The past several weeks we have been taking a bit of a deep dive into the topic of shame, and how it can alter our perception of who we are and how we walk around in the world. There is so much more to talk about than what we can cover in a few short articles, but hopefully we can at least begin a journey together of leaving shame behind.
We’ve discussed some of the things that can bring on shame: comparing ourselves to others to determine our worth, or letting insecurities go unchecked until they hold us captive. Sometimes it is the actions or words of others that cause shame, making us feel small and unworthy of love.
Today, we are going to talk about the source of shame that could possibly be the hardest to let go of, the shame of our own mistakes and bad choices. We can be our own worst critics to begin with, but throw in an actual, real-life-consequences-type of mistake, and we can get sucked down into shame before we even realize it.
In our first article we drew the distinction between guilt and shame, and I think it’s important to visit that again in this context.
Guilt is a healthy emotion that serves to show us where we are wrong and prompt us to take steps to fix the problem. Shame works in a loop, where we relive our mistakes over and over with no hope of ever fixing it. Shame redefines our identity by those mistakes, whereas guilt can spur us on to overcome them, without changing our overall value as a person.
If we want to truly experience the love of God, we have to look at how our own “shame-filter” clouds how we see God, ourselves and others.
When shame takes hold, we wind up placing our identity, our value, our worth in our mistakes and failings. It slowly erodes the truth that we are first and foremost, God’s beloved daughters.
The unclouded truth is that we are His handiwork, a masterpiece, created by God to be in relationship with Him. He is proud to be seen with you. He delights in showing mercy. He pursues you, calling you by name.
And while we might be able to acknowledge in our minds that these things are true, it all feels like a platitude if we don’t also acknowledge that we cannot simply banish shame on our own. We cannot move forward just because we “ought to”. Growth does not come from heaping shame upon shame. It comes from compassion. We need Jesus and we need each other.
Look at how Jesus treats the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11. The Bible says she was caught in the act (yikes!) and dragged before the church leaders to be publicly shamed. Because of the law at the time, her punishment would almost certainly be death.
The religious leaders at the time were threatened by Jesus’ teachings and growing popularity. They asked him what they should do, with the intention of trying to trap him in the “wrong” answer. Jesus instead starts to write something in the dirt in front of them. The Bible doesn’t tell us what Jesus wrote, much to my dismay.
The justice warrior in me loves to imagine that it was the hypocritical leaders’ own dirty little secrets. Maybe it was a powerful scripture that convicted their hearts or confounded them in such a way that they relinquished claim over this woman’s life, and walked away. They all just left.
Pretty soon it was just Jesus and the woman. He tells her that he will not condemn her to death, but tells her with loving authority, to leave her life of sin. He grants mercy and calls her to a better life. He commands her to leave the identity of sin and shame behind, and step into a brand new identity.
Our theme verse for this series has been Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
As much as I want to know what Jesus wrote in the dirt that day, I want even more to see the look on this woman’s face after being in the presence of Jesus.
Jesus held her accountable for her actions, he didn’t let her off the hook, but neither did he define her by it. She was first and foremost a human, created in God’s image and made for so much more.
I can picture her transformation from fear and shame to pure radiance the moment she looked into the face of Jesus and was forgiven. No longer was she defined by her past. She wasn’t “that girl” anymore. She was given a clean slate and a new beginning by the One whose opinion ultimately mattered the most.
My sweet friend, we are given the very same forgiveness and redemption. Even if you haven’t been dragged into the public square with all your bad choices on display, chances are there are things you wish you could undo. Maybe you’ve said or done things that you wish you could go back and erase. Maybe you feel like your whole life has just been one big mistake.
Please hear me in the depths of your soul and let this truth settle into every corner of your heart:
In Jesus’ eyes, you are not a mistake, you are a masterpiece.
Even in the middle of your mess, Jesus sees you as beautiful.
Just like a beautiful work of art, your worth is determined by the artist who created you and the price willing to be paid for you. When Jesus went to the cross, he paid the ultimate price. He didn’t just take our mistakes and bad choices, he also took our shame. When Jesus died and rose again, He not only conquered sin, he defeated shame too.
This business of kicking shame to the curb is not just a one time deal. It is a wash-rinse-repeat kind of thing. As human beings, we will continue to make mistakes. We must continue to look into the face of Jesus and remember His unconditional redemption, mercy and love.
The woman in the story would likely struggle with the old identity of shame trying to creep back in and take over. Maybe other people in her life made it hard to forget, while others helped her remember the truth of God’s love. She would have to be intentional about going back to that moment when she was face to face with Jesus, so that God could continually renew her strength and remind her of who she really was.
Time spent with Jesus, in community, in God’s Word, and in prayer & worship builds a foundation for an identity in Christ that is unshakable and grounded in truth. It sustains us and encourages us until we can see Him face-to-face again. It reminds us of who we truly are: daughters of the King, radiant and unashamed.
Lift up your head, step out into the light and feel the sunshine on your face. You are loved, you are forgiven and you are free.
“The cross has spoken, I am forgiven
The King of Kings calls me His own
Beautiful Savior, I’m yours forever
Jesus Christ, my living Hope”
-Phil Wickham, Living Hope