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Girl on a Swing
By nancy kennedy
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 Nancy Kennedy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTaking Off My Liar Face
When you're gripped by guilt and shame
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God calls us to stop hiding and come openly to Him. God is the father who ran to His prodigal son when he came limping home. Brennan Manning, Abba's Child
If you and I were to meet, probably the first thing you would notice about me is my smile. A huge, cheesy grin. It's a bit crooked, filled with lots of straight teeth, with the exception of one lower front tooth that's turned slightly. Dental Hygienist Ed tells me not to ever have it straightened.
My upper gums are receding. Ed says that I brush my teeth too hard. I try not to, but I forget. I also forget to floss. Sometimes when Ed is cleaning my teeth, he will shake his head and remind me that if I want to keep that pretty smile of mine pretty, I need to floss.
Then, as if on autopilot, even though I'm embarrassed that I've been caught nonflossing and I'm inwardly berating myself for knowing better and promising myself and God that from now on I'll floss every day-and brush more often and more gently-I'll flash Ed a smile so big and bright and winsome and charming that he can't help but think happy, cheery thoughts about me. He might even write on my chart that I've been a good girl, that I work well with others,that I'm cooperative and a pleasure to have in his dental hygienist's chair.
You, Ed, my boss, my husband, my kids, the UPS driver, and the neighbors whose names I don't know, you are all warmed by my smile, won over, at ease. I enter a room smile first. My smile rarely leaves my face. If I were to go on a murderous rampage, after I got caught and the police hauled me into jail, I would smile as they took my mug shot. Eyewitnesses behind the glass would pick me out of the lineup in no time at all.
"That one," they would say. "She did it-the one with the big smile." The cops would shake their heads in wonder and disbelief. "Who would've thought it could be her," one of them would say. "Behind that smile-a monster."
That's exactly the point. After decades of practice, I've perfected the art of the deceptive smile. Not that I'm consciously aware of it, nor have I sat in front of a mirror and instructed my face what to do. It's just a part of who I am and what I do. It's what I've always done.
I don't remember when I began smiling for nongenuine reasons, not that my smile isn't genuine. I genuinely want you to like me. I genuinely don't want you to know the thoughts I sometimes think and the things I sometimes do.
My sister and my youngest brother smile, too. My other brother doesn't, except when he's happy. That would be normal smiling. The rest of us smile when we shouldn't, which is normal for us. For example, if we had done something wrong-let's say we got caught lying-as our mom or dad or teacher scolded us, huge grins would spring onto our faces as if they had minds of their own.
I don't know about my brother or sister, but when that happened to me, I would carry on an internal dialogue with my face.
Me: "Don't do that! You know it makes people crazy. They think you're being a smart aleck. They'll just get madder, and then you'll really be in trouble."
My face: "I know. I know. But I can't help it. If I try not to smile, it'll look like I'm making faces, and that'll be seen as even more smart-alecky. Either way, I'm doomed. At least if I smile, I have a chance of winning them over with my pearly whites."
Liar, Liar, Face on Fire
When my daughters were little, if I thought they were being deceptive or hiding something, yet no one was squealing, to find out I'd say, "I know you're up to something. You've got your liar face on."
This approach never fails. The guilty one runs to a mirror to look, or she stands still and purses her lips or rubs her cheeks as if to erase the "liar" from her face. Sometimes, out of the blue, a guilty conscience provokes a confession of sorts. Little toddler feet shuffle up, and a sweet voice says, "I'm not wearing my liar face," which means a lie is, indeed, in progress.
Then the little liar smiles, big and bright and toothy, as if a smile could erase all the guilt, all the sin, all the shame of feeling the need to lie in the first place. She smiles because she can't reconcile all the conflicting emotions at the moment, the knowing what needs to come next to be faithful to God, yet the wanting to please and have harmony and to not have to deal with confronting right and wrong-and why can't we just all get along?
The liar trembles because, above everything else in her life, she desperately wants to be liked. She smiles to avoid conflict.
My daughter would smile, too, and no one would be angry at either one of us and everyone would love us forever and ever. After all, isn't that what a smile is for?
Do These Fig Leaves Come in a Size 8?
At one time people only smiled because they were happy. At one time there was no shame, no guilt, no sin. People didn't have to worry about flossing. They didn't have to worry about approval and acceptance. They didn't have to suppress "bad" feelings like anger. They didn't have to smile so everyone would like them (while not letting anyone know them). They simply smiled.
