By Susan K. Smith,
When I was a child, I think I went overboard in trying to be “good.” I had lived in foster care for a while, and after whatever it was that had caused that situation was corrected, my mother came and got me, married, and we began a new life.
I never felt “good enough.” The man my mother married adopted me so that I would at least have the same last name as did my other siblings, but his family did not like me. Kids being kids, my new cousins would tell me how I didn’t belong. I was an outsider and they let me know it.
So, I compensated, tried to be a “good girl,” what we would today call a “goody two shoes.” Problem is, nobody is that good, and trying to be that way only breeds resentment amongst your peers. I didn’t know all that, so I tried to be “the best kid ever.” My grades were good. I was known as “the smart kid,” and I guarded all of that jealously.
I was chosen to be a part of an “elite” group called “the grass patrol.” We, the chosen ones, were in fact selected because we were “good” kids. We were let out of class early, given safety patrol belts that had been dyed lime green, and we stood in front of an area which had been freshly sprinkled with grass seed, holding our arms out to keep kids off of the turf.
All was well until one day a boy named Dana Henderson (yes, I still remember his name) came up to me and stood literally inches from me. He wasn’t in the “in-crowd” of boys because he was skinny and talked a little funny. But on this day, he was going to prove himself at my expense. He said something to me about me thinking I was better than everyone else, and he pushed me.
I stood there, arms held out, guarding the grass seed.
When he saw I wasn’t responding to him in fear, he pushed me and as he pushed, he spit in my face.
It was over. Before I knew it, I had jumped him, green patrol belt and all, and had knocked him to the ground. I was pummeling his body and was caught in my fury when all of a sudden, I felt myself being lifted off him – by the principal. Mr. Corgiat was his name, and he looked at me with utter disgust. That was bad enough, but my embarrassment was completed when he said, “And you’re in a Scout uniform,” (I was a Girl Scout), upon which all those who had gathered to see this fight began to laugh at me and point and say, “Look at Goody Two Shoes!”
I was totally embarrassed and held onto that embarrassment for a long time. I was “written up” and thus joined the ranks of the ne’r do wells. I carried that embarrassment for years.
I was thus stunned when I read words of Abraham Heschel, who wrote, “Embarrassment, loss of face, is the beginning of faith; it will make room within us.” What a profound thought! Make room for what? Make room for God, for God’s voice, for God’s direction. Heschel said, “embarrassment is meant to be productive; the end of embarrassment would be a callousness that would mark the end of humanity.”
Heschel says that embarrassment is the foundation of religiosity and also of ethics…it is the impulse that must lead to an awareness of being challenged.” He says that religion “begins with embarrassment. Religion means challenge, not complacency. Challenge means overcoming “our adjustment to conventional notions, to mental clichés.”
In life, we are embarrassed more often than we like to admit. It is not a pleasant emotion, but its spiritual educational value is something that perhaps we do not understand. God does not stand in front of our embarrassed selves to let us know that He/She is disappointed. No, God stands in front of us to offer proof that in spite of what we have done, God is there, will always be there and has always been there. If in our embarrassment we can reach out to God, God will fill us with the spiritual strength which we earn by attrition and which is often the result of having done something of which we are not proud.
I never fought on the school grounds again. When I would see Dana Henderson, I would just lower my head and keep going because – truth be told – I was still furious with him. I endured the cackling and teaching of my classmates who were glad that “Goody Two Shoes” had fallen, and I handled the punishment meted out to me both by the school and by my mother, who was totally unimpressed by my behavior.
In our walk with God, we will fall; we will be embarrassed, but if, as Heschel says, “embarrassment is the beginning of faith,” then perhaps we can and will handle our embarrassments with a feeling of hope and purpose. At the moment of being embarrassed, our dry souls and spirits might do well to reach for God, who will hydrate our dry places and give us the encouragement we need to learn, and not to pine over a moment which has come and gone. In the end, our embarrassing moments are gifts, given to us to give us strength and wisdom.
Amen and amen.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith –Writer, author, musician, pastor, preacher and social justice advocate. She is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and author of “Crazy Faith: Ordinary People; Extraordinary Lives,” which won the 2009 National Best Books Award. Follow Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith on Twitter:www.twitter.com/cassad