Sitting in the police station with hand cuffs on and in a gunny sack dress, I was the picture of shame. Looking down at my feet and hoping I did not recognize anyone (not that I thought I would), this homeschool momma was praying for the rapture. My head was spinning with details of the day and the stinging reality that I might be spending a night in jail. And worse, the aftermath of having been arrested and the ensuing shame that would follow.
Shame is a funny thing. We often associate it with those who are dubbed as guilty. With people who deserve that label. But shame knocks on the door of all our hearts. Shame we caused and shame we didn’t. And our first instinct? Cover it up. But hiding shame does not heal it.
From the simple shame of embarrassment that we either laugh off or try to dismiss, to the shame arising from painful or traumatic events, we have a problem dealing with shame. We just don’t know how to. And many obstacles stand in the way to prevent us from doing so, too.
When my oldest son was first playing baseball, he excitedly stepped up to bat and then gave me that knowing glance that told me he was going to give it his best. And he did. Only problem was he was facing the wrong direction. This type of environment is the form of shame we call humiliation. It happens when we just aren’t enough. When we should have known better. But think about it, is there really shame for someone who has never played a game before, never been up to bat? Of course not. So it is with us. Shame doesn’t have to reach us if we recognize it’s lie.
Shame is an accusation on our character that says we aren’t enough. That day my son bounced back, praise the Lord, and by the end of the season he was the most improved player on the team, one of the best. Instead of accepting the lie that he was not enough, he worked to improve and felt no shame. He didn’t allow shame to define him, but he had to deal with a few obstacles along the way.
Sometimes, as we go through life, we do not recognize shame in its many forms. Shame is sneaky. Morphing into various forms that shield us from seeing shame for what it is, instead we end up heaping shame upon shame rather than being set free from it. But God has made a way to help us deal with the hindrances to shame removal in our lives.
We first have to recognize shame in our life to know our need to eradicate it. Then we have to recognize that our former faulty methods of getting rid of shame—hiding or excusing it away, denying or casting it onto someone else—just invited more shame into our lives and did nothing to remove it.
That day at the police station will be a day I never forget. I wasn’t guilty – it was a clerical error that had led to my arrest. I should not have felt shame. But shame enveloped me, nonetheless. The anxiety that filled my being was almost too much to bear—until I acknowledged my feelings before God and prayed. Right there. On the bench as I listened to a defense on my behalf, sweet surrender encompassed me. God saw me there. And He showed me what caused the shame to stay and what stood in the way of letting go of it.
At the root of shame is pride. Pride impedes our ability to let go of shame because we don’t want to admit we have it, but when we own the shame we’re feeling and embrace humility, we are set free. We never could be enough—that is why we need a Savior. This does not mean we give into shame, but we are no longer condemned for legitimate or illegitimate shame. And when we feel we cannot lift our head or face the shame upon us, we remember our Savior who chose to walk in shame to set our souls free. We can walk in freedom by boasting in our weaknesses and resting in Christ’s strength. He bore all of our shame.
We may not even recognize the shame in our lives due to its deceptiveness. We might even deceive ourselves and try to hide shame, but remember—hiding shame never heals it. When we are willing to biblically examine ourselves and the shame we feel, we embrace truth and look at our shame through God’s word and not our own perceptions. The truth sets us free, hiding it does not.
Fear of man
The fear of man prevents us from confessing the shame in our lives. In a performance-based society with a people-pleasing persona, fear of man can dominate our existence. Shame breeds in environments like that. The problem is that as we try to please everyone around us, we just entrench ourselves further in shame. Living our lives before an audience of one—God alone—removes the shame that comes from constantly trying to measure up to the opinions of those around us.
The accuser of us all constantly makes us aware of how far short we fall of the grace of God. Our own hearts do, too. We feel the judgment and might even feel we deserve it, and so we don’t often reach for the grace of God to remove shame from our lives. But for the Christian, there is no condemnation. None. We remove condemnation through conviction as we yield our wills to God’s, accept His definition of us and let go of shame’s label.
In the end, discovering shame in our lives is such a blessing. It is God’s kindness that reveals shame in our lives. Our minds are where shame lives and dies. When we repent and draw near to the only One who could ever remove shame from our souls, we find peace that surpasses understanding.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)