I was journaling the other morning and flashed on a memory from close to 50 years ago…
I snuck into the kitchen when I knew my mom wasn’t there, opened the fridge, and got myself a spoonful of peanut butter — then devoured it and disposed of any evidence before I got caught. This was hardly the only time I took on such stealth activity related to food; this scene is an amalgamation of countless such moments.
So, the questions you might be asking are these:
- Why did she need to sneak in the first place? What was wrong with having a spoonful of peanut butter?
- Why did she know to anticipate shame, if caught? What about the shame she felt in getting away with what was not allowed?
My behavior was hardly limited to peanut butter, nor did it end when I was young. I can conjure up memory after memory in which I was convinced that I needed to hide my behavior. Yes, around food, but also money, sex, anything not deemed “good” or “right.” And it persists.
I am now 61 years old, have been in years of therapy and spiritual direction, am deeply familiar with self-reflection, have grown in profound ways, and am far, far from that young girl in a small dairy town in Eastern Washington. Somehow, it doesn’t seem to matter. All of these core fears and beliefs remain. No, they don’t hold the same power they once did, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t present, functioning, and often running roughshod.
How about a current example:
When I order something on Amazon, both of my daughters receive a confirmation email. If they click on “details,” they instantly know what is coming my way. As you might imagine, this is distinctly problematic around birthdays and Christmas, but above/beyond those obvious and appropriate “secrets,” here’s what happens within me: I actually think about what I’m going to purchase (or not) based on my anticipation of their response.
I know! It sounds completely crazy. Cuz it is!! It doesn’t function as powerfully as it once did. I don’t give it a ton of credence. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still there. The pattern persists — and remains — at a DNA-level, it seems:
- what I want is disallowed or “wrong”
- not getting caught or hiding is my response
- shame is a given
It would be really, really easy for me to launch into the story of Eve right now — all the ways in which that telling (not the story itself) has created and reinforced why I feel this way; why you probably do, as well.
There’s another story I want to tell instead. Back to the other morning, my journaling, and the remembered story of the stealth peanut butter…
As is my ritual, I type for about 45 minutes and then draw a card from my deck — just to see what woman/story/wisdom might show up on my behalf and speak to what I’ve written up to that point. The card I turned over?
I swear: I can’t make this up.
The Unaccused Woman
Do you know her story? If you have heard of her, she’s been called The Woman Caught in Adultery. I despise this “name” for a myriad of reasons: she continues to be objectified, the man is not responsible at all, her “sin” is our focus, it perpetuates the belief that a woman’s desire is dangerous…I could go on and on.
So, I’ve renamed her The Unaccused Woman. Here’s the gist:
Jesus was traveling from town to town, drawing larger and larger crowds — much to the dismay of the religious leaders and teachers. In order to trap him, they brought a woman before him and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” He bent over and wrote in the dust with his finger as they kept demanding an answer. Finally he stood up and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone.” Then he returned to drawing in the dirt. When her accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one until only Jesus and the woman were left in the midst of the crowd. He said to her, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. He replied, “Neither do I.”
This story makes mine about peanut butter (or money or sex or Amazon purchases) seem relatively inconsequential. But we have much in common — this woman and me (and you). Centuries and centuries have spoken of her sin. Centuries and centuries have guessed about what he was drawing in the dirt. Centuries and centuries have pondered and preached and pontificated about “he who is without sin throw the first stone.” Centuries and centuries have made this story about his power to forgive. Centuries and centuries have assumed she was guilty — and just “lucky” that Jesus happened along to save her.
What has not been spoken of, asked, or considered (at least not nearly enough) is who she was in the first place, let alone who she became when all the old stories suddenly disappeared, when she was seen without shame, when she stepped into an expanse of grace. And we’ve certainly not asked what wisdom she longs to offer on our behalf when we find ourselves caught in old stories, reeling in shame (imagined or real), and repeating old patterns that no longer serve.
