask him “would you like me to stay a while?” He says, “No Mom. I’m am okay now. Thank you for reminding me.”
The next morning when I rustle him out of bed, he opens his eyes and that same glimmer reappears. It is as if nothing has happened the night before. He flashes that smile that said, “I know I’m loved,” and my heart melts, for I know it too.
And as I give him a little hug and send him off to the bus, I pray a little prayer of thankfulness that God has given me these boys so that I can learn this lesson again for myself.
But as I turn to go inside, I see it… the grocery bag of Styrofoam… sitting by the back door.
Oh well… time for another reminder.