I happen to find myself among an amazing group of beautifully vulnerable women. They are crazy brave and so honest. They are learning to love each other well. They are strong for each other and always compassionate in the tough spots. They are sharing their stories and being real – “naked faced” Darlene says. But in those sacred moments when we go deep-sea diving together into our emotional pasts, we often swim by eerie wreckage on the ocean floor of their hearts – it might be some old choice that still haunts them, some regretful decision, some tragic experience that happened to them whose shadow still falls over their life. It is nothing anyone would notice looking at the surface of the water, but it lingers in the deep.
Many times I can feel their desire to swim past it quickly. They might mention the wreckage, but no one wants to dwell there. You can tell by the remains that a huge battle was fought and that significant injury or loss resulted, but they have moved on. In an otherwise beautiful ocean, there lie the remains of a dream or a hope, lost innocence or a betrayal, the ruins of their happiness at some point in the past. We all have that don’t we? If you are brave enough to search the ocean floor of your heart you have disappointment, failure, betrayal, or self-sabotage too. The wreckage of some kind of deep loss lives in all of us.
What I often notice is that these losses will transform like real ocean wreckage into a gathering place for things to attach and grow…mostly guilt and shame. Downed vessels of hope become an under-water garden of regret, humiliation, and shame. Understandably, no one wants to visit there. No one wants to linger in a place like that. I think the reason is fear of what we might find and of being judged for it. We want to stay away from the dark stuff on the bottom because, what would people think if they saw it? What if they really knew the cluttered mess that I live with everyday but try to ignore? I think this is a common theme among us all. We fear what would happen if someone saw the truth about us.
I want to speak to that fear today. I want to encourage you to embrace the ocean floor of your life. I want to say to you, “Do not be ashamed of your journey.” Here’s why. There is burried treasure in that wreckage and it makes you VERY valuable.
When a ship goes down in our life we have to swim away or die with it. We have to try to save ourselves. Many of us never return to the scene, but it is always there. Over time it can become a source of such shame that we can barely speak of it. It becomes overgrown and unrecognizable but for the faintest outline of what was. It sits in our belly and haunts us, and we feel helpless. We cannot turn back time.
These tragedies take time to overcome. That is true. But the greatest tragedy, I believe, is to never return to the scene for it is there that Goodness can be found. You see shame is only powerful if we do not deal with it. Shame makes us feel trapped, powerless, and isolated. When we have shame there are large places in our own hearts where we cannot go – it is closed off to us. We feel powerless to help ourselves. We feel isolated in our fear.
Our journey through life requires risk. If you are going to live you have to risk failure. Our journeys also include vulnerability, especially when we are young. Often our ship is attacked through no fault of our own – we are abused, a parent dies, we are neglected. These things can sink us and leave us swamped by a raging ocean. My point is, life = risk. There is no way to avoid suffering shipwreck unless you stay in the harbor – which is no life at all.
My challenge to you is this – return to the shipwrecks of your life and look for the buried treasure. I promise you it is there. If nothing else you can call yourself a survivor! I believe if you look deeply enough and let love and understanding lead, you will dislodge your shame and find that you have learned great wisdom from your journey. You have skills and abilities based on your struggles. You have overcome and grown because of what you have been through. You have wisdom and knowledge that is of great value to other sailors and now you can offer comfort and help to those who are shipwrecked. You are uniquely qualified to help someone else because of your experience – that is, if you don’t let shame win.
I encourage you to find a friend or counselor to go back to the scene with you and do the courageous work of picking through the wreckage. See how brave you are and how deep you can go. Throw off shame and be proud of your journey – even the shipwrecks and storms, because they have brought you here and made you who you are. A courageous overcoming living wonder!
“We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival.”
Are you ashamed of the path your life has taken at times? Be encouraged.