“Are the kids getting too much screen time?”
“Am I spending enough quality time with them?”
“Ugh! I’m late to the pickup line again! They’ll be the last ones there! Their teacher must think I’m a hot mess.”
If you’ve been an adult for more than five minutes, chances are you’ve experienced guilt over whether or not you are “doing life right.” And it’s not just limited to moms. No way, sis! There’s plenty of guilt to go around. Maybe you’ve found yourself thinking these things:
“It’s been a week since I texted back! I’m a terrible friend!”
“I should be working out more (or at all).”
“Did they misunderstand that awkward thing I just said?”
We can go through a whole list of guilt-inducing scenarios in our minds in a flash, and end up feeling like we’re a total mess. But here’s the thing about guilt. Processed through the lens of God’s love and grace, guilt can actually be a healthy thing.
Healthy guilt tells us there is something wrong with our actions, but not something inherently wrong with who we are.
It’s the feeling that nags us when we’ve said something hurtful to a loved one. It spurs us on to say I’m sorry, and to seek forgiveness. Healthy guilt drives us to reevaluate how we spend our time, nudging us to get off our phones and spend more quality time with our family, or finally call that friend back and schedule a coffee date.
Healthy guilt prompts our behavior to change, but our identity stands secure. We are still loved despite our flaws, and we know it, or we wouldn’t be motivated to do better. We can give and receive forgiveness, because God loved and forgave us first.
Guilt can positively shape our character, and is productive in the same way that pain is helpful in diagnosing injury or illness. It’s not pleasant, but it points us toward what can be fixed and made whole again.
But just like a serious injury can get worse without intervention, if no action is taken to handle guilt in healthy, constructive ways, it can very quickly turn into unhealthy shame.
Shame is neither good nor productive, and has the power to make us feel bad about who we are at our very core. It traps us in a guilt-loop, replaying our mistakes and failings over and over again. It redefines our identity by what we do or don’t do, instead of who God says we are.
Shame tells us when we say something hurtful to a loved one, that we are a terrible person, and not worthy of forgiveness. It makes us think that we don’t deserve grace from our family and friends because we haven’t earned it. Shame makes us feel small, unworthy, unloved and insecure. It causes us to believe that any moment even God’s grace for us will surely run out.
Over time, shame can change how we see ourselves and keep us from living the lives of freedom and joy that God has called us to. Think about the tapes that run through your head. Shame often manifests in our thoughts. You may find yourself thinking things like: I’m stupid. I’m unattractive. I’m a failure or a screw-up. I’m a bad person. I’m a fraud or a phony. I’m selfish. I’m not enough. I hate myself. I don’t matter. I’m defective or inadequate. I wish I had never been born. I’m unlovable.
All of these things are the exact opposite of what God says about us. God tells us in His Word that we are His children and cannot be separated from His love (John 1:12, Romans 8:35-39). We are Christ’s friend (John 15:15). We have been redeemed and forgiven of all our sins, and that God is not done with us yet. (Colossians 1:14, Philippians 1:6). He tells us that we are His masterpiece. (Ephesians 2:10).
I want us to get back to seeing ourselves the way God does, not as a mess, but as a masterpiece.
So my friend, today kicks off a 3-week blog series about shame! My goal over the next few weeks is that we can learn to differentiate between guilt that makes us better and the shame that weighs us down. We will take a closer look at more potential sources of shame, and begin to realign our perspective with our Heavenly Father’s perspective through scripture.
Psalm 34:5 says “Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
This will be our theme verse and it’s also my prayer for you. As you look to Jesus, I pray that your perspective will begin to shift. I pray that a spark of hope will light up in your heart as you start the journey of kicking shame to the curb. As you experience God’s love, I pray that you are able to take one step closer to living the life of freedom and joy He invites all of us to. As you turn your face toward the very One who created you, may you be truly radiant and unashamed, always knowing and believing how very much you are loved.