Everyone of us have something in our past that we have said, or done, that we regret. It is part of being human. Yet, what do you do with that shame from your past? In a strange story titled “Cold Storage” neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks describes a patient, identified as Uncle Toby, whom he met in 1957 in London. While making a house call to see a sick child, another doctor saw Uncle Toby sitting silent and motionless in a corner of the room. When the doctor asked about the figure, the family explained matter-of-factly, “That’s Uncle Toby. He’s hardly moved in seven years.”
Uncle Toby’s initial slowing down had been so gradual as to go almost unnoticed. Later, it became so profound that it was just accepted by the family. “He was fed and watered daily, and He was really no trouble. . . . Most people never noticed him, still, silent in the corner. He was not regarded as ill; he had just come to a stop.”
Uncle Toby, it turned out, was suffering from a thyroid malfunction, and his metabolic rate had been reduced almost to zero. His temperature, which had to be measured on a special thermometer, proved to be 20 degrees celcius. He was, in Dr. Sacks’ words, “alive, but not alive; in abeyance, in cold storage.” Over a period of weeks, doctors administered progressively larger doses of thyroxine to Uncle Toby, and his temperature rose steadily; soon he was walking and talking. Within a month, Dr. Sacks says, Uncle Toby had “awakened.”
The case then took a darkly ironic turn. The doctors discovered that Uncle Toby had a highly malignant, rapidly growing cancer. Such cancers ordinarily kill within a few months, but “it seemed that his cancer, like the rest of him, had been arrested in cold storage.” Once he warmed up, the growth of the cancer increased rapidly and he died several days later.
There is an emotional and spiritual principle to this story. Everyone one of us at some point in our life have been hurt or damaged by another. Perhaps you have been the cause of hurt for someone and you carry around the guilt? What have you done with the hurt? I suspect too many of us deny (the feeling of guilt or shame because we see no way out of it), repress, or ignore the anger and hurt. We put it into cold storage, but never really forgive ourselves for the hurt we have dished out, nor do we forgive those who have hurt us. When you do that, your mind, body and soul are slowly being poisoned by resentment and anger and like the cancer for Uncle Toby it will get you in the end.
When we are aware of our sin, guilt, or shame Scripture makes it clear that God is willing and able to forgive. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NIV). Don’t put your shame, your sin, your past in cold storage where it can get you in the end, but confess it to the one who is willing and able to forgive.