Oxford University Press (2019) defines shame as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
Renowned author and shame researcher, Brené Brown expands on that definition to explain shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
If you’ve ever done something wrong — something foolish — you’ve likely experienced shame to some extent. The weight of it is different for each person, each foolish act, and each sin. Nevertheless, shame is real; and shame is painful.
Shame, my friend, is a lie.
Yes, we are a flawed and imperfect people living in a flawed and imperfect world, but we are far from being unworthy of love and belonging.
In fact, God’s story reveals the very opposite; it reveals the very depth of His love for this very flawed and imperfect creation of His. God’s sacrifice of His perfect Son, for sake of an imperfect humanity, says we are worthy of love and belonging (John 3:16).
As Christians, we acknowledge our sinful nature and recognize that we are undeserving of God’s grace. Yet, that’s the grandeur of it all; that even though we don’t deserve it, God pours out His grace on us (Ephesians 1:6).
When sin entered the world, shame consequently accompanied it.
Before Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, they had yet to experience the burden of shame (Genesis 2:25). It was their disobedience to God that then opened their eyes to feel the shame of nakedness (Genesis 3:7).
By way of sin, shame gains power. Without sin, shame would have no power to reside.
Because of Christ we don’t have to carry shame’s weight.
Jesus has already sacrificially taken our sin to the cross. We’ve been freed from the slavery of which is sin (Galatians 5:1). Christ came to set captives free (Luke 4:18). He came with a divine mission, to bear the weight of our sins so that we’d experience His very righteousness and be reconciled to the Father (1 Peter 2:24; 2 Corinthians 5:18).
Because of Christ we’re no longer slaves.
We are no longer captive to the sin that once imprisoned us. We don’t have to live feeling unworthy, flawed, not good enough, too far gone, or unqualified. The lie has been squashed. Aspladado. Ésvise. Sumobog. Knust. It doesn’t matter what language you say it in … Jesus has set us free!
So you’ve messed up and you’re crippled by your mistakes.
I’ve been there. I’ve been right where you’re at — ashamed of who I am, what I’ve done, and who I’ve hurt. I, too, have wondered how God could ever forgive someone so selfish and wicked.
I had known right, yet I’d chosen wrong. I chose the path — no one else chose for me. Every choice leading up to that fateful affair was mine alone to make. I’d chosen wrong, and the only person responsible was my own self. So it was I who, then, carried the blame, failure, self-disgust, and shame — from sun-up to sun-down.
For years, I felt unworthy of love and belonging no matter how hard I tried to escape my past. I was certain I deserved to suffer every single day for the remainder of my life as a consequence to my foolishness. I believed the lie of shame and it was a heavy load that ultimately held me back from experiencing the blessings of God.
Though I may have given up on myself, God hadn’t.
You see … we can try to hide and to run from His presence, but God is always there, always present. He may be silent, yet he is there. King David proclaims God’s very omnipresence in Psalm 139. In verses 7-12, he declares,
7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! 8 If I go up to heaven, you are there, if I go down to the grave, you are there. 9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, 10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. 11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night— 12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.
God allows us to run, but all the while he remains present, ready to help when we’re ready to accept it. God’s desire is never to shame us for what we already know to be. Instead, his desire is to help us, though he’ll never force us to choose Him. The choice is ours.
God knows that we are an imperfect people and yet he desires nothing more than to love, nurture, and provide for us.
When Adam and Eve welcomed sin into the world God was very disappointed, but nevertheless He was there — He was present in their shame and helped them overcome the burden by providing relief from their nakedness by making clothes out of animal skins (Genesis 3:21).
God wants to provide relief from your shame all the same.
I chose to stop hiding; to stop running. Instead, I chose to give my life over to God — all the guilt and all the shame laid down at the foot of the cross — and in return “God gave beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning, and praise instead of heaviness” (Isaiah 61:3, TLB).
So, my friend, please stop running.
Your mistakes are a part of your story — God’s story for your life — and that story is only composed through your experiences.
In the infamous words of Dr. Suess, “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let is destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”
Choose to follow Jesus and to center your life on him. Choose to accept God’s forgiveness and to embrace your past and let its weight strengthen you. Choose to walk forward in the Lord’s presence and trust His provision and His promises.
What story do you want your life to tell, my friend?
I assure you, there’s no greater story than that of a life lived in the grandeur of His grace.