These past couple of weeks we have been talking about shame. Particularly the different sources of shame and how to see God working in the middle of our shame. While dealing with shame isn’t always easy or fun, it is hard and holy work that bears talking about. Especially because shame is a force that strives to isolate us and make us feel powerless and stuck in the dark. Just the simple act of shedding light on the topic, frees us to take steps toward healing.
Shame is defined as “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.” It is a feeling that may be obvious when we initially experience it, but if we are not careful, shame can make itself at home in our hearts, blending into the background of our daily thoughts. Before we know it, we are carrying our shame around with us everywhere without even realizing how it is changing us.
Shame is more than second-hand embarrassment when you watch someone deliver a clumsy presentation at work. Shame changes how you esteem yourself. It makes you feel small, less valuable than others, like you just want to shrink away and crawl under the table, or simply run and hide.
We talked last week about how insecurities, if left unchecked, can morph into shame. For example, always comparing ourselves to others can trigger deep insecurities, altering how we see ourselves and others. Living a life of comparison buys into the lie that others are victorious while we are alone in our struggles, and therefore unworthy of love, connection, and community. We can combat this lie by looking to God, shifting our focus to a more eternal perspective. This renewing of our minds helps us to experience true and lasting security in God’s love as His precious daughters.
The question today is, what do we do when we experience shame because of someone else’s words or actions? When that painful feeling of humiliation or distress is caused by someone or something else?
Nothing can cut you down faster than a harsh word that reduces your worth down to one trivial thing. Even well intentioned comments can wound deeply. It’s the family member who comments on your weight, again. It’s the coworker that whispers the inappropriate comment that makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin, or the friend that betrays your trust and lays your dirty laundry bare before the world.
What about broken brides whose marriages crumble despite their best efforts and fervent prayers? Or those who suffer abuse and trauma at the hands of another? Unfortunately, sometimes shame is brought on by the people who are supposed to love and care for us most.
I’ve heard from women who have felt stuck in abusive relationships. Shame paralyzed them and distorted reality, keeping them feeling alone and unworthy of love and stability. Shame whispers “you can’t do any better” or “you’re just as bad”. And even after walking out of that darkness, many carried shame from that experience with them. They felt like they should have recognized the warning signs, or seen it sooner. They felt embarrassed and foolish for staying as long as they did. They felt like they should have known.
It can feel almost impossible to not let these things define you and allow shame to distort your own sense of worth. It can creep in and make you feel stupid, like something must be wrong with you for these things to happen. It can make you feel like damaged goods.
Before we go any further, it is so important to know that these feelings of shame were put on you. You did not cause them, it’s not due to a lack of faith. It is a natural human response to feel shame when something terrible happens to you. The last thing I want to do is heap shame upon shame by saying you shouldn’t feel that way. What I want more than anything, is for you to see beyond shame, to the truth of who God is and how He loves you. I want that truth to blast a hole into your darkness like a brilliant light, pointing you toward healing and a beautiful future. I want that love and that light to be the influencing factor in what shapes you, not the actions of others or the shame that can cause.
Because the truth is, God sees you not as damaged goods but as the masterpiece He created you to be. He understands first hand what it feels like to suffer the actions of someone else. Throughout His life, Jesus was mocked, up until the point of his death on the cross. He was shamed and humiliated, insulted and abused. And not for anything He himself had done. He knows the hurt of not deserving what is happening. He knows the physical and emotional pain of being betrayed, abandoned and left all alone. He knows what it’s like to stand there with His heart in his hands, only to have it broken.
Jesus chose to go through it all, so that He could take your shame and redeem it. He has felt the way you feel and can put the pieces of your heart back together into something beautiful. He can carry the pain of what you’ve been through and help you do more than just survive, he can revive you. He will breathe life into you, make you new and clean and strong and whole again. He sees your true worth, and esteems you as precious and irreplaceable. There is only one you, and the God of the entire universe loves you so very, very much. You are not alone. He is here, right now, working on your behalf.
Psalm 34:5 reminds us, “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
Lift your eyes and look for Jesus. Lock your gaze on His face and let the noise and the lies, and the hurt and the pain fade to the background for the moment. You are worthy of His love simply because He created you. You are a daughter of the King. Bring your whole heart, scars and all to Jesus. Take His scarred hand and let Him lead you out of the muck on to solid ground.
There may be work to do, but you don’t have to do it alone. There are people everywhere who will link arms with you in Jesus’ name and walk alongside you to wholeness and healing. You may feel weak, but Jesus is strong. In the light of His love you are free from shame. You are treasured. You are enough.
Next week, we will be talking about one last source of shame and how we can bring our hurt and our shame to Jesus. The goal is that by the end of this series, you will begin to recognize any shame you might be carrying and know how to give it to the One who can truly set you free. Our prayer is that in every circumstance, you will be able to lift your eyes and look to Him, so that you can be radiant and unashamed.
Author’s Note: God is already at work in some of the amazing resources around us. If you feel trapped in abuse, or need someone to talk to as you work through this, there are many wonderful people and organizations ready to help. Please don’t wait to take steps today to be safe and healthy and whole. There are advocates and counselors that God has gifted and equipped to help you this very moment.
Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741 and connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
National Domestic Violence Hotline – Call 800-799-SAFE
National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800-656-HOPE
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK