Beyond Shame and Performance

“Live in the light.” There are times when I twist wisdom like this into a dizzying pendulum swing between an ego-inflating holier-than-thou mentality or a self-worth deflating shame spiral of doom. Performance Driven spirituality tends to isolate us from the vulnerability necessary for intimate community and authentic transformation. Instead, we are stuck skating on the surface level in our conversations, because we dare not acknowledge what lies beneath. Have you ever felt stuck in the prison of your own performance?

There are times when I misperceive the Light of God as a spotlight in which I am to perform. I proudly stand in its highlighting beam when I am convinced I have done life as well or better than most other people. I become intoxicated by my own ability to hustle for worthiness, approval, and acceptance.

Then there are those other times. They often proceed from ego-inflating moments. Like the myth of Icarus, I attempt to fly too close to the sun, only to come crashing back down to the earth. In these moments, I misperceive the Light of God as a force adding insult to the injuries of my broken, imprisoned, and sin-saturated self.

All of this cycle points out the frailty of a life bent in upon itself. A life tied only to the self is tossed around like West Texas tumbleweed. 1 John 1:7 encourages us to walk or live in the light. It is in the light where we have fellowship with one another. It’s tempting to believe this means we can only relate to others in the ‘light of good Christian respectability.’

Far from being a club for the flawless, the Fellowship of the Light invites us into a communion of rawness. To truly live or walk in the light is to be open and honest about our whole lives with one another. No posturing spiritual performance. No skating over our struggles. No pretending we have it all together. Because the Light of God was never about our performance it is never about our shame. In the Light of God, we fi­nd the fellowship of “Me too” with others willing to acknowledge the painful way selfishness and sin has wounded and misshaped us. Perfectionism, self-promoting, and performing strangle the life breath of true community.

We discover something else in the Light of God. The wounded, messy, bleeding-out life of Jesus the Messiah. He too has been betrayed, judged, condemned, wounded, and abandoned. The Fellowship of the Light is a fellowship of wounds. The wounds of Jesus are made the sacred points of our healing, wholeness, and freedom. Our wounds become the sacred starting point of our healing journey with Jesus and companionship with one another. Because Jesus is in the Light we ­find not only company, but healing. And since the work of Jesus the Messiah is to ‘reconcile all things by making peace,’ the company and healing we ­find in the Light of God, participate with one another.

Brené Brown repeats these words to herself, “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Stand on your sacred ground.” This quick reminder helps her to avoid the trap of working for a worthiness which we already have in God. As we continue our Lenten journey, we are invited to drop our curated images and let go of the snapshots of perfection we send out to the world. The shame of sin ever keeps us shrinking from vulnerability. The pride of performing ever keeps us puffed up beyond the reach of being truly known. The sacred wounds of Jesus invite us out of the Ego-Inflation Shame-Spiral and into the healing of the Fellowship of Light.