Like so many of us, I often get bogged down with the "Should've Disease." I should've cooked a better dinner for my kids; I should've cleaned house instead of taking a nap; I should've worked on my writing project instead of lounging in front of the TV; I should've gone to the gym instead of sleeping in; and on and on and on. The should haves will never end, because shame never ends. Shame is a bottomless black hole of "not good enough." No matter what I do, say or don't do or don't say, the shame in me will always find something wrong with it. Shame is a dark state of being, filled only with negativity, able only to see and feel the negative. Shame is capable only of finding evidence within myself and this world that I am, in fact, a bad person and undeserving of any mercy. If there is any glimmer of "not enough" anywhere within me or my environment, shame can sniff it out and use it as confirmation of my unworthiness. Shame is a fear-fueled engine that never stops finding the bad, the wrong, the negative. It does not stop itself and we cannot wait on it to stop itself. It just doesn't work like that. Shame is the absence of light, and the only way to escape from it is to shine some light on it.
When we allow ourselves to get sucked into the Should've Disease, then we are launching head first into the shame pit. And it's a long descent, one filled with sharp rocks, hard bumps, and complete loss of self. It's difficult to escape it once the descent has begun. Once I have spent too much time in the pit, I forget truths about myself and other people. I forget that I am actually doing the best that I can on a daily basis. I forget that I am a child of God and deserving of respect and kindness. I forget that other people are also doing the best they can and deserving of my respect and kindness. These are truths filled with light and thus, completely absent in the pit. And these are dangerous truths to lose, because to believe I am actually NOT doing my best and NOT always deserving of compassion, means that I just hitched my worthiness onto my own ability to perform. It's that kind of dark thought that can hasten a descent.
So what do we do when we feel ourselves lost in this dark place? The first thing is just to remind ourselves that we are stuck in a shame pit and riddled with the Should've Disease, which means that all the mean, nasty, and critical thoughts happening in our heads are purely a result of the disease. These thoughts are, thus, a lie and to be ignored, banished to a far away place. I refute them, and when I do, there is a flicker inside of me. There is enough of a flicker for me to hitch myself onto the side of this slimy pit and begin the ascent back out of it.
Just as there is momentum in the fall, there is momentum in the rising. Just as shame pulls me downward with force, grace lifts me up with a greater force. "Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." Romans 5:20 The law is a set of rules that define one's worthiness, and only by keeping the rules faithfully can one remain above reproach; but who can do that? Who can ever really do that? It's only by the fact that I am eternally incapable of ever doing enough, that I am then made deserving of grace. My imperfection makes me qualified to receive grace, which is light. Only light, and completely devoid of any darkness. Ever.
So, what if, this Christmas, you could be given a lifetime supply of worthiness? Well, merry Christmas to you. It is given! We need only to lean into the momentum of it and allow God to do the heavy lifting. The gift of grace means I am forever free of both your judgment against me as well as self-judgment. In 1st Corinthians, Paul said, "I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts." This is a man who unwrapped the gift of grace and found worthiness in knowing no one stands capable of judging but God alone. May we all receive and hold year-round this precious gift!