Perhaps it’s time we did. It’s what she deserves. It’s what we deserve — and desire and need! Whether it has anything to do with peanut butter, or not.
“It helps me to be in conversation with the women who have gone before us because understanding the past illuminates how we got to where we are and how we might walk a brighter path into the future.” ~ Elizabeth Lesser, Cassandra Speaks
What might she say to you today, knowing what she knows?
The shadows are not your home; step into the light.
Imagine if this was the refrain, the over-arching truth, the wisdom that was inculcated into you from the earliest age. Imagine if her voice was the one you heard in bedtime stories, read in your favorite books, sang of in houses of worship…
You do not need to sneak. You do not need to hide. And you do not need to feel shame. Every part of you is wanted, allowed, and welcomed. Walk through your days in full expression of your desire, your wants, your opinions, your hopes, your emotions, your beliefs. Those hints of accusation, the possibility of risk, the fear of being caught? Never deserved, never appropriate, never yours to take on. And the shadows? They are not where you belong. So now, at last, step into the light and stay there. Stand in the spotlight, center stage, visible and glorious — making your own choices: wise, full-of-desire, and sovereign. It’s time. I am with you.
You are draped with dignity and grace.
Imagine if this was the blessing spoken over you at birth, repeated at each meal, whispered as prayer while someone soothed your brow and tucked you in at night…
See yourself as I do — robed in velvet, beautiful beyond compare, shoulders back, strength revealed, no questions asked. And in moments and seasons when this vision feels far away, almost impossible, ask yourself: “What does dignity look like right now?” “What does grace feel like right now?” Both are givens. Both are yours. These two — as faithful companions — offer you a way of being that eliminates shame (by self or others), reminds you of who you truly are, and removes all judgment and fear. This IS who you are. Always. From the beginning of time and still today. No matter what. I promise.
Freedom and strength define you.
Imagine if this was reinforced at every turn, repeated in every moment of doubt, tattooed on your heart, the index card on your mirror, the magnet on your fridge…
Freedom defines you — not second guessing or holding back or being small of staying silent or enduring shame. Freedom defines you — so choose, and choose, and choose again: what you want, what you desire, what you believe in, what you know. Freedom defines you — not a man or a job or a culture or your social media numbers. Strength defines you — not compliance or compromise or peace-making or your bank statement. Strength defines you — so risk and speak and give and love. Strength defines you — in the most fierce and tender of ways. Knowing you have complete freedom is what gives you strength. Trusting in your strength is what gives you freedom. Both are yours. By divine right. By inheritance. As impossible-to-ignore truth. You are my daughter, my lineage, my kin.
My experience as a young girl is a small story. Not hugely significant, necessarily. But it offers me a glimpse into so many more stories that were yet to come — and still do. The peanut butter itself is not the cause or to blame; rather, it’s a symptom (and a source of discernment/wisdom) of something far larger, older than time, in my bloodstream…and in yours.
We have been trained to see ourselves at fault, the ones to blame, deserving of being drug into the center of town and stoned. We assume that pursuing what we want — from the smallest thing to the largest — is going to get us into trouble…or cause it for others. We are fairly certain that we will somehow, some way, be punished. And in truth — every bit of this is all-too-often true! We’re not imagining it or making it up! Centuries and centuries have taught us these lessons, we’ve experienced their pain ourselves, and we’ve certainly witnessed them in others.
Which is why a story like The Unaccused Woman matters so much. Which is why paying attention to the seemingly-smallest of stories in our own lives matters so much.
“You may think these stories are the stuff of ‘once upon a time’ and have nothing to do with you or your times. But ‘once upon a time’ is now, because the past is laced into the present on the needle and thread of stories.” ~ Elizabeth Lesser, Cassandra Speaks
I hope you will pay attention to your own memories, that you’ll wonder about what they invite, and maybe even listen to the voice and wisdom of an ancient, sacred woman from long ago who has so much to say, so much to offer, and who longs for so much on your behalf.
And definitely eat peanut butter by the spoonful!!