The Shame of Limits  - By Stephanie Wilcox

The Shame of Limits - By Stephanie Wilcox

I recently purchased a plane ticket and knew one of the airports would leave me with a long walk, early in the morning. At my husband and mom's prompt, I warily clicked the button asking for a wheelchair service to get me to my gate. I have lived with chronic pain and disease for twenty-five years, I’ve spent several years in a wheelchair, had numerous reconstructive surgeries, and have re-learned to walk a handful of times. I am no stranger to dependence and the need for help. But I await that wheelchair trip to my flight with a feeling of absolute dread. 

I have a vivid recollection of sitting in my tiny wheelchair at the grocery store as an eight-year-old, enduring the stares of kids and adults alike. They didn’t smile or wave, they just stared. My very mature response was normally to start making faces, stick out my tongue, or roll my eyes. 

I cannot stop thinking about the stares that will greet me as I endure that long wheelchair trip to my flight. It feels like dread, but I know it too well as shame.

Throughout the years of disease, I have become aware of my pride–the flare of frustration, helplessness, and fear when I have no option but to rely on someone else, my ever-increasing limits, needs, and … well, the list could go on and on. I diagnosed pride as the true and sole battle of my heart until I came face to face with the reality of the shame that regularly tries to overwhelm me. Though I could tell you countless ways that I experience shame because of my physical disabilities and limits, they primarily boil down to these two:

1. Shame tells me that I am less than.

I remember various points in middle school, high school, and college in which I noticed how none of the other girls around me had feet deformed by disease, they could pretty much eat whatever they wanted without fear of how it would make them feel the next day, and didn’t seem to have the limits that plagued me. It seemed throughout those years that my peers didn’t have to ask for help to do basic things, they were capable, strong, able, and self-sufficient. I was the opposite. The shame ate at me, stripping away my humanity to make me feel completely less than, other, icky even. I felt like it was just me, alone in the world of being other, isolated by the shame of it all.

But Scripture has continuously met me here with comfort and reality. There are many ways I have been corrected and comforted in the lies shame whispers to me, but my favorites are in the incarnation of Christ and remembering that I am an image bearer.

    Scripture reminds me of the Incarnation

I always knew that Christ put on flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14), but it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that the reality of the Savior in skin began to correct the lies I was believing. Jesus Christ, the God-man put on the skin, with all its decay and disappointments, to live as a man. He chose to experience pain, sorrow, betrayal, dependence on others, hunger, and need so that he could empathize with us so that we could be saved and restored to God. Recognizing that Christ chose to put on flesh, with all its flaws, began to prompt me to think about my own flesh differently. He could have redeemed us in different ways, but this was the chosen method of our Triune God, that Christ would be embodied. And he did this for the joy set before him, despising shame (Heb. 12:1-2).

   The truth reminds me of Imago Dei. 

It sounded overly simplistic to me at times, but the reality is that when shame screams loudest in my ear, it’s easy for me to forget that I am an image bearer of the Most High God. From the earliest chapters of God’s Word it is clearly established that God made humankind in his image (Gen. 1:27). And as I read through the following chapters and books, I can’t miss the reality that this truth clothes me with value. I have to then recognize that I was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), and a masterpiece created for a purpose (Eph. 2:10). Holding onto these truths has continually refuted the lies that shame so wants me to believe.

2. Shame in my limits tells me I’m a burden to everyone around me.

When I was pregnant with my first miracle baby, a well-intended individual asked me how I was going to help my child cope with having a special needs parent. I was floored. That was 8 years ago, and I’ve had some version of that same question and concern raised too many times to count. I regularly have to fight the lie that I am a burden to my husband and children. My physical needs and limitations due to disease often make it hard for me to serve my family and instead require them to serve me often. It’s easy for shame to pull me down into despair and self-loathing. Shame delights to tell me that I am a burden because I am dependent, weak, and often needy. Scripture tells me otherwise.

   Scripture reminds me that God meets my need. 

Genesis 16 opens with a sorrowful scene. Abraham and Sarah were still childless and despite the Lord’s assurance that an heir was coming, they took things into their own hands. Abraham conceived a son by the maidservant Hagar. Following the horrible treatment by Sarah, Hagar ran away into the wilderness. There she was, weak and helpless, with a baby coming soon, and surely sorrow, fear, and shame assailed her. But the Lord met her there and promised his care, provision, and a promised future for her. He saw her in her need, her weakness, and insufficiencies, and he acted on her behalf. She then called God, “the God who sees me”. I think of this passage often when the shame pulls at me in motherhood, when I feel burdensome. He is the God who meets us in our need, the God who sees us and cares for all our needs. Every time.

   Truth reminds me that he works through weakness. 

Don’t let the overfamiliar nature of this verse make you discount it: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9) This has proven true in each season of shame, of need, dependence, and limits. He is glorified most when I am humble in my need and dependence upon him.

None of these things have permanently quieted the voice of shame in my ear. It’s a voice that doesn’t give up easily. But I realized that meeting it head-on with the truth–with God’s Word– meant a conversation with shame, a pushback, and a refusal to sink into it. Speaking the truth to my shame means clinging to Christ, clinging to the truth despite shame, and silencing its power in my life. Armor yourself with the goodness of the Word, for it is a sure defense, and tender comfort.

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1 comment

Thank you Stephanie! I truly appreciate this! Have a wonderful day

Alisabeth Jordan

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