When I was four years old, my family lived just outside the small town of Brazil, Indiana. We lived in an older farm house complete with a coal stove for heat. There was a small meadow behind the house. Off to one side was a copse of trees and behind that was a house where two of my little friends lived.
One day my friends and I were playing in the meadow. We were having such a wonderful time that when nature called, I ignored the increasingly urgent alarms until it was too late. I peed my pants.
Then I kept playing.
My dad was in the back yard and soon noticed the wet stain. He angrily called me to come home. As I drew closer he began to berate me. That was embarrassing enough, but it was just the beginning. My mother came to see what all the fuss was about. Dad told her that if I was going to act like a baby, they were going to treat me like a baby. He told her to put a diaper on me.
She begged him to not make her do that but he insisted. She was crying almost as much as I was as she pinned that garment of shame on me. I tried to slink into the house, but my dad wouldn’t hear of it. He made me go back out to play with my friends. As I was trudging back in their direction I heard their mom calling them home. What went through my young mind was that she didn’t want her kids playing with someone who was such a baby that he had to wear a diaper. More shame.
From that day forward, I did whatever I had to do to avoid any semblance of shame. I lied, hid, blustered, diverted attention. Whatever it took. It rarely worked. My efforts only made me feel more ashamed. I had never been an extrovert, but now I retreated deeper into my shell.
Fifty some odd years later, I was at a Formational Prayer training event. My group’s caregiver was a tender-hearted saint named Kathy. During a one-on-one session she invited me to find a safe place and soon the Lord met me there. She softly suggested I ask the Holy Spirit if there was something from my past that He would like to bring healing to. “Never mind the Holy Spirit,” I thought, “I have several things on my list.” The diaper incident was not one of them. In fact, I had shoved that memory into the deepest recesses of my mind with the intention that it would never again see the light of day. In fact, I had forgotten about it.
You guessed it. The Holy Spirit instantly transported me to Brazil, Indiana, circa 1959. In a flash, the entire scene unfolded. It was as though I was watching it in living color. Within seconds, I dissolved in tears.
Kathy asked me to ask Jesus to meet me there. The last thing I wanted was for Him to see me like that. She gently insisted and I grudgingly agreed to give it a try.
Instantly I heard a man laughing but I couldn’t see him. The sound seemed to be coming from the direction of my friends’ house but whoever it was was hidden behind a small hill.
From the tone of the laughter it was clear He was not laughing at me. He seemed to be genuinely overjoyed about something, and He had his emotions on full display. I was curious, but because I was clad in only that shameful diaper, I also tried to hide. Soon I heard other voices, children’s voices. They, too, were laughing.
A moment later I saw a head appear behind the crest of the hill and instantly recognized that it was Jesus. He had a sparkle in His eye and He was looking down on either side of Him as He was walking toward me. With each step, more of Him became visible and soon I could see that He had the neighbor children by the hand and they were all having such a wonderful time that they couldn’t help laughing and giggling.
As they topped the hill I noticed something else. They were all wearing diapers! In Jesus’ case, it was actually the loincloth He is often depicted in while on the cross (yes, I know, the Romans typically crucified their victims naked; but in my vignette He was wearing the traditional loincloth).
The instant I realized what they were wearing, my mouth opened full gape. Then Jesus looked straight at me. The deeply compassionate look in His eyes communicated that He understood my shame and that He had come to take it off of me completely. And then with a tiny flick of His head and the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen, He beckoned me to come and play. The last thing I remember is beginning to leap from my hiding place. The diaper no longer mattered. I was going to play with Jesus.
From that day to this one, shame has no longer controlled my life. Oh, I still think about shame from time to time and still get embarrassed by my frequent goofiness, but, at least in this regard, my life has been completely transformed. I’m grateful for Kathy’s sensitively. I’m supremely grateful for Jesus’ willingness to out-shame me in order to bring a deep healing to me.
About the Author
Jerry is a Board member for HCM International and the Founder and Director of Ministry Consulting Group, which focuses on administrative services and leadership coaching for churches and other ministries throughout the United States and beyond. His specialty is church and ministry startups. He also has more than thirty years of experience in a variety of pastoral roles, including planting/pastoring several churches. Jerry and his wife, Jeanie, have five children and fifteen grandchildren. The entire Stephens clan resides in central Ohio.