At some time, most of us have found ourselves in a new situation where we wanted to feel competent and get things right but were afraid of getting it wrong and feeling embarrassed in front of others. Maybe it was starting a new job or going to a new school. Maybe it was a parent or romantic interest whom we wanted to impress. I’ve certainly felt that way many times in life. Most recently, I have moved to a new country and started a doctoral program. In my new station in life, I’d rather appear as neither an ugly American nor an ignorant fish-out-of-water at the university. But the reality is that I probably come across as one or the other or both from time to time.
Given my recent move, I was particularly struck by the following story from Mark Baker in “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials.” I’ve been slowly working my way through this book over several months, and providentially I came across this testimony of Baker’s experience of being a first year Ph.D student at the same time I had just started my own Ph.D studies. As Baker points out near the end of his story, a lot of people can’t identify with studying for a Ph.D but but all of us have experienced shame at some point and tried to hide the feeling that we just don’t measure up to those around us.