By Jerry Daley
It seems unfortunate that we have to deal with shame in our lives. After all, there are many ways in which shame brings destructive consequences. But, think for a moment: What would happen if we were to sin and there were no uncomfortable sense of dishonor?
Adam and Eve were created to be sin-free and shame-free, but the moment they chose to sin, they were swept away into a raging torrent of shame. They must have been freaked out with this horrid sense of defilement! No wonder they frantically rushed to hide it, if only from themselves. Now let’s look again at the question, What would have happened if they had violated God’s design by sinning and had been happy with the results?
We have seen examples of men and women who seem incapable of feeling guilt or shame even in extreme situations in which they inflicted severe pain or suffering on others. I was briefly a chaplain in a California prison for the criminally insane, and locking up those men in close quarters created what seemed like a miniature hell. We speak of such men as having seared consciences. So far as I could tell, these men seemed to feel neither guilt or shame. They appeared to be hardened.
My son, Jerome, and I have had long discussions about who brought the first shame: God? Satan? We agree that it is mostly the Trapper’s bait, but I had a powerful experience of shame driving me immediately into Jesus’ arms where I was instantly delivered. So in my case it was redemptive; I don’t know if others have experienced this or not. I do know that I had earlier experienced the power of Father’s love for me, so I never hesitated to run to Him for His freedom.
However, we do know that the world of our fig leaves was given to the Liar, the Deceiver, the Temper, who had plans of his own for shame. He would perfect the art of shaming men and women quite apart from their disobedience for it delighted him to pour disgrace upon those intended to reflect the beauty of God. His shame drove men further from God’s love and further into themselves, thus diminishing still more their intended glory.
The Trapper’s Traps
Satan has his favorite traps. As the Accuser, he accuses God to us, tempting us to view Him as purely demanding when He is quite the opposite: gentle, kind, patient, welcoming. In other words, he lies. And when he finds us vulnerable to his shame, we shrink back into the shadows of our distrust. There in those shadows men and women live their lives with the shame that damages themselves and their relationships.
The Liar wants to hide the truth about your identity. “For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well” (Ps. 139:13-14). “We are His workmanship,” Paul says in Ephesians 2:10. We reflect glory to Him who created us, a fact that draws Satan’s best efforts to make sure we do not “know it very well.” He would much rather that we be dissatisfied with how we are made and reject Father’s design and pleasure in us. He is crafty, setting us up to accept the shame he dishes out as our Accuser.
In my experience with the shame that results from my sin, I was not afraid to step into His light with those dark feelings. It was His love that countered my natural tendency to hide, enabling me to humble myself and bring my disgrace into His Light. It is His love that relieves me of the fear of such Light and helps me find deliverance!
Shame Based on Lies
Most of us look inside ourselves or into a mirror, only to wish that we were not so limited in our gifts or appearance. When this happens, we refuse the humility of gratitude that would help us rejoice in how we are designed in our souls, our personalities, and in our bodies.
It is humility that accepts how our loving Father chose to create us. To bow before Him in gratitude is to accept His grace to live the life chosen for us. This acceptance is humility, and it activates the faith that brings freedom!
When we find ourselves fighting our personal design limitations, it’s never helpful. Better to follow Paul into the joy he was shown, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast in my weaknesses, so the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).
Receiving our limitations as opportunities to rely upon Christ’s sufficiency unlocks His resources to flow into our lives.
Romans 1 speaks of us exchanging the truth for a lie; now it’s time for us to exchange the lies for the truth. Begin by meditating on Psalm 139:13-14 and making this exchange. Journal this transaction here:
Having read this, are you aware of any shame that may be stored away in the basement of your soul? What do think?
What is your experience with shame?
Are you able to experience Jesus taking your shame and cleansing you of it?
“Shame On You!”
How many children grew up hearing shame spoken over their lives? I suspect that many well-meaning, responsible parents think this is a valid way of child training. They perhaps see it as merely helping children know right from wrong, but the consequences in some, especially the sensitive ones, often leave an imprint of shame placed there by the very ones appointed to protect them. It does great damage.
Asian societies are often described as being shame-based, as opposed to American society, but no culture is exempt. Children quickly become familiar with what this feels like when they go to school the day after their father’s prison sentence was headlined in the local news. And it’s not just children on the receiving end of this kind of suffering. Parents may feel shamed by a beloved son or daughter who cycles through one rehab center after another or by a son arrested for sexual crimes. Yes, we know about disgrace and pain in our families.
