My pastor, the Reverend Debra McKnight of the Urban Abbey, started a sermon series tonight, which is based on the research of Brené Brown. The sermons will be reflections on shame and vulnerability, our own and that of Christ. Her first sermon got me thinking about my experience this semester as a graduate student in a college of business, and of one class in particular.
Before and after each exam, our professor would send out a grade distribution sheet. Students were identified by number not name on the sheet, and we were supposed to check and make sure that he had accurately totaled our points. Now I’m not accusing the professor of trying to shame his students through this practice, however I suspect that it did cause those with below average point totals to feel shame as they compared their score with that of the rest of the class.
At the end of the semester, the distribution resembled a classic, bell-shaped curve. Two received A+, one received F, and the rest were somewhere in between. The same measurement of performance was a source of pride for some and of shame for others. The measuring sticks of this world often produce these kinds of results. Maybe that’s why the bell curve is also referred to as a normal distribution.
I am mindful of a truth in this chart. It speaks of different abilities, a variety of callings, and the benefit of discerning where our talents do and do not lie. If only it were that easy to be so objective every time we fail.
Comparing our accomplishments to the achievements of others can cause us pain if we feel we don’t measure up. I don’t think this means that we should stop comparing ourselves to others. My primary reason for not making such a recommendation is because I don’t think it’s possible for us to turn off the part of our brain that judges and evaluates and rates.
When I catch myself falling into my natural tendency to judge, I try to shift perspectives and switch to a supernatural measuring stick. Here’s a practice that helps me in such moments--
I focus on my left hand and think “I am flawed”
I focus on my right hand and think “I am loved”
I bring my hands together as if clasped in prayer and think “I am both”
When I catch myself judging others, I try to extend the same grace to them that I have received.
I focus on my left hand and think, “They are flawed”
I focus on my right hand and think, “They are loved by God”
I bring my hands together and think, “They are both”
I don’t always remember to practice this discipline; however when I do, it usually enables me to break out the shame spiral and settle into a headspace that feels healthier. I hope to use my pastor’s sermon series as a prompting to be more regular in this practice. What practice helps you move past shame and/or shaming?