This is a contributor piece written for the Joy Of It Blog
As a writer and grad school student, I’m visiting the public library often to find quiet places to work. One day in February, I pulled into the public library parking lot while taking a work call. I sat parked in my car, wrapping up the conversation over my car’s Bluetooth speaker, when an older woman who had parked her car next to mine abruptly and repeatedly hit my window. She began yelling at me saying that everyone in the parking lot could hear my phone conversation and that I needed to be quiet.
I looked at her stunned and then looked away.
I didn’t end my phone conversation, but I did disconnect from the car speakers. Tears slowly began to sting my eyes. I tried to ignore this woman, and thought that since I had obliged her request and turned down the volume of my call that she would relent. Instead, she sat at my window staring directly at me and then proceeded to swing open her door and slam it into the side of my car. I watched her and I did nothing.
The shame that came over me in that moment was paralyzing.
This event triggered something deep from my past. I flashed back to being scolded as a child by an angry older person who I felt had misunderstood my intent. I wanted to crawl in a hole and hide. I made a vow that I would avoid this library parking lot at all cost. I was mostly successful in doing this by taking the long way around the library and parking a few streets over…until, a few months later when, due to a time constraint I decided to park in the lot again. I immediately wished I hadn’t.
I was on my way to a dentist appointment with two of my daughters. The lot was full, it was raining, I had my bike hitch on the back of my minivan, and my power steering was basically non-existent at low speeds.
If you’re not cringing at this point, you should be.
I did what felt like a 20-point turn to squeeze into the only open spot. But in the process, I managed to scrape the driver side mirror of the car that was parked in the spot next to me. Exasperated, I let out some choice words, immediately regretted it, then began apologizing to the small ears that were listening. I scrambled to find a piece of paper to write down my information on the car next to me. There was hardly even a noticeable scratch, but it was an opportunity to model integrity and responsibility to my girls so I didn’t pass it up.
Already flustered and anxious, the scene I observed when I looked up quickened my heart rate. An elderly man in his vehicle was holding up his phone with the camera facing me directly. My heart sank into my stomach. Is this man really recording me?!? If he had seen me hit this mirror, I was determined he was going to record me putting my information on the window. Although I was looking at him directly, I couldn’t see his face behind the phone that was pointed at me.
The swirl of shame was closing in around me like quicksand.
I was running late, again – shame.
My car had come in contact with another car – shame.
My anxiety and frustration was on display – shame.
A person older than me looked down on me in disapproval – shame.
A simple task had become difficult – shame.
And all of these things were happening in a location where they had happened once before – the library parking lot. This familiar tape was running on loop in my mind.
The 30-minute window I had allotted to return books and make it to my girl’s dentist appointment had been used up with tight turns and high anxiety. Ironically, we never did make it inside the library that day. We needed to be on our way, but I felt stuck. I was hard pressed to get out of this small, confined parking space. My extended bike rack wasn’t helping. I anxiously glanced over in the direction of the older man to find his phone in the same position still pointed in my direction.
I flashed back to my experience two months prior in this same parking lot where I had been mistreated. In a moment of resolve, I determined to have courage and face my fear. If this man was videoing all my mistakes, he was going to hear me bravely plead my case.
I did not want to be misunderstood once again. I grabbed hold of the gold pendant that hung from the chain around my neck and read the inscription – Psalm 34:5.
A holy interruption. I desperately needed to be reminded of God’s truth.
“Those who look to Him are radiant, their faces are never covered in shame.”
I lifted my head towards the sky and said a short three word prayer – “Jesus, help me.” I stepped out of the car, took a deep breath and approached the man across the parking lot, convinced he was documenting my mistakes. I gently tapped on his window.
What happened next surprised me. He rolled down his window and met me with a smile and a warm “Hello.” And to top it off, he had the most brilliant Scottish accent, which, on its own was enough to disarm my fear. He looked at my face and said, “Miss, do you need some help?”
While everything in me wanted to walk away, to resort once more to shame and hiding, I found the courage to be honest and I answered “yes.” Turned out he was on a conference call which is why he had been holding his phone as he had been. He was not in fact recording my every mistake. He kindly told his colleagues that he would call them back because his assistance was needed to help a kind young woman in the library parking lot.
Tears stung my eyes once more, but I’m not sure he noticed since it was raining. I explained how I was stuck in my parking spot and late for an appointment. I owned that I had hit the car next to me on the way in which was why my fear was heightened around doing it once more. I asked him, “Will you help me get out?” He gladly obliged and walked with me to my car and guided me out of the small parking spot ensuring I didn’t hit anything.
I am happy to report that I made it out of the parking lot that day and to the dentist on time. I regret that I didn’t get the name of my helpful friend.
Shame is powerful and it causes us to want to hide.
It pushes us into isolation telling us to take the long road around instead of the straight path through. Regardless of age, shame can cause us to revert back to feeling small and helpless in the most unexpected, mundane moments of our lives. My motives in approaching the older man in the parking lot were rooted in fear. I wanted to prove, defend and fight for my rights. Instead, I encountered grace.
I chose to break through the silencing power of shame that day.
The old tape playing my shame narrative was interrupted when I asked God for help to move forward in taking action. I was able to discern that what I had been listening to on repeat was not in fact the truth about who I am. In looking to God, I was reminded about who I am because of who He is. Looking away from my shame and instead turning to a God in heaven who loves me, made all the difference. When I was brave enough to speak up to break the silence by asking for help, it was then that I encountered the truth.
Can you relate?
How much of our time and energy are spent managing shame, fear, stress and worry? Isn’t it exhausting? When we break the silence of shame by reaching out in conversation to God, we are met with a guiding grace that helps us navigate the crowded and sometimes hostile parking lots of life. And while your gift might not be an elderly Scottish man helping you back out of a parking spot on a rainy April afternoon, you will receive one from the Father who knows you and sees you.
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16