I’ve spent most of my life trying to outrun a core belief that I am not lovable. Worthless. An incident in second grade did not help that any.
We had a substitute teacher that day. Part of my safety in life was in reading a room and figuring out how to act in response, and substitutes were particularly scary to me because I didn’t know them and didn’t have an opportunity to suss them out. As a result, I was more timid and my fear of getting in trouble was amplified.
She’d told us No Talking. The girl next to me whispered something to me, and I acted like I didn’t hear her. I could see her out of the corner of my eye, looking my way and trying to get my attention. The teacher’s back was to us, but I didn’t care; I didn’t want to get in trouble.
My neighbor kept whispering and gesturing, and I kept ignoring her. Finally, because I was afraid of getting in trouble even just for having her whispering to me, I quickly turned to look at her and whispered in a panic, “She said no talking!.” Naturally, that was the moment the sub turned around, and instead of seeing the girl talking to me, the sub saw me talking to the girl.
“What did I say!” she demanded. I jumped. My heart was beating so hard and so fast, I’m pretty sure the whole school could hear it.
“I was trying to get her to stop talking to me.”
I felt so small, like an ant trying to persuade a boot.
“What. did. I. say?!” She repeated, unmoved.
“No talking. But –”
“No ‘but’! I saw you talking, and you were told not to talk.”
I felt invisible, and on naked display at the same time.
Next thing I knew, I was made to carry the class trash can with me out to the playground for recess. It was heavy, dark green, and metal. Dented. Partly filled with discarded paper, and pencil shavings from the class sharpener that hung on the wall over top of it.
She had me put the trash can down right against the building, on the playground. Then, she informed me that I was to stand in that can with my nose against the building for the duration of recess.
On the playground.
In the trash can.
While all of my classmates and others were playing around me, and I in plain sight.
(Side note, but hardly the bigger issue – this was winter time in Michigan, so it was an added punishment to have to stand still for thirty minutes in the cold. And, no, this was not Catholic school. This was public school.)
When you already believe you’re not worth loving, and then someone makes you stand in a trash can in front of all of your peers, well …. it stays with a person. Unfortunately, no one reframed it for me, either. No friend came and stood nearby so I wouldn’t be alone in the trash. No one looked at me and told me that what was happening wasn’t okay, or that it was unjust. No one pulled me aside later to say I want you to know that you are not trash, and you did not belong in the trash can no matter WHAT you did/didn’t do. No one came and said I want you to look at me, take my hand, and come out of that trash can. There was no intervention or followup, only the lingering sting of her fierceness in class, and the heavy cement of shame and humiliation in my belly out on the playground – and long after.
My experience is hopefully unique to me, but I know shame is not. Shame is surprisingly universal, and it’s no respecter of persons. It affects people of all ages, all socioeconomic stations, all levels of education, all races, all religions, all levels of talent, all jobs/careers, and the innocent/guilty alike. I personally know countless others who either currently struggle with debilitating shame, or who have at some point in their lives. Shame is a cruel visitor, and, for some of us, one that moved in and took over.
But, I want you to hear me:
No matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, you are not trash.
NO MATTER WHAT YOU’VE DONE, OR WHAT’S BEEN DONE TO YOU, YOU. ARE. NOT. TRASH.
No matter what you’re struggling with, no matter what someone in authority accused you of, no matter what that issue is in your life that won’t go away, no matter what you look like or believe or feel, no matter what you’ve failed at, no matter who doesn’t love you or see your worth, no matter what crime you’ve committed, no matter what you’ve done in hopes of being seen or chosen or loved – you are not worthless, you are worth loving, your pain matters, and there is hope for you.
There is hope for you.
You are not here by accident, and your presence and story and contribution matter to the world. You are not too broken, or too far gone.
If, somewhere inside you, you feel like that girl in the trash can, I am here to look you in the eye (screen) and say I want you to know that you are not trash, and you did not belong in the trash can no matter WHAT you did/didn’t do.
I am here to give you a hand out of there, and to tell you that you’re valuable and you matter. No, I don’t know what you did, I don’t know what was done to you, I don’t know why your husband left you, I don’t know why your partner abused you or cheated on you, I don’t know why your parents abandoned you, I don’t know why your church shunned you, I don’t know why you got fired, or voted out, or ex-communicated. I don’t know your story, but I do know that you matter regardless of what that story is. I do know that you have a valuable purpose. I do know that you deserve to be loved. I do know that forgiveness is available if it’s needed. And I do know that we were not created to spend our light in the shadows. I cannot overstate this.
We were not created to spend our light in the shadows.
So, I want you to look at me, take my hand, and come out of that trash can.