In all honesty, shame and/or guilt is a huge motivator for me. I agreed to write this article out of shame, not because someone shamed me into writing it, quite the opposite, it was a lovely email, asking me, with no obligation, to contribute and share on this story. The shame came on my side. The shame of declining, what would they think of me if I said no? I would not be living up to the image of the work I do here. I would be letting the team down – I was worried about appearances. And what about what I write? Would it be Christian enough? Would I be perceived as spiritual enough? Did I really have something to share on the matter? The shame of not measuring up.
Then came more shame, as I reflected on the story of the man who, when his invited guests declined to turn up to an event, invited those on the margins of society into his home. These are the people I work with. Had I invited them into my home? More shame, I have not invited them into my home.
Why not? I hear you ask? Well I’m slightly ashamed of my home, having been welcomed into theirs. You see, we live in relative luxury. My rent per month is 5 times their monthly salary. We have separate kitchen, living and bedrooms. We have two bathrooms (I don’t have to share with the rest of the house, let alone the open air bathroom that they share with their whole building). Compare this to a small cupboard sized room with enough space for a bed and small storage, where cooking takes place on the floor, there is no such thing as a fridge, and the lounge is the bed. I also know they will ask me what I pay to live there, as they openly share how much they pay in rent per month.
But the idea of shame and guilt together is hard. You see I don’t feel guilty for needing extra luxuries. I have always had a separate kitchen and never showered in an outdoor communal bathroom. I don’t feel guilty for needing these things to survive here. These things actually help me to thrive and focus on what is important while in the community. I currently could not imagine living here without these things (That’s not to say that God isn’t speaking to me about my dependence on material things, but that’s another conversation). I do however feel ashamed of the fact that I cannot freely offer this to others.
So then I had to consider... do I write this article as the example, what we all know we should but seldom do? Or the reality of how I too could do better.
I have a dear friend in the community. We have been friends for a couple of months. She started by shaking my hand one morning when I paused to say hello to her friends on my way to work. After a few mornings of meeting this way, she exclaimed that I was her friend, and we progressed to hugs. She showed friendship as she knows how, buying me cups of cha (Tea), chatting in the street, and trying to tempt me with street foods. She welcomed me in and shared her culture with me. I remember the look of delight on her face when I used her name the first time, “That’s my name! You know my name!”
I, on the other hand, took months to return the favor and invite her for cha the first time. I have yet to invite her into my home, due to the aforementioned shame and guilt, but she has welcomed me into hers. I suspect she has an idea of how I live and while it may be overwhelming the first time she sees it; I suspect that it wouldnâ€™t stop her from welcoming me back into her home. But I also donâ€™t want to make her ashamed of the little that she does have.
In my opinion, the man in the story also experienced shame but he chose to do something with it. You see for me, I would find it particularly shameful to have invited people into my home, think they were coming and then find out last minute having made all the preparations that they would not come. I also suffer from FOMO (Fear of missing out) if we are being honest. He took this shame however, and did something positive. If his invited guests would not come, then he would welcome in those who needed to be there the most. Those in need of shelter, care, food and relationship.
Shame is often what stops us or compels us. In Western culture I feel it is shame of appearance; the shame of what we have, shame of what we donâ€™t have. We strive for independence- economically, spiritually, relationally. In my local culture, it is of losing face, unmet family expectations and the ability to bring dishonor to the family that brings shame not only to an individual but also to those they hold near and dear.
I would like to encourage you, as I encourage myself. It is not what you do, or where you connect with others, it is that you connect. It could be that your house is not clean enough (mine rarely is), not big enough, too big, the food in the cupboard isnâ€™t fancy enough. Iâ€™d like to encourage us all, step past the shame, the fear of not measuring up, and invite people in. Whether this is into your life, your home or the local cha dokan (Tea shop). Invite those who are in need of love, support, encouragement and grace. Remember the Father who offered us grace when we felt we were most unworthy (NOTE: He never saw us as unworthy) and offer this to those around you. Be the person who welcomes, accepts and loves. Show people that you are different through your actions.
Written by Carol serving in South Asia.
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