A Third Type of Shame
Shame #1 is what I call “good shame.” Why? When we contaminate our intended glory with an extreme sin, we rightly feel a severe need for God’s forgiveness and love. Shame #2 is what we feel when we don’t accept the way God created us. We are fearfully and wonderfully created, but when we refuse to embrace who we are, we exchange truth for a lie.
Shame #3 happens when humans use shame to wound, divide, and diminish others. Satan did not invent shame, but he quickly adapted it for his personal use by disgracing the very ones created to reflect God’s image! So we shouldn’t be surprised that this type of destruction shows up in our interpersonal relationships. It runs the gamut from being snubbed by your peer group to the particularly odious example of a young person being molested or raped…and everything in between.
The Effects of This Shame
To be laughed at, mocked, or ridiculed sends a clear message that we are not worthy, not valuable, not respected. Many a child has experienced this on the playground, in the neighborhood, or in the family. A message can be indelibly stamped upon the soul: “Not Worthy.” The child feels as if everyone can see this label branded upon the forehead. It’s the reality that person wears and experiences. The debilitating internal effects remain invisible, but we often get to see the external ramifications: perhaps self- destructive behaviors on one hand or a fierce drive to prove worthiness on the other.
Women who have had abortions often suffer from a secret sense of shame. Germans who awakened to the reality of the Nazi atrocities experienced a strong sense of national shame. The examples are not hard to find.
We no longer practice putting people in stocks in the middle of the town square, right? The methods today are a bit more subtle, but the dynamics are still with us. If we had glasses that allowed us to see shame the way some glasses allow us to see infrared, I think we would be shocked.
Our nation is reeling from the anger of racial injustice experienced by the African American community. Today their voice is being heard, but less so for the American Indian. I mention these examples to wonder what the role of shame has been in hindering the welfare and upward mobility in both communities. I suspect the damage is beyond our ability to comprehend. The good news is that we now have had an African American President and currently a Vice President of color, plus two American Indian congresswomen.
The Healing Community
The shame that comes from disobedience (Shame #1) is removed as we bring our sin into God’s light and experience the power of Christ’s blood (1 Jn. 1:7). The shame we experience by rejecting God’s design for us (Shame #2) is removed as we surrender our wills to Him and delight in how He created us. The shame that is inflicted upon us from others (Shame #3), however, often requires help of a different sort.
The picture of Mark 2:3-5 powerfully portrays four friends creatively bringing their paralyzed friend to Jesus in spite of all the obstacles. This poor man could not help himself, and without community he would have remained a paralytic. It is also good to note that he needed humility and trust to accept the help.
Paul describes how we have different gifts precisely so that we may minister to one another within our community, which he calls “the body of Christ.” He likens us individuals as all belonging to one another the way our feet, hands, eyes, etc. all form one person. In this healing environment of belonging, we are included, accepted, needed. Honor replaces shame. Powerful.
“But now God has placed the members, each one of them in the body, just as He desired. So that there may be no division in the body, but that the members have the same care for one another” (Rom. 12:18,25).
Paul also exhorts us to exercise “humility, gentleness, patience, showing tolerance for one another in love being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3-4). Within the community of love we will also experience misunderstandings and hurts, but it is here in the community committed to love where we learn to forgive, to humble ourselves, and to live the life of love which is our calling.
What is your experience in being shamed as the outsider?
What has been your experience of learning to love within the community?
Have you seen men and women healed of shame within your community? How?
How might you be a friend to those who have been wrongly shamed?
Developing A Vocabulary For Shame
We don’t talk about shame. We rarely use the word other than, “That’s a shame,” by which we mean, “That’s unfortunate.” Why don’t we talk about shame? Because we don’t want to! Instinct dictates that we bury painful feelings by ignoring or stuffing them.
It’s uncomfortable to verbalize how a neglect, a slight, a put down, an embarrassing moment, a disgrace, an affront, a dishonor, or contempt affects us. Anger and the desire to flee are our first responders. Like oysters with an irritating invader, our souls spin webs around it to isolate ourselves from it, but no pearl.
We develop intricate and extensive vocabularies for things like music, wine, and sports for one reason: These are things people enjoy. I, on the other hand, have not considered it important enough to learn vocabularies for these experiences, so for example, I cannot hear the complexities or subtleties in music. I lack the thirty-six adjectives with which to savor the wine rolling over my tongue. And for sports like soccer, horse racing, or ice hockey I simply have no frame of reference.
