Shame. Desperation. Disappointment. Faith

Image result for the hem of his garment

At the mere mention of shame, desperation, disappointment, and faith our emotions will often begin to tremble.  They are topics of conversation in the public marketplace, but not all the dialog is helpful.  As I have been thinking about what I could write about shame, I keep coming back to the work of Brene Brown on vulnerability and shame.  In 2011 Brene Brown talked about the Power of Vulnerability in a TED talk that went viral.  However, when she was asked to come back, she decided to deliver a talk called ‘Listening to Shame.’  Less people shared that talk because, even though we all experience shame we do not like to talk about it.  When people experience shame they become short of breath, their face flushes, their brain goes out-to-lunch, and they even make decisions which launch them further into shame.  Research has linked shame with addiction.  One researcher has even said that addiction needs shame like a man dying of thirst needs an ocean.  So, what is shame and why is it so destructive? To illustrate what it is, Brene takes us back into the fourth grade classroom and a girl called Suzy.  The teacher walks in and hands out papers.  When she has one left she walks around saying, “Did anyone forget to put their name on their paper?”  The tone is demeaning and contemptuous.  Finally, when the truth can not be avoided any longer, Suzy admits that the paper without a name must be hers. “Oh, what a surprise!”  the teacher mocks.  “Is anyone else surprised that Suzy forgot to put her name on the paper.  Here, Suzy, let me write your name on your paper for you.  S-T-U-P-I-D.”  This is a real case of how shame is created.  In moments like these, girls like Suzy do not learn that they have a problem –  Shame teaches us that we are the problem.  We are worthless.  The voices of shame are compared to Gremlins who either tear you down because you think you are worth nothing, or they mock you because you dare to think that you have value.  I understand these Gremlins because I hear them when I preach or I was torn down by them when I entered my doctoral program at Trinity.

Vulnerability is an antidote to shame.  It allows us to bring the Gremlins into the light.  Just talking about what shames us, we are told, reduces shame by 70%.  Those who want to live wholeheartedly need the courage to share their heart and move away from fear.  We will learn about someone today who had many reasons for shame to build inside her, but she was courageous and vulnerable.

Disappointment is a topic much talked about in our culture.  When our expectations grow greater than our reality we are disappointed.  Life doesn’t turn out like we think it should, but as John Koessler explains in The Surprising Grace of Disappointment we should expect disappointment if we follow God.  Our ideas of what is best for us will not line up with God’s ideas.  Our desires for ourselves and those around us are not God’s desires.  What we think is good is not always what God knows to be good.  It is right for God to disappoint us because, after all, he is God and we are not.

Even the concept of faith is still talked about in our secular and humanistic culture.  I raised an eyebrow when we were listening to the soundtrack of the recent movie, ‘Sing.’  There is a song by Stevie Wonder on the album called Faith.  When I heard it I was instantly pleased to hear ‘I met you, hallelujah, I got faith!’  However, it didn’t take long to realize that the song wasn’t talking about faith in God, but it was talking about faith in another person.  The first verse says this, “See the girl with the diamonds in her shoes? Yeah/She walks around like she’s got nothing to lose/Ya she’s a go-getter, she’s everybody’s type/She’s a queen of the city but she don’t believe the hype/She’s got her own elevation, holy motivation/So I wrote some letters out in big bold type.”  And the chorus goes on, “I got faith in you baby, I got faith in you now/And you’ve been sucha, sucha good friend to me/Know that I love you somehow/I met you, hallelujah, I got faith.”  The religious language of ‘holy’ and ‘faith’ is there but the object of the holy motivation is bound to disappoint.

We have heard this false focus of faith before.  I remember when George Michael went solo in 1987/88 and his smash hit in 1988 was Faith.  The angelic choir opening the song serenely states that no Bible is needed for this faith, he just needs to look in his lover’s eyes.  If we were left in any doubt where the object of George Michael’s faith lies the opening words make it clear, “Well I guess it would be nice/If I could touch your body/I know not everybody/Has got a body like you, uhh.”  It’s faith in a physical, material reality and that is about as deep as it gets.

