What if I told you public embarrassment is good for you?
I know, crazy idea, right? So let me explain.
Six short weeks after my sister died from lung cancer, I was diagnosed with cancer; rectal cancer. Unfortunately, rectal cancer isn’t sexy and doesn’t come with a pretty pink bow or a fun run in a bra with pink tassles. To say I was shocked is an understatement much like claiming Bill Gates scrapes by financially; I was fit and healthy and had just run a marathon.
After radiation, chemo, and surgery to rework my God-given plumbing, I’m left with a digestive system as temperamental and unpredictable as a two-year-old. The upside is I can now map 90% of the loos in Charlotte; from the Ladies restrooms at the Children’s hospital (that smell of Clorox and baby wipes), to the port-a-Johns along my jogging route (welcome, yet unsanitary relief when desperation calls mid-run).
If you know anything about me, you know I’m pathologically honest and as church leaders, we’re naturally open and vulnerable about our fears and failures, so we quickly decided my diagnosis was no different. We’d talk about my cancer from the front and hey, these were our flock, how awkward could it be?
It turns out, VERY awkward and death-defyingly embarrassing.
I knew my husband Al was going to mention it but I wasn’t sure when or how until I heard him utter these immortal words.
“As some of you may know, Niki was recently diagnosed with rectal cancer….”
The pounding silence in the sanctuary was deafening and the rest of the sentence faded away, drowned out by the roar of my heart pumping blood into my cheeks at an unprecedented rate.
He’d said it.
He said rectum.
Out loud. In church.
And not just anyone’s rectum – MY rectum.
I could feel over two hundred pairs of eyes boring into the back of my head. I knew a picture of my bottom had just flashed in front of everyone’s mind.
MY RECTUM!!! IN CHURCH!!
Embarrassment charged through me.
Not normally prone to embarrassment, the fire burned my cheeks; all four of them.
Begging my chair to swallow me I debated whether to bolt for the door in a bid for freedom, or stand up, take a bow, and attempt to laugh it off.
Flight or fight at its best; run and hide or stay and fight with humor and grace?
What do you do when you’re faced with the intense emotional discomfort we call embarrassment?
Studies show a third of us apologize immediately when something embarrassing happens, while 22% of us joke to cover it up, 21% pretend nothing happened, 18% suffer the blushing until it passes, and 6% of us leave the room.
But what is the best way to deal with that awkward moment that leaves us shame face and self-conscious? And how exactly was this mortifying experience in church good for me?
Given the fact I had a tumor the size of a small planet located where the sun doesn’t shine, you won’t be surprised to hear this was neither my first, nor last, deeply embarrassing moment. I struggled with every undignified, distressing and mortifying moment of embarrassment until I realized all these emotions were rooted in fear.
On that fateful Sunday, fear was the driving force behind my embarrassment.
I was afraid of what people would think.
I was frightened they’d reject me if they knew the real me was a hot mess with cancer in a most “unchristian” part of my anatomy.
Yet most of all, I was afraid they’d feel pity, seeing me as weak and helpless, and this frightened me more than anything.
Everything in me wanted to hide.
I knew God’s love could cast out my fear, but letting Him love me enough to squeeze it out of every last inch of me wasn’t easy. It was a choice I had to make each time embarrassment waved the red flag of fear.
So what if people think horrible or undignified things about me?
God loves me just as I am.
So what if they reject me for being a hot mess?
God will never leave me.
So what if they think I’m weak?
I am weak, and in my weakness He is strong.
And you know the funny thing? We all have elbows and knees and we all have rectums. Even Jesus had one!
Letting God love our brokenness fills us to where there’s no room for fear, and where fear has no home its neighbor embarrassment can’t move in.
Jesus thinks I’m the bee’s knees and He thinks you are too. Can that be enough?
I’m a stubborn old goat and I’m not sure these truths would be seared on my heart if I hadn’t had, and still have so many deeply embarrassing moments.
People often tell us it’s not as bad as we think it is and before my cancer this platitude drove me bonkers. But you know what? They’re right. It’s not as bad as we think.
My fears were ungrounded.
They didn’t think awful things about me; they loved me.
They didn’t reject me; they scooped me up in their arms.
They didn’t think I was weak, but when I was, they loved me all the more.
Fear traps us in shame and embarrassment, while God’s love sets us free.Fear traps us in shame and embarrassment, while God’s love sets us free. Click To Tweet
If you’re prone to embarrassment or, like me, live with an embarrassing condition, can I invite you to dig into the fear that feeds that shame and self-consciousness?
What are you afraid of and what does God say about you and those fears?
If you want to know how God feels about you read this love letter He wrote you. It will fill you up and squeeze out any fear lurking in dark corners.
Want to feel more of God’s love (and less embarrassment)?
And just in case you think I’ve stumbled on some miracle embarrassing moment vaccine, here’s proof I haven’t found it – yet! Read these stories from my cancer journey and you’ll know you’re not alone!!