“Mom, I can’t take it anymore.”
I stood up, closed the refrigerator door, and turned to see my then-third-grade son standing behind me. He was crying.
“What’s happened, Sam?”
He began to unpack his struggle of the past three years – events he’d kept hidden from me and my husband. As I sat and listened, tears rolled quietly down my cheeks. But inside I was screaming. How could this have happened right under my nose? Wasn’t I supposed to protect my children? Guilt sucker-punched me in the gut and said, You’re a horrible mom.
Sam shared how a boy in class had been bullying him. And it hadn’t just been that school year, but the better part of three years. Although the offender was in my son’s grade, he was taller and outweighed him by a good fifteen pounds. Sam had been kicked, chased, hit, pinched, taunted, and threatened with his life if he told me or anyone else about it. Because he was afraid this kid would make good on his threat, Sam had kept silent about the situation. Until now.
I’d heard this boy’s name before. I knew he bothered my son from time to time, and I had counseled him through a few situations. But I didn’t realize it had crossed the line from mean kid to bully. As a mom, shouldn’t I have seen the shift? How did I miss that?
We had noticed little changes in Sam’s schoolwork, but nothing drastic. His handwriting was sloppy and he struggled in math, previously his strongest subject. He stopped doing homework, telling us he had none. His A grades were dropping, and at parent-teacher conferences, they blamed the changes on anything from rushing through his work to learning harder math concepts.
There were changes in him too, but they were subtle and gradual and, we assumed, normal. Sam seemed angrier and had a quick temper. His eating and sleeping habits shifted. He struggled socially and had lost self-confidence. We asked doctors and therapists if these changes were worrisome, and they assured us he was normal and things would be okay. Why didn’t I see the situation more clearly?
We immediately began counseling and it was during therapy that most of the details surrounding the bullying emerged. Hearing about the evil my son endured overwhelmed me and awoke the mama-bear inside. I was furious, but underneath was always crushing guilt. I’m not sure I’ve ever cried as much as I did through those months. And then the unimaginable happened.
While I was sitting in the school’s pick-up line, the principal called and asked me to meet in her office. I walked in to find Sam sitting, head down. My heart started racing while trying to make sense of this meeting. Was there another bully situation? Did Sam lash out in anger? I sat down quietly as she said,
“Carey, Sam told two teachers today that he wanted to commit suicide.” My eyes met Sam’s and I saw into his soul. And it scared me.
My guilt was the fuel behind finding the responsible party. I met with teachers, administration, even the school board itself. I even confronted the bully’s mom. I was going to make this right – I had to. Someone was going to pay for my failure to save Sam from this horrible situation. But when my best efforts failed and I couldn’t shift my guilt to another’s blame, those self-condemning feelings flooded back.
- A good mom would have understood the situation better.
- A caring mom would have known something was drastically different with her son.
- An effective mom would have nipped this in the bud.
- And a worthless mom would have done exactly what I did – nothing.
I was tangled in the lie that said it was my fault – that I’d failed my son. Watching my son suffer because I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation and intervene sooner tangled me. And to make matters worse, my best efforts to right the wrong got me nowhere. I was bloodied in the battle, and in the end I was left with a wounded son, a broken heart, and shame the size of Texas on my shoulders.
Friends, shame is that 5-letter word that feels more like a 4-letter word. While guilt is the feeling you get from doing something wrong, shame is the feeling that you are wrong.
You made a bad decision, so you’re a bad person.
You chose the wrong path, so you aren’t trustworthy.
Your intuition didn’t kick in, so you’re clueless.
You didn’t see the situation correctly, so you’re unreliable.
You didn’t protect someone you loved, so you’re a let-down.
But God doesn’t speak shame. It’s the Enemy’s language. And God never uses shame in our lives. If we find ourselves agreeing with the “I am bad” statements… if we decide that who we are isn’t okay… chances are we’re struggling with shame.
Ask God to reveal it. Ask God to heal it. And ask God to remind you of your immeasurable value.
Today, Sam is thriving in high school. While those shame messages can sometimes creep back into my heart, I’m quicker to recognize them and faster to take them to the only One who can untangle them.
The divine shame-buster.
Carey Scott is an author, speaker, and life coach, honest about her walk with the Lord… stumbles, fumbles and all. She is the author of Untangled, a book where she bravely shares her story of abuse, the insecurities birthed from it, and offers practical advice on how to live in freedom. Carey lives in Northern Colorado with her family. Learn more at CareyScott.org.
Book Giveaway! Follow Shame on Shanty and be entered to win Carey Scott’s Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life, and Varina Denman’s Looking Glass Lies. Winner will be drawn from blog subscribers and announced next week. US and Canada only. Enter HERE.