“Isn’t that a shame?” NO! That’s NOT a shame. “What a shame.” If you knew what shame is and what it feels like, you wouldn’t say that! I cringe when I hear those words. Deep inside, a rage builds against well intended words. On the other hand; I much rather hear “Go to hell!”, than to have someone tell me “Shame on you!”. Whoa! How can I say that? Because I’m not going to hell regardless of their curse. Jesus’ redemption covers that. But, I fight against the curse of shame, on an all too regular basis. Perhaps you think I sound a bit harsh – that I’m overstating my case. Too bad. Want an apology? In all honesty, I’m not in the mood. Perhaps it would be better stated to say that I am in a mood. Why? Because I know what it is to feel shame, to feel battered down under the its burden as it presses in – suffocating.
Some of that sounds like guilt. But, it isn’t. Guilt is one of those feelings which can be overcome through forgiveness. Guilt is what you feel as a kid, when Mom catches you doing something, you know you shouldn’t have. You receive a punishment. But, then all is forgiven. In my lifetime, I’ve been guilty of many things of which I’m ashamed; things of which Satan loves to remind me; things about which he whispers; “You’re guilty”. Wrong! I was guilty. Through Jesus, I’m forgiven. Jesus died once. I will not allow guilt for which He paid so dear a price to erase, to nail Him back on that cross. But, my shame in knowing the pain I caused my LORD, my family, my friends and yes; myself – it still lingers. Shame takes your mind to times and places you thought dead in the past. Then, like the undead in a zombie movie, shame reaches its skeletal hand up out of the grave and grabs hold of you. Your mind races, trying to shake it lose as you find that where there’s one, there are more – all reaching out, trying to pull you down.
Shame is the scar tissue left behind in my heart and mind. It is a consequence of my actions. Shame is what you feel when guilt is long gone. Shame is what you still feel years after hurting someone. Every time you look at them, a whispering reminder of the pain you caused, lingers. Sometimes it’s visible to others. Sometimes it is evident only to myself – until it builds to the point of exploding outward. That explosion may come in the form of inexplicable streams of tears, inexcusable bursts of anger, or incomprehensible periods of depression. Emotions run hot; self contempt bitter cold. Shame at who I was and what I’ve done eats at who I am and tries to deter me from what I wish to do. When shame grabs hold, it can overwhelm mentally and take a physical toll as well. Hanging one’s head in shame isn’t just so that others won’t look you in the eye and see the shame. It’s so that you don’t see your shame reflected in the knowing eyes of others. Perhaps what I perceive as their “knowing eyes”, is just that; my perception. But, that is what shame does as it journeys about in my mind. It brings about memories so vivid, that I feel the weight my past sin’s burden.
Sometimes the greatest pain comes as a result of hearing the very words you long to hear; “I love you”. When shame is in full bloom, you don’t – can’t feel lovable. Self esteem is at an all time low. Shame’s reminders tell you that you are unworthy of love. “How can you love me, when I don’t even love myself?” Lies! That’s Satan again, digging at your heart and mind, playing with your emotions. If I truly didn’t love myself, I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t be susceptible to shame. There are times, especially those times associated with shame, when I don’t like myself. However, love and like are two different things. Back to the “Mom catching you” analogy: she loves you even though she doesn’t like what you done. God despises sin. There’s nothing there to like, including the sinner at that time. But, He loves us in spite of our sin – our shame.
I know that I’m not alone in the feelings of shame. I’m sharing these thoughts; in hopes that one other person, riddled with shame, might find … hope. As to the causes for my feelings, I’ve chosen to remain silent. The Apostle Paul asked God to remove his thorn”. Speculations abound as to what that might have been. By not knowing specifically, we are perrmitted to insert our name, our trials, our shame into the blank and bring them before the LORD. I hope to encourage you likewise. Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m far from perfect. Yet, there are some who may be surprised that I did things to cause such an intense feeling of shame. As in Paul’s case, our “thorn” may remain as a witness to others, admitted yet not detailed. What kind of a witness is that? you may ask. It is proof that God can and will work through even an admittedly flawed person like myself. The Bible is filled with examples. Judas hung himself from feelings of guilt. Peter also denied Christ. But, he sought forgiveness and received the Gift. But, the thoughts of what he had done, the shame, plagued him as was evident in his writing. Paul as well, knew Jesus’ forgiveness. But, he too expressed shame at being unable to free his mind of past sins; calling himself the “the chief of sinners”. Guilt is a tool of the devil. It cripples. Shame left unattended can cripple as well. But, it can also be used as a stimulus, moving you further away from the very things which brought about those feelings. You begin to help turn others away from these situations as well. “Misery loves company” is another of Satan’s lies. You don’t wish the hurt you’ve encountered to be experienced by anyone else. Spiritually, you seek peace. There is only One Hope for that.
Jesus promised us His Holy Spirit as a Counselor and Comforter. When shame rears its head, call upon the comfort which only He can provide. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our Great High Priest; having been tempted in all ways just as we are, yet without sin. Perhaps the greatest of those temptations was through the shame of the cross. Jesus was beaten mercilessly, paraded as a criminal throughout the streets, stripped naked and nailed to a cross while being taunted, laughed at and ridiculed. He bore not just the indignity of human shame, but the shame of mankind’s sin as well. Jesus allowed Himself to be cursed by asking God to take our sins and “place their shame on Me“. Did Jesus know shame? Beyond any shame I can possibly imagine. Through His knowing, He lovingly draws us close and offers His comfort. Does the shame go away? No. It remains as a consequence of our actions. But, we are loved and accepted in spite of it – in spite of ourselves. When asked how he was doing?, a friend of ours, would always respond; “Better than I deserve!”. Thanks Jim, for wearing sin’s shame on your sleeve and sharing God from your heart. Thank you LORD for loving me – in spite of me – far more than I could ever deserve.