True faith is outlined for us in the Bible.  Hebrews 11 defines it.  In verse 1 we read, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

We will read today a story of two people who were touched by shame, desperation, disappointment and even fear.  However, they also had the faith to reach out and touch a person who had the power and the ability to bring healing and restoration into their lives.  Ultimately neither of them were disappointed.

Luke 8:40-56 reads:

Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.

As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

While he was still speaking, someone from the ruler’s house came and said, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the Teacher any more.” But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.” And when he came to the house, he allowed no one to enter with him, except Peter and John and James, and the father and mother of the child. And all were weeping and mourning for her, but he said, “Do not weep, for she is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But taking her by the hand he called, saying, “Child, arise.” And her spirit returned, and she got up at once. And he directed that something should be given her to eat. And her parents were amazed, but he charged them to tell no one what had happened.

I have put it to you that both the characters who met Jesus in this story knew shame, desperation and disappointment, but that they also exhibited faith.  The first character that we will look at is the woman who had been bleeding.  In church tradition she was named Veronica, but in the biblical text she has no name.  She is a nameless, faceless woman who walks without shape in the shadows.  We know that she has been bleeding for twelve years, but we don’t know her age.  Did her first menstrual cycle start and never stop?  Was she damaged by some event later in life that led to some kind of internal hemorrhaging?  We can not know.  She could be as young as her early twenties, or she may even have been elderly.  What we do know is that she would be ostracized and shamed by her community.  She had some kind of disease or injury.  She was labeled as unclean.  The quietness of her advance through the crowd wasn’t just because of some introversion, it was because of her self-image.  She had been labeled a problem for 12 years.  She had been designated a vessel of contagious impurity.  No-one would have married her, and if she was once married she was now probably rejected and divorced.  It is possible that no-one lovingly touched her.  It is possible that she had no friends.  Although she was suffering physically she was also suffering emotionally.  We see further evidence of this because she is trembling before Jesus and before all of the people.  Some commentators mildly call her shy, I would say that because of her shame and isolation she was terrified.

The woman with bleeding did not only exhibit shame, but she was desperate.  We know that she was penniless because she had spent all of her money on physicians.  However, none of the ancient remedies, be they herbal or surgical, could help.  She may have been reduced to begging if her parents had thrown her out of the house.  She is at the point where she will try anything to get well and the surging crowds provide her with her opportunity.  They are all focused on Jesus and they mill around him in chaos.  This woman is so desperate that she risks the scorn and hatred of the ceremonially pure by pushing through them all so she can come up within touching distance of Jesus.  At further risk of revealing herself she touches a stranger.  Her desperate condition pushes her to desperate action.  She, in many ways, has nothing more left to lose.

If she has shame and desperation, she also has the strength-sapping experience of disappointment.  Her present condition is not what she dreamed of for her life.  Apart from the continuous nightmare of her condition she has nothing else that we know of which would mark her life for disaster.  Surely she was hopeful when she went to visit the first physician.  Surely she was still positive when she had to move on to the second.  However, disappointment after disappointment must have taken its toll.  Was her position just one of disappointment in herself, in her doctors, in her community?  Was her disappointment ultimately with God?  How could God, who ordains all things, have ordained such a damning condition for her?  Her dreams of marriage, security and safety were all dashed.  For all she knew her life would be one of being unclean and unacceptable.

But somehow in the darkness of shame, desperation and disappointment there is a ray of light.  The woman has faith.  It is faith in a person.  It is faith beyond the person who walks in front of her, but she has a faith that God unseen can touch her life through his Son Jesus.  She has a firm belief, a conviction, that Jesus is not like her physicians.  That day the nameless woman – faceless, unclean and shamed – made a bold decision to act on a firm belief and she walked into a crowd determined to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment.  As Jamieson, Fausset, and Braun write, “The voluntary, living contact of faith is that electric conductor which alone draws virtue out of Him.”  Faith powers volition, or the will.  She believes so much that she must act and Jesus always responds positively to acts of faith.

