Where is God when we feel ashamed?
Shame is one of the most powerful forces in our lives. It is that deep and severe fear of disconnection. The most painful part of shame are those topics nobody knows about: when you were molested as a child. That DUI. That abortion. That one night stand. That mistake you made that you’d give anything to take those few moments back.
Shame is the terrible fear of being unloveable. Shame normally comes on when we’ve failed. It is the swampland of the soul. Shame says, “I’m not good enough”and “How do you think you are? Interestingly, the Thai word for shame literally means: “to tear one’s face off so they appear ugly before friends and family.” Sometimes shame feels that intense, doesn’t it?
If shame goes unaddressed it leaves us susceptible to a staph infection of the soul.
For some of us, the shame has been so deep it has caused psychological damage or trauma in your soul. And when we feel shame we normally respond in three ways:
- We go into hiding: we run away, we hide, we cover, we mask, we pretend. It’s nothing new. It’s what Adam and Eve did in the Garden. When sin entered the world, they did what? Covered themselves with fig leaves because of their shame. We do the same. We put on masks, pretend and go into hiding. And we have pretty ornate masks we reach for. One of the most common masks we use in church is uttering the Christian four-letter F-word: “fine.” As in, “How are you?” “I’m fine.” We lie. We refuse to show our true selves.
- We self-medicate: We use humor or alcohol. We spend time playing video games or looking pornography. We eat too much food or hardly any at all. These are often called coping mechanisms.
- We deceive ourselves. We are susceptible to the lie, “It’s really not that bad to cope by ______” or “What event that triggered shame now defines me. It’s who I am.” All of these are lies – or at least the truth, plus or minus 10 percent.
Brene Brown reminds us there is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt says, “I did something bad,” but shame says, “I am bad.” One is an action and the other is an identity. What’s important to understand is that the more you talk about shame the less you feel it. But the less you talk about it the more you feel it.
I am grateful that God takes our shame upon himself – but I also hate it. As an American male I tell myself I have to handle it all by myself, to be self-sufficient. But the thing is I can’t. I have to let Him do it. And this is excruciatingly painful.
I’m reminded of what C.S. Lewis writes in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. A young, stubborn and selfish boy named Eustace finds himself on an island. As it begins to rain, Eustace seeks shelter in a cave and falls asleep. When he wakes up he feels strange and realizes he has turned into a dragon. He is scared and wants to turn back into a boy.
One evening Eustace hears the lion Aslan’s voice calling out to him saying, “Follow me.”Though as a dragon he could have eaten any lion, he is still afraid. Following Aslan, he finds himself by a pool where he wishes to wash his wounded leg, but Aslan tells him he must first undress. Using his dragon claws, he desperately scratches and claws himself to shed his dragon skin much like a snake sheds its skin. Three times he claws and scrapes in desperation, but each time he notices another layer of hard, rough scales. He realizes he is incapable of fully ridding himself of his scaly skin.
“You will have to let me undress you,”Aslan tells him.
I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back and let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. . . . Well, he peels the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobby looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft. . . . Then he caught hold of me . . . and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again.
The good news is this. “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.”–Psalm 34:5
God takes our shame from us and invites us to be honored children of the King.
The process hurts like hell – but it’s worth it.
It’s the only way we turn from dragons into children again.