They simply smiled because they knew the smile of God as they walked with Him in the Garden of Eden. They-the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve-walked with God and with each other, naked and unashamed (Genesis 2:25).
I don't think it's humanly possible to comprehend being naked-physically, emotionally, spiritually-and unashamed. But at one time, these two people knew no shame, no guilt, no humiliation. They had no need to blush or stammer. They had no secrets to protect, no walking on eggshells with one another, no dancing around hot-button issues. Neither Adam nor Eve had any reason to create liar faces for themselves.
When Eve smiled at Adam, it meant only that she felt 100 percent accepted and cherished by him and by the Lord. Her smile didn't mean, "I hope you'll like me." It didn't mean, "If I smile and look beautiful, I can get you to do what I want."
It didn't mean, "I'm smiling even though I'm angry and afraid of it-afraid that if I tell you what I really think and feel about you, about myself, about this Garden, you'll leave me." Eve smiled because she was naked and unashamed.
As the story goes, this time of innocence and "unashamedness" came to an end when the people did the one thing God had forbidden them to do.
"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden," God had said, "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (vv. 16-17).
But they ate the fruit anyway, and when they did, it was as God had said. Their eyes were opened to the knowledge of good and evil and all that that knowledge entails. They realized that they were naked, and for the first time they felt what we feel at our nakedness-shame. "So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (3:7).
Then later, when they heard God's footsteps in the Garden as He came, as always, for His regular walks with them, the man and his wife hid among the trees.
God called out, "Where are you?"
The man answered that he was afraid because he was naked, so he had hidden.
"Who told you that you were naked?" God asked.
That started the first marital blame game. Adam turned to Eve (whom he noticed was smiling a bit too broadly, which was odd, given the seriousness of the moment) and said, "It's your fault, sweetheart."
Next he turned on God. "Actually, it's Your fault, God. You gave her to me."
Eve's smile faded. "Don't blame me," she said. "The snake tricked me."
"Who are you calling a snake?" Adam shot back.
The story continues with God adjudicating them both guilty and proceeding to pass judgment on them: the death penalty. Eventual death of their bodies, immediate death of their souls, and not just for the two of them, but for their children and their children's children-and for us as well.
However, in His great mercy, God also promised them a way that their spirits and ours may live. He promised a Savior, a Redeemer of nakedness and shame. But until then the damage had been done, and we still suffer its effects today.
As Sick As Our Secrets
Kitty Dukakis, wife of former presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, once said in a television interview, "We are as sick as our secrets." Her "secret," which she revealed, was that she was addicted to amphetamines and alcohol. But before she let her secret out, as the wife of a politician she had spent years smiling and pretending all was well when it wasn't.
Back in the early 1990s, researchers James Patterson and Peter Kim surveyed more than two thousand Americans about their most private thoughts and actions, guaranteeing them privacy and anonymity. The results were published in the book The Day America Told the Truth.
One of the questions they asked was, "Have you done anything in the previous year for which you feel truly ashamed?" Of the answers, sex, addictions, lies, and stealing topped the list, with sexuality creating the most problems with shameful feelings and thoughts for people. One churchgoing man admitted to having sex with his mother, twice. Another man had had sex with a thirteen-year-old and wanted desperately to undo it. People named incest, abortion, affairs, homosexuality, bestiality, pornography-using it and participating in it.
What was once pure and holy has become perverted by sin, beginning back in the Garden. That's when being naked became shameful. "Most of us (55 percent) hide part of our lives from our closest friends," noted Patterson and Kim. "About the same percentage do things in the privacy of our homes that no one else knows about, that we would never tell anyone.
"We're not even honest with those we say we love," they wrote. "More than two-thirds of us would not confess a one-night stand to our spouses. Most people say that they've hidden their true feelings from a [loved one]. The majority of us would not let our spouses ... question us if we were hooked up to a lie detector."
They found that 29 percent-80 million people back then-said that they feel like a "fake, phony, or hypocrite most of the time." They called it a "national facade," millions of people wearing "liar faces."
The truth is, we are naked and we are ashamed.
I grew up in California, where the earth shakes without warning. When an earthquake hits, you never know how strong it will be until it's over. I used to be afraid to take showers, afraid that as soon as I took my clothes off and had shampoo in my hair, an earthquake would hit.
