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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Hiding in the Garden

Where are you?

In the Garden of Eden. Hiding. Naked. Blaming.

What is it that makes us hide?

The knee jerk answer in the church is, “Sin!” That is a conversation stopper because there is no were to go from there except, “Repent!” It misses so much of the story.

The story is that God is first of all angry with the one who purposefully beguiled his creation. Then God explains the consequences and finally, God helps Adam and Eve learn how to deal with their new knowledge—by clothing them.

Whatever the ramifications were of what had happened, the immediate problem was their nakedness. The fear of being caught naked is part of the human experience. This is always true except in cultures where it is not viewed as unacceptable, which is an interesting caveat. This makes me consider that what occurred was symbolized by nakedness, but in reality their nakedness was a symbolic explanation of exposed vulnerability.

Our ‘naked dreams’ aren’t really about being naked. Being caught naked is a cultural construct. We have all laughed at children who, fresh from the bathtub, run through the house with naked abandon. We aren’t born with a desire to be hidden under clothing, we are taught this. So were Adam and Eve truly ashamed of their naked created bodies or is it symbolic of their newly felt vulnerability?

What exactly is the knowledge of good and evil? What really happened was they made a choice. It was a choice they regretted immediately. In one fell swoop, they realized that they had been given freewill and had made the wrong choice. They understood their choices could be for good or for evil. It was totally up to them.

These first two humans were disappointed in the choice they made and did what all humans attempt to do—find someone else to blame. Even when we are eventually willing to accept the guilt, our first reaction is always to find a reason why we made the choice. That initial reaction is the result of complete exposure to our own human imperfection. It is the moment when we fully look in the mirror. It is the place where we are most vulnerable—and our immediate reaction is to hide.

God’s reaction, if seen through a lens of love versus an angry wrathful God, is a picture of how we can help ourselves and our children learn through choices.

  1. Place blame where blame is due (sometimes children are influenced beyond their developmental capacity to make good choices).

  2. Explain the consequences of the choice. Choices do have consequences and consequences help us develop a healthy sense of guilt (not shame) and inform future choices.

  3. Love the child and do everything possible to prevent the child from internalizing shame from the incident.

God did not shame, but did understand that shame had gripped them. Many confuse guilt and shame—they are not the same. Shame tells us we are not worthy; guilt tells us what we did was unacceptable. They are two totally different things. Shame occurs when we internalize what others do to us or say to us and take it as our own truth about ourselves. Guilt is the result of our own actions—we can ask for forgiveness and move on. Shame makes us apologize for our very existence and being.

What God did was lovingly attempt to help the two find a way to deal with their newly formed sense of vulnerability and shame. They needed to accept the choice and the consequences would create an understanding of guilt, but the hiding was a result of shame and this would destroy them without help. Clothing them was a means of bringing them out of hiding and helping them function and continue with the relationship.

The understanding of good and evil was not in the apple, it was in the choice. Inherent in every choice is the possibility for shame. Guilt brings us to confession, shame makes us hide and project our anger with ourselves onto others (blame).

When a child makes an incorrect choice, guilt is there but they continue on with their day. When caught, they fess up. “Yep, I did that.” They accept the consequences and move on. When children feel shamed for their choices (you are a bad child, you always choose to do the wrong thing, etc.), then they immediately experience shame instead of guilt—and they hide (cover up the deed, lie, literally hide, blame someone else, etc.).

Shame destroys relationships—with each other and with God. It makes us believe we are not worth loving. It causes us to view consequences as punishment instead of simply being the result of our choice. It makes us call our choices sin and then beat ourselves to death about our inherent sin nature, which will always make the bad choice (even if our choices are predominantly good choices).

The evidence of shame is everywhere. Our judgment of our own lack of worth flows out in our judgment of others. Our rejection of ourselves makes us critical of those around us. Our shame makes us fearful of those who are being vulnerable about their stories because we have spent our lives hiding our own. Our inability to see ourselves as a healthy mix of human qualities makes us see those around us in black and white. Our tight control over our inner unworthiness makes us land squarely in the midst of legalism and project the need to control on others—including our children.

God stands ready to clothe us in love and restore the relationship. God never wanted us to experience shame. Guilt guides us; shame destroys us. Confessed guilt builds relationship, internalized shame makes us hide from relationships. What we choose is not who we are. If we have internalized shame messages from our childhood, it is very hard to see ourselves as God sees us. It is very likely that we will continue making the same choices because we believe we are someone who always makes bad choices. A choice is a choice, nothing more; but if shame hijacks it, we reap a whirlwind and run to hide in the garden.

The tragedy of the human condition is not in eating the apple, but in the distortion of natural guilt. Our greatest loss is when we no longer view ourselves as God views us. Generation to generation our own shame is projected onto those we love most. It is why Jesus made a point of saying we needed to love ourselves. All the troubles in the world would end if every human could love his or her self as God does. I was drowning in shame I didn’t even recognize. I was doing everything I could to make good choices, but I hated that shameful part of me that hovered like a dark cloud. Then one day, God came to the garden of my life and said, “Where are you?”

So many times when I walked into therapy, I heard that question. I don’t know if those were the exact words, but it is what I heard. It was a question about what I was hiding. It was a question about not trying to project and protect, but to come out of hiding and stand there all vulnerable and exposed as God clothed me in love while healing all the messages I had internalized.

Sometimes people wonder how I can be so willing to tell my story. It was a long journey to vulnerability. It is the result of finally understanding that I am not defined by what happened to me, those who deceived me, or any choice I made. I am defined by the relationship I have with the one who created me; the one who came looking for me in the garden where I was hiding with my internalized shame. Without the shame, I honestly can’t figure out why I hid. That is what God intended.

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