Shame- the Enemy of Our Souls

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Shame is best described as “an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, regret, or disconnection” (read more about shame at Shame is global self-judgement- or as a child might state it- “I am bad.” 

The concept of shame has been around for a very long time. In fact, we have to go back to the very beginning of creation to discover a time when shame was NOT a thing-

Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame (Genesis 2:25, NIV).

Well, we know that shameless window in history was brief. Before we could blink, Adam and Eve had done something bad and were terrified of God, scrambling to hide. Shame had entered the picture.

Shame is deeper than the momentary discomfort of guilt (which can be a driving force for love). Shame is us vs. the law of God, our fallenness compared to perfection. Shame shouts that we are bad, and it uses nuggets of truth to drive its point home. It says – see how you just yelled at your child? You are a bad parent. See how you mismanaged your finances? You don't deserve anything.

Shame might be what initially drives us to Christ- the burden of trying to be good is a heavy one. And we gladly accept the relief that grace has promised:

 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matt. 11;28-30, NIV).

But the craftiness of shame is that it creeps back in- it's only goal is to immobilize and weigh us down. Shame is active before we become Christians, and even more importantly- after. Shame is delighted to work on those within the Kingdom of God- that’s its primary target. It’s deepest desire is to remind us that we are bad, we will always be bad- thus neutralizing the gospel message.

And what is the gospel message, at its core?

Once we are hidden in Christ, we take on His perfect life as if it is our own. We are no longer bad, because we are covered in His perfection. Our identity changes dramatically from “I am bad” to “I am good”. Forever. Regardless of our past, present, or future missteps. Our identity is wholly engulfed in the perfection of God. Good.

We still make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. Shame will use these sins to “confirm” our continued badness. But we must return again and again to our (Christ’s) perfection. I am good. Do we believe Jesus is enough? The more we believe in the gospel, the full glory and weight of it, the less shame can have its numbing way with us.

I’ve faced some shame monsters over the last year and a half. I frequently retell my life story (in my head) with a very sad, hopeless, shame-based perspective. I’m an inadequate wife, mom, Christian, community member, employee, etc. I’ve done so many things wrong, and now (too late) see the practical consequences. My shame-based perspective-

  • Drains energy- creates fatigue
  • Drains creativity
  • Paralyzes- causes inertia
  • Decreases the power to love and be loved
  • Isolates/reduces our connection with others
  • Creates doubt about the goodness of God
  • Falsely "neutralizes" the message of grace

That is shame’s perfect work.

But I’m becoming wise to its sneaky ways. There is another perspective- and it is light and beautiful and magnificent. This grace-based perspective is making me bolder and more confidant. Grace says that my mistakes (past, present, and future) were inevitable, and there is nothing my adoring Father in heaven didn’t expect. Grace goes even further, asserting that even my poor choices were a part of His plan of goodness. Because He loves me, and He is weaving goodness out of my human, flawed life. I am, after all, the apple of His eye.

This grace vs. shame journey is one that will continue throughout my entire life. Me- fighting to take hold of the truth of the gospel. Discovering the ways I believe and act against those truths. Acting from shame, rather than my secure identity in Christ. Fighting, fighting, fighting to rest in grace alone. To grow in grace, return to grace, rest in grace. But I’m all in. I bet you are too. 

There is, after all, one group of people in all the world who should be known for their resistance to shame- those who identify with Christ. Please pay attention to the attacks of shame in your life this week. Notice the stories you tell yourself about your past. And rest in your perfection in Christ. 

Coming up- a practical way to replace shame with grace (and a great fit for natural storytellers)- narrative therapy.

Bottom line: You are good, because God is good.