KEY SCRIPTURE: 1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
RELEVANCE Nobody escapes shame. Every one of us has shame in our past. At some time or another, we have all felt the intense burn of feeling unworthy, whether we deserved it or not.
Shame mostly embeds itself in our history and memory through trauma and humiliating instances, provoking those thoughts of not being good enough. Many grew up with their failures highlighting themselves far more than successes.
Along with drawing us into failure mode, it can also cause us to misinterpret what people say about us. When someone jokes or comments at our expense, we take it incorrectly; our former scars of self-consciousness and rejection blind us.
Shame prevents us from being fully real to ourselves and others, causing us to live in shadows. We must understand its power, what actions we should or shouldn't be ashamed of, and how shame and guilt relate to our lives.
Where did shame originate? Shame began with Adam and Eve. At first, they were completely unashamed. They'd never experienced shame. What a perfect position to be in. Then sin entered their lives, and shame and embarrassment came with the outcome. From that incident, we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). Nobody in the history of humankind escapes.
Shame comes in different shapes and is tied to rejection.
Shame when we are the perpetrator (What we did)
When we're the victim (depending on the incident)
Social media shaming of the innocent
Society's mass shaming of conservative thinkers
Shame of a pregnant 15 yr old girl or bullied boy
Continual shame of a reformed paedophile
Shame due to what we think of ourselves and our past
Sometimes shame is also tied to honour. In wars, military leaders, driven by pride, demanded the suicide of their commanding subordinates if they lost major battles. Further and more brutal, family honour driven by pride forces the murder of others. Expectedly, women are the most frequent victims.
On 16 March 2008, in Iraq, Rand Abdel-Qader was stabbed to death by her own father. Her brothers helped to kill her and throw her into a pit, while her uncles stood around to spit on her corpse. She had brought shame on her family by talking with a British soldier, and the only way to restore the family's honour was for her shameful body to be removed from society.
Shame due to what we think of ourselves Shame produces addictions, eating disorders, bullying, aggression, violence, depression, and even suicide. When ashamed, we become angry or shrink away for fear of exposure.
The way we think about ourselves shapes our future. Our fertile subconscious soaks up negative talk like a sponge, resulting in a pessimistic outlook.
Shame is not guilt. Guilt focuses on what we've done. Shame focuses on who we are. Guilt says, "I did something wrong", but Shame says, "I am wrong." There is a big difference between "I made a mistake." and "I am a mistake."
Nevertheless, we become shameful if we don't fix our guilt by repenting and repairing trespasses, sins, and breaches. Our continued pride is the cause.
So how do we analyse and overturn shame? After the collision that took my brother, I attended his funeral. It felt like I was in a room full of judges. In my head were voices that screamed, "you idiot", flashing all my life's failures like a slideshow.
I learned something then. That slideshow was missing positive aspects of my life. By then, I'd had a few successes, but not one was aired. Do you see a pattern? There was no rational balance of good and bad. The slideshow displayed me as utterly bad. It was a deception in my mind. I was certainly guilty of that incident and rightfully shamed for prior unrighteous living, but I wasn't all bad.
We can't let shame's dark side imprison us. We're better off using it as a building block to construct positive change and move forward unashamedly.
Shame should only rule our lives when we deserve it and only to that extent. If we're guilty of knowingly not repairing issues, we will remain in shame and rightly so. This is why God said not to commit to the cup of communion until we resolve outstanding social debts and misunderstandings.
1 John 1:9 speaks of how to walk tall with a clear conscience. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If your shame comes from guilt, repair it. Seek forgiveness from both God and humans. They are tied to each other like a husband and wife, and we can't forget either.
Society forces people to live in infamy because of one or two mistakes. God doesn't. But God wants us to be vulnerable, and we're not often prepared to do that. Yet, if we don't, pride is stored. With vulnerability comes humility, which allows the Holy Spirit greater access to our hearts. Despite the emotional risk, openness is the beginning of removing shame, as it puts us all on the same level—wretched before God.
It thrives on secrecy, and hauling it into the open this way removes its debilitating power. We have served our sentence. Our penalty is wiped out. The slate is cleared, and we can embrace forgiveness and God's unconditional love.
To get the ball rolling, we should self-analyse our shameful past to see what shame we should own and what we could do nothing about, such as when we were children.
If we need further help, we can chat with an understanding confidante who will not gossip. For deeper issues, we contact our Pastor or a Christian counsellor.
Vulnerability gives us insight into others and is a huge help. It isn't a weakness in God's eyes, but strength and courage, and we should take the shame challenge and sort ourselves out.
PRAYER Dear Lord, thank you for shame. It would have been wonderful in the early days of Adam and Eve, never knowing embarrassment, belittling or disparaging comments—just a loving God. Please give me an understanding of my shame and turn it into help for others.
Photo by @felipeelaqium