Before we think of how Jesus heals, let’s transition from the faceless woman on the bottom rung of society to Jairus who sits at the top.  He is named.  He is a ruler in the local synagogue.  He is a man of position.  However, that is nothing to him because his only daughter is dying.  Hardship is the great leveler.  Jairus would be struggling with much of what the woman with the flow of blood also struggled with.

Jairus would have had some shame and guilt.  We all do.  However, Jairus did not have a son, he only had one child and she was a daughter.  As a father, I know that we want to cherish and protect all our children.  However, I feel more protective of my daughter than my son, although I love them as equally as I can, my love for them is different.  When my daughter suffers, I feel more like I should have shielded her from whatever ails her.  I would think it natural in that society that Jairus felt the same.

Jairus’ shame, though, is not as apparent as his desperation.  When we see one of the most prominent people in the community throw himself in the dirt at Jesus’ feet, we know that this man is desperate.  The ticking clock on his daughter’s life adds tension to the passage.  The sands are running through the hour glass and they have almost gone.  If Jesus can still get to her while she is alive, Jesus’ healing powers might be enough to restore her health.  However, time is short and so the text tells us Jairus ‘implores’ Jesus, only to have it lead to disappointment.

Can we imagine how Jairus felt when Jesus stopped?  His heart must have pounded in his ears.  We turn our eyes to Jesus as I am sure the crowd did, but inside Jairus must have been pleading still, “My daughter!  Please!  Please!  My daughter!”  However, you can’t exasperate your only hope and so Jairus stands helpless as one woman is healed and he then receives the news that his darling daughter has died.  In the face of such disappointment the ability to still function must have been near insurmountable.  The saviour, healer was so close.  What would have happened if the woman hadn’t have interrupted? What is their now?  Despair.  Defeat.

Jairus at this point had anxiety and fear.  There would have been fear that the news was true.  He would have been anxious to go back to a house where all hope was lost.  However, he would be afraid that there was nothing more he could do.  Jesus met him in his fears.  Jesus urged him on.  Jesus brought him back to the belief that had compelled Jairus to choose Jesus in the first place.  Jairus’ faith is also exercised by pushing through.  Unlike the unnamed woman, he did not need to push through the crowds to get to Jesus.  Jairus needed the faith to carry on walking with Jesus until he got home.  He needed to suspend his judgement although logic and circumstances would tell Jairus he was a madman for still believing Jesus could do anything, he chose to walk with Jesus and allow Jesus and his disciples into his house to see his daughter.

Jesus healed the woman and Jairus’ daughter.  The physical healing of the woman is simple enough, but she was healed of much more.  If Jesus had let her walk away quietly, she would not have been made whole.  Jesus calls her back to bring her to the point where she can walk away in peace.  Peace, biblically, is a position of wholeness.  Jesus reserves for this isolated woman particular words of connection.  He calls her ‘daughter.’  This relational touch is as healing as any physical touch she may have obtained.  One commentator talks of the deeper sense of her need that Jesus must have known when she touched him: “In the spirit He has already heard the cry of distress of a suffering and trusting soul.”  It is the distress and the suffering of her soul that Jesus heals when he calls her out into the open and exposes her shame so that it can evaporate and ruin her life no more.

Jairus’ daughter is also treated tenderly by Jesus.  However, unlike the woman with bleeding, Jesus keeps the whole affair quiet.  Jairus has enough status and acclaim, he doesn’t need any more.  His faith leads to a quiet healing.  As God’s glory is hidden in his house and exposed in the streets, so one humble woman is raised up and one man of position is kept humble.  Of course, both news of both healings were spread abroad and we have heard of them because they were written down for us.  The aim of the healings was not ultimately to cause us to glory in one or other of the people being healed.  The aim of the story is to show Jesus.  We see in this story the humility, compassion, and authority of Jesus.  We see how Jesus responds to faith.  Those with faith in Jesus are drawn to him in their times of shame, desperation, disappointment, and despair.