Designed for Glory
Beyond breathtaking is God’s intention for us: to be like Him! To have His character, His disposition, His ability to love. Talk about placing value on us; talk about potential! Paul explains that God had a hidden wisdom when He predestined us to be like Himself, thus giving us an unparalleled glory. We are to be a reflection of Him! (1 Cor. 2:7; Rom.8:18,29)
Listen to today’s renditions of what humans do to humans, and you will see only occasional glimpses of our potential beauty buried beneath the tsunami of shame! God’s works of art now appear largely hidden in various stages of degradation. The real you, the real me—they are there, but sin distorts the latent potential. No one less than God Himself could know how we might be restored, and no one less than God would be willing to personally take our shame upon Himself in order to heal us!
The End of The Story
Jesus told a story that would reveal how God Himself is wired, and when He told it, I doubt that any man there dared breathe. It was so stunning that I suspect it took some minutes of silence to even sink in. We know the story as the Prodigal Son, but it was told to reveal what kind of God would soon send His Son to embrace all our sin and shame in order to see His glory rekindled in mankind (Lk. 15:22). What did His listeners feel? Perhaps shock, anger, awe!
It is true that Christ dwells in us, the regenerated, and that because of this, He is our hope of arriving at our intended glory (Col. 1:27). We are in process, yet we carry a sizeable handicap: an inborn aversion to seeing our own sin or the shame we experience.
It might be said that we stumble along day to day, not fully in touch with the shame that deadens, desensitizes, and diminishes us. We feel the effects of it, but we lack the vocabulary necessary to label and process it with the Savior.
Shame Comes in Many Sizes
We tend to relegate shame to one size: the extreme. For example, the man labeled a sex-offender for life, having it stamped on his permanent record. Meanwhile a thousand lesser shames eat away at our souls unchallenged. We fail the expectations of others, or we fail our own expectations of ourselves, which can be just as paralyzing. How many struggle with undiagnosed feelings of inadequacy that make them feel unworthy of love? Many? Most?
Shame in our souls is rather like cancer in our bodies. What we are discovering is that cancer begins in our bodies long before there are symptoms. New research is zeroing in on readily-accessible tests of blood, urine, saliva, or stool. What a breakthrough it will be to be able to spot cancer in its earliest stages. Likewise, we can also learn to recognize shame in its earliest stages.
How many feelings or emotions do we experience every day? Hundreds? Probably more. They tell us what we are experiencing, but only a few register so as to be labeled. We may recognize something as strong as anger or fear, but what about when we feel ignored, taken for granted, or not listened to?
A first step toward recognizing lesser forms of shame that take their toll unless labeled, examined, and processed is developing “a vocabulary of shame.” Here are some possible labels that can help us to recognize what we are feeling: left out, mocked, ridiculed, slighted, laughed at, ignored, dishonored.
Then there are the judgments we put on ourselves: not thin enough, not young enough, not accomplished enough, not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not outgoing enough, not confident enough, not successful enough. In short, I just don’t measure up! I’m pretty sure that all humans experience this dynamic, which is a type of shame.
Only Jesus is Enough
Jesus made a powerful statement—may it be emblazed upon our hearts! “My grace is sufficient for you.” We may hear this and respond inwardly, Yeah, but You don’t know what a failure I am. He anticipated this and dug in further: “The reason I can say my grace is enough is because it is released into weakness.” When Paul heard this, he went into joy! He suddenly saw his weaknesses as the way to experience the power of Christ! (2 Cor. 12:9)
We are told to fix our attention on Jesus, who for the joy of setting you free endured the cross, taking your shame upon Himself and then sat down at the right hand of the throne of God! His mission accomplished (Heb. 12:2).
Bring your hurts, your failures to measure up to Jesus. He has taken our failures upon Himself and offers us His adequacy, His grace, His sufficiency (which is theologically His “righteousness”). He longs for you and me to stop trying to measure up and instead receive His love-gift of grace that now defines who you are.
Which aspects of shame have taken a toll on your life?
How are you beginning to recognize shame in some of its many disguises?
Do you believe that Jesus wants you to live in shame?
Will you surrender your shame to Him and own Christ as the one who has taken it away for you and replaced it with His adequacy?
Write out your confession of Christ being your adequacy and righteousness.