Although I was never wild about the idea of my ceiling crashing on my head, truthfully, I was more afraid of rescue workers digging through the rubble that once was my bathroom and finding me naked-and being repulsed. I jokingly called it my "They'll Find Me Nakedaphobia," but it wasn't a joke. It isn't a joke. Being naked means being exposed, and being exposed means that people will see and judge, and thinking that others are judging brings shame.
Shame keeps us awake at night. Like a movie, shame plays in our minds, rewinding and rehashing our most humiliating moments, making sure we won't forget, as if we can forget. Shame has a photographic memory.
Shame sneaks into our thoughts when we're most vulnerable. When we fall in love, it whispers, "You're not good enough. When he finds out the truth about you, he'll run."
When we're up and feeling okay about ourselves, shame kicks us until we're down; when we're down, it steps on our necks to keep us down. Shame lies so convincingly about who we are that we easily believe it as truth. Worthless. Ugly. No one will ever love you. If you died, no one would even come to your funeral. That's how insignificant you are.
Shame keeps us from loving and from receiving love; we're too busy protecting ourselves from further shame. Shame cripples and paralyzes; we cower from it and plead against it. In numerous places in the Bible the psalmist cries out, "Don't let me be put to shame!"
We fear it. We hate it. We run from it, hide from it, lie to cover it. And yet, despite all our best efforts, sometimes we're exposed anyway-and sometimes, instead of finding that it destroys us, we find that it frees us instead.
Caught in the Act
It was early in the morning. The woman-we don't even know her name-rolled over in the bed that she had shared the night before with a man who was not her husband and ran her finger through his beard. Then, just as he opened his eyes and smiled, the front door creaked open, and before either of them knew what was happening, several of the busiest town busybodies stood at the foot of the bed.
One of the men-these were all teachers of the law, all hotshots -told the man in the bed to get dressed and sneak out the back way. "Next time be more careful," he said, nodding and smiling.
But to the woman he barked, "Get out of that bed!"
The rest of the men all leered at her and laughed as she tried to cover herself with her hands. One held her robe just beyond her reach. Another rooted through her dresser drawers, holding up her clothing for the others to see.
Yet another grabbed her arm and pulled her into the street, still naked. Next, the group of them marched her up to the temple, where Jesus was teaching. They made her stand before the group, and as she shivered in her shame, they broadcast her secret sin: adultery.
"We caught her in the act," they said. "The law of Moses commands us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" they asked Jesus, trying to trap Him.
But Jesus didn't answer them. Instead, He bent down and started writing in the dirt with His finger. The Bible doesn't say what Jesus wrote, but I like to imagine that He listed some of their own shameful secrets, their own adulteries, lies, corruption.
They kept badgering Jesus with their questions until finally Jesus straightened up and said, "Okay. Go ahead-stone her. Just make sure only those without sin throw first." Then He went back to His writing.
Eventually, everyone walked off until only the woman and Jesus were left. "Where are your accusers?" Jesus asked her. "Does no one condemn you?"
She stood before Him, naked and ashamed, yet at the same time not ashamed. It was as if He saw right through her nakedness to her true self, the one who only dreamed of dancing with innocence like she had done as a child. Back before she felt the need to hide. Back before her life in the darkness and shadows.
"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus told her. "Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:1-11, paraphrase mine).
Just as shame was the place where the woman met Jesus, shame is the place where God meets us, too. It's where He loves us deeply, intimately, passionately, unashamedly. His love in the midst of our shame is wild with desire and freeing in its totality.
"No Raised Eyebrows"
If anyone knows about shame, it's Jim Bakker. Accused of all kinds of shameful, sinful crimes-the image of him in shackles cowering and crying broadcast around the world, his sexual indiscretions making headlines-he was indicted on federal charges of fraud, tax evasion, and racketeering, convicted of fraud and conspiring to commit fraud, and sentenced to forty-five years in federal prison. On top of that, his wife divorced him while he was in prison and then married one of his business associates. We can only imagine the shame and humiliation this man felt.
After his release from prison (he served almost five years), Bakker was interviewed by Steve Brown on his television show, The Late Steve Brown Show. When Brown asked him about shame and embarrassment, Bakker smiled.
Excerpted from Girl on a Swing by nancy kennedy Copyright © 2006 by Nancy Kennedy. Excerpted by permission.
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