This is not just true in ancient times.  Faith in shameful and terrible circumstances is displayed in the movie To End All Wars.  In that movie Captain Ernest Gordon is held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.  The conditions are squalid and destructive.  Japanese thought that soldiers who were captured and not killed should be shamed for their cowardice.  They were deprived provisions and treated inhumanely.  In spite of this a Christian called Dusty Miller cares for the sick and the dying.  His faith is contagious.  When he saves Ernest Gordon’s life, Gordon turns to Jesus.  In spite of the conditions and constant discouragement, the Christians in the camp follow Jesus faithfully and even some of their Japanese guards are compelled to take notice.  Those with true faith are compelled to seek God whatever their circumstances.  In fact, for the faithful, more desperate circumstances draw Christians closer to him.  God’s goal is to bring himself glory, whether through life or death.  However, as the Christian, even in a unsanitary prisoner of war camp turns to him, they find healing from the inside out.

So what about our shame?  Most shame comes from ‘family of origin’ according to those who observe it.  Biblically we might call it generational sin.  When you think of the shaming words that play on the tapes in your head, who is talking?  Sometimes the shame comes from school.  I sadly remember a girl called Sharon Gove who we designated ‘flea bag’ in grade school.  I am not sure I ever joined in the name calling, but other friends closer to me were called Flake, Sid Cup, Gauchus Puchus, or Gorilla in ways which identified physical defects or anti-social behavior and stuck all the way through school.  I remember reminiscing about school with the one who was called Gorilla because of his haircut and he simply told me that he thought school had been great for me but that the social climate of school had been constantly shaming for him.  If that sounds like you, Jesus wants to call you out from the crowd.  He wants to affirm that he knows you and those shaming labels need to be named and cast aside.  He looks into your soul and calls you daughter or son.

Are there desperate circumstances that drive you to consider frantic solutions?  I know a teacher in a Christian school who had lost her daughter at a very young age and wanted to know that she was alright.  She knew the church’s teaching on mediums and the occult, but still she was desperate enough to consider consulting a medium who would give her news of her deceased daughter.  Are you desperate to be cherished and loved and tempted to allow a relationship that never should have started to keep going too far?  Are you physically or emotionally wounded?  Is there a sickness that has you down and out?  When we walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we can fear no evil.  It is because Jesus is walking with us and when the time comes he will bring us home to eternal rest.  In the end all our desperation should redouble our efforts to establish intimacy with God.

For some of us disappointment leaves us frozen.  It is hard to lift ourselves up off the floor and walk into another risk-taking scenario when previous risks have failed to deliver or left us scarred.  Walking with Jesus can even be disappointing as he has an agenda that is difficult to understand.  God has redirected Kelli and my path a number of times by withholding some of the basic things in life.  Ultimately, though, we must trust that God is good and that his way is the best.  Jairus did not suddenly feel good as he completed his walk home with Jesus, but he completed it none the less.

All these devastating aspects of living bring us back to the need for the faith foundation in our lives.  We can ask ourselves what we believe and we can develop what we believe as we grow in our knowledge of God.  However, true faith continues walking with God even when life becomes dark and stormy.  As C.S. Lewis has said, “Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”  A community of faith helps us to hold firm, but ultimately it is fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, which leads us through our trials.

Finally, Jesus does heal.  He still has authority over sickness and praying does have value.  However, he does not heal whomever we choose, he heals whomever he chooses.  He sometimes heals people emotionally before he ever heals them physically.  Sometimes he heals in miraculous ways to show his power and presence.  We all need to seek healing from the divine healer.  We all need to find peace for our souls.  The peace we find in this life never endures, but it is a foretaste.  The moments of wellness which God graciously bestows on us now give us a sense of what eternity will be like when our faith will be made sight.

 

 

 

 

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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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