When I was growing up, "shame on you" meant you'd done something wrong. Shame was something you really couldn't argue with. That was it. You were shamed.
A puppy I was trying to train must have thought that his name was Shame because I said that phrase so often to him.
I don't hear that expression "shame on you" much anymore. Today, one new way of saying the same thing is "totally unacceptable." I watched a woman in a restaurant send back an order of bacon yesterday. When it came back, it was sent back again. "Totally unacceptable" came floating over to my table.
Then I remembered a difficult conversation with a friend recently. She'd called and was crying because she thought she was being treated unfairly.
Instead of saying, "There, there, how awful" (as I usually do), I pointed out something my friend could have done differently to achieve a better outcome. I wasn't mean, but I didn't react the way she'd expected.
I was told that my timing and demeanor were "totally unacceptable." The conversation took a downward turn, and I'm sure both of us felt sad and misunderstood afterward.
Every day I read from a book to help me see solutions to problems, some of which seem impassable. The book is "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy. One sentence has helped me think and pray about that situation with my friend. It asks, "If a friend informs us of a fault, do we listen patiently to the rebuke and credit what is said?" (pg. 8). I couldn't change my friend's reaction, but I could examine what I'd said. I asked myself some questions:
Had I intended to hurt my friend in what I told her?
Was I being judgmental or unfair?
How could I have handled the problem differently?
I knew my intentions weren't to cause pain or hurt. I also knew that because I was acting out of kindness, I wasn't being unfair.
But could I have handled things better? The example that occurred to me was this. If I were given the job of waking my friend up at a certain hour, then it was important that I do it. Well, there are many ways to wake someone up. Alarm clocks, calling a person's name, and shaking him or her are all possibilities. Perhaps next time I will be more certain that I've chosen the most loving method based on someone's sensitivities.
Thinking of Love as another name for God, I found my prayer about this situation becoming clearer. Love listens. Love cares. Love's lessons are gentle, precise, and clear - not emotional or hurtful. Love has the patience to wait until a storm has passed to point someone in the right direction.
It seemed impossible to keep this friendship intact. But I was able to trust that Love - the greatest power in the universe - would help me. Love knew what had been in my heart when I had spoken. Love could and would erase the sting of what had to be said.
Each of us has the ability to learn to love more and better. We can be lifted out of "shame thinking" and into a more accurate concept of ourselves as being perfect in God's sight. There is nothing "totally unacceptable" about the way God made any of us! The only thing that is totally unacceptable is to believe that God made us flawed.
My friend is speaking to me again, and we've seen each other once or twice. I know we're still on the road back to our old relationship. But it's a help to know that I can trust God to communicate all the love that I have for her.
Thou art worthy,
O Lord, to receive
glory and honour
and power: for thou
hast created all things,
and for thy pleasure
they are and were
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society