As he walked along the familiar path, memories of racing against his older brother flashed through his mind. But this time was different – he approached his childhood home, shoeless and defeated, preparing his speech for his father. “Father, I’m no longer worthy to be called your son, but maybe you can hire me?”
This story, often known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is likely familiar to many of us. But have you ever considered the message of shame that the son carries with him as he returns home? It’s a message that many of us can relate to, whether our shame stems from past mistakes or experiences beyond our control.
Shame can tell us that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It can isolate us and keep us from the healing power of connection and community. But the story of the prodigal son teaches us that we can find freedom from shame by embracing vulnerability, courage, and compassion.
To move from shame to freedom, consider these three practices:
- Practice vulnerability instead of hiding. Hiding can take many forms, such as perfectionism, avoidance, or providing canned answers when asked how we are feeling. However, vulnerability is the key to true connection. Just as the prodigal son revealed his shame to his father, we can find healing by sharing our stories with trusted friends, seeking professional counseling, and trusting that God is the keeper of our souls.
- Rehearse the Father’s compassion instead of shame. In the story, the father shows his love and compassion for his returning son. Instead of focusing on our shame, we can remind ourselves of God’s unconditional love and compassion. Memorize the five verbs in Luke 15:20 that describe the father’s actions: he saw, he felt compassion, he ran, he embraced, and he kissed. Let these actions become your new narrative, replacing the story of shame.
- Cultivate empathy for yourself and others. As Brené Brown asserts in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection,” empathy is the antidote to shame. By cultivating empathy for ourselves and others, we can create spaces of healing and connection. Practice listening without judgment, validating emotions, and sharing your own experiences to foster empathy and understanding.
When we embrace vulnerability, rehearse God’s compassion, and cultivate empathy, we can overcome shame and disappointment. Just as the father in the story welcomed his son with open arms, we can find freedom, hope, and healing in the loving embrace of our Heavenly Father.