Over the next few weeks we are diving into a topic that is subtle enough to go unnoticed and unrecognized, but dangerous enough to throw off how we see ourselves and others, even altering our perception of reality. My friend, I’m talking about shame.
In last week’s article, we were reminded of the important distinction between healthy guilt that serves to point us toward constructive solutions to fix a problem, and toxic shame whose only motivation is to keep us stuck in the muck of our problems and failings.
Today I want to begin a conversation about some potential sources of our shame. One of the most common sources of shame is comparison. When we measure our self-worth against our impression (accurate or not) of someone else, it changes how we see ourselves and we can get stuck in a cycle of shame.
We’ve all experienced shame brought on by comparison in some form or another. It’s hard not to, in a world where curated segments of everyone’s lives are on display on social media #livingmybestlife.
A recent article by the Wall Street Journal, reported that using Instagram “makes body image issues worse for 1 in 3 teen girls.” They went on to report that young women are experiencing tremendous pressure to conform to social stereotypes, to match the money and body shapes of influencers, as well as the need for validation through views, likes and follows. About a quarter of the teens who reported feeling “not good enough” said the feeling started on Instagram.
Now, I’m not here to knock social media or influencers, I know a lot of people doing a lot of good on their platforms. But what social media has done is streamline how we compare ourselves to others. We can get on our phones and see the flawless highlight reels of a hundred people in less than 20 minutes. It’s hard to feel confident and content when it seems like everyone has it together, but you.
Comparison doesn’t have to be digital to be dangerous. Maybe you feel “less than” when the house is messy, or the kids had hot dogs for lunch again instead of a pinterest worthy charcuterie board luncheon. It’s possible that you’ve felt the sting of seeing a picture on social media of friends hanging out together, when you had really hoped you’d be invited. Or maybe you just find yourself wishing you had it together more, the way you feel like you “should”. All the areas we fall short can make us feel exposed and chip away at our worth, if we are not careful what we are measuring against.
As a mom, I used to live under a constant cloud of guilt that threatened to knock my self-worth flat. When my first two boys were little, I had to go back to work part-time. I love being a mom and it broke my heart to be away from them. While I was so thankful to have amazing childcare, I still felt like I was failing my children by not being home full-time.
As much as I hated being away from them, I simultaneously longed to have a foot back in the professional world. I enjoyed my job and I got a lot of affirmation and praise there, something I wasn’t getting a lot of while changing diapers and wiping noses. Working outside the home gave me a sense of identity beyond motherhood that I missed desperately.
I felt guilty at work and guilty at home, and no one was getting my best. I saw other moms rocking the mom life and crushing career goals and I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just get it together. The guilt loop quickly spiraled into shame that made me feel like an inferior mom, wife, and overall human.
The problem was that I was measuring my worth by what I thought I “should be doing”, instead of looking to God to measure by His standard.
Our theme verse during this series is Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
Comparison distracts our gaze, and keeps us looking to our left and to our right, measuring our behind the scenes footage with someone else’s highlight reel. Our focus is not on God, but on others, as we desperately try to keep up. It’s an exercise in frustration that is based on appearances instead of reality, and we can quickly lose ourselves comparing the details of our story with someone else’s.
But when we look to God, Scripture says we are radiant and our faces will never be covered with shame! That simple shift in focus changes our perspective and allows us to see things more clearly. Something in us comes back to life as we start to measure ourselves against God’s unconditional love for us, instead of the impossible and ever changing expectations of the world. We learn to value the unique personality traits, gifts and talents that God created in us, instead of trying to squeeze ourselves into a man-made mold.
When I shifted my focus back to God, I started to understand that my identity first and foremost was not as a mama, or a career woman, but as His beloved daughter. The nagging voice in my head saying “I’m not good enough” began to fade, as God’s love drowned out the noise of the world.
After that, when I was home with the kiddos, changing diapers became an opportunity to sing over my children and teach them about God’s love. The tasks that once felt mundane became a divine invitation to join God in the work He was doing in my home and in my children.
Working outside the home became a chance to share the love of Jesus in how I treated my coworkers and people I encountered. I could rejoice in my work and know that God was using my gifts to help people. I didn’t need to feel guilty about time away from my kids because by focusing on God, I was more present both at work and at home. I was more aware of God at work and how I could join Him, and that was life-giving.
I’m not saying that every diaper change or shift at work was instantly and completely fulfilling. The deeper transformation came with believing that my worth was based on who God says I am, not on my performance or how I measured up compared to other people. God didn’t see me as “less than” if I wasn’t perfect and made a mistake. I could just be myself and rest in the knowledge that my identity and worth were secure, as God’s beloved daughter.
Ephesians 2:10 says “…we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”
As I looked to God, I began to see myself the way He does, and it changed how I saw others as well. We are all God’s masterpiece! I no longer felt the need to compete or keep up. I knew that God had created me for a purpose, and that my story, with all its messiness, would point to His greater story of love, redemption and grace.
So, my friend, where are you looking? Take a moment and review the tapes that play in your head. By what standard are you measuring your worth? Are you looking all around you to see how you compare, or are you allowing the truth of God’s love to shape your perspective?
Next, take a moment and appreciate the beautiful qualities God has created in you. You are a masterpiece–even the messy bits. You are valuable, loved and significant, and as a daughter of the King, your identity and worth are secure.
Look to God and keep your focus firmly on Him, because when we do, there is no room for shame. His love washes it clean away, leaving us radiant and confident in our unshakable identity in Him.