Guest Author: Marit Barber
We have all heard the word “shame” tossed around, especially in Christian circles, but what does it really mean? Why do we talk about it?
The first thing we need to recognize is that shame is different from guilt. Guilt is the feeling of remorse that you get after you do something wrong or something you perceived to be wrong, usually related to a specific event. Guilt should lead us to conviction and repentance. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10 NIV).
Shame, on the other hand, is the feeling that your whole self is wrong—that you are inadequate and unworthy— may be because of an ongoing behavior or others’ opinion(s) of you. Shame tells you that you’ll never measure up and convinces you that you are flawed, hopelessly damaged, incapable of changing, and have no self-worth. As Brene Brown wrote in her book, I Thought it Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame, “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change… [and] gets its power from being unspeakable.” Shame keeps us from believing what it really means to be redeemed and restored.
I know what it’s like to be in bondage to shame. It’s suffocating, self-deprecating, it’s painful, and feels never-ending. One of the worst parts of shame is feeling as if a change is out of reach and that the striving will never end. No one understands why you feel the way you do, so you keep all of the feelings of shame to yourself. You think “How could they understand what you’re going through?”
My shame was rooted in performance and in trauma, I blamed myself for. How could a perfect God love someone like me; someone who felt like she could never break the cycles of sin in her life? How could God want to use someone who was so damaged and impure?
As it does for all who experience it, shame deeply affected the way I saw myself, and its detrimental effects spread into all other areas in my life— including my relationship with Jesus. It felt like pushing a huge boulder up a mountain. I would go 2-3 days, maybe a few weeks, without sinning in a particular area, but once I messed up again, it felt like the boulder and I both rolled back to the bottom of the mountain; once again, starting from scratch at the pursuit to earn God’s love and approval.
I lived under the weight of shame, in this ongoing cycle, for 8 long years. During those years, I knew Jesus and had a relationship with Him. I listened to sermons on shame, perfectionism, on works versus faith, on freedom in Christ, but something just didn’t click. The knowledge in my head never transferred to my heart, and I continued to strive to earn God’s acceptance until I hit the very bottom.
In December of 2017, I spent 6 weeks backpacking South America with a guy friend from college. Our relationship was not God-honoring, particularly on our trip abroad. I was at the tail-end of a season where I found myself angry at God and tired of striving. I was frustrated that my non-Christian friends could partake in the sins that fueled my shame and have no conviction, no guilt, and most frustratingly to me—no shame. So, for the first time in my life, I told God I wanted to do life on my own, doing whatever I wanted, and I was not going to feel bad about it.
Toward the end of our trip, my decision to control my circumstances and to reject God’s plan for my life caught up to me. I remember laying on the bathroom floor of a hotel in Santiago, Chile absolutely broken, crying out to the Lord. I couldn’t keep living this way. I was a wreck, and I was in need of my Savior.
Summer of 2018, my pastor taught the book of Galatians and freedom in Christ. I had read Galatians many times in my life, but for whatever reason, this time it finally resonated. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NIV). When God looks at me,` He sees Jesus. He bought my freedom at a price—suffering death on a cross so I don’t have to live in slavery to my sin and shame. My acceptance is not based on works, but in my faith in Jesus and His grace.
“Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions, it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of grace… for it is by grace you have been saved—through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:2, 4-9 NIV).
Your salvation, your worth, and your identity are not based on your own works, actions, or decisions. “There is nothing you can do [or not do] to add to or take away from what Christ did for you on the cross” (Robert S. McGee, The Search for Significance). Instead, your value is solely based on who you are in Christ—your identity and your faith in Him. Once you truly understand your identity in Him, all shame melts away and there is no need to strive to perform, as “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NIV).
How can we continue to live in shame and self-hatred when we believe what God says about us? How could it be possible to experience shame when we truly understand the depths of God’s love for us?
Robert S. McGee explains it so well, “When God considers you, does He deceive Himself in some way or does He know who you truly are? If He knows who we truly are, then why do we preface His understanding of us with phrases such as ‘In God’s eyes we are righteous’ or ‘forgiven’ or ‘loved’ or ‘pleasing’ and so on? Are we trying to say that God is not living in reality? That He is somehow involved in self-deception? Either He really knows who you are or He doesn’t… The second question is If you think of yourself differently than God thinks of you, who is mistaken, you or God?” (The Search for Significance).
God Can Transform You Too!
Friend, it’s time you see yourself the way the Father sees you. God is so incredibly pleased with you just as you are. He loves you because He created you and because when He looks at you, He sees His perfect son—He doesn’t see the thing you did last week, last month, or last year when He turns His face toward you. He’s not looking at the next mistake you’re going to make.
It’s important to note that the enemy wants us to remain stuck in our shame. If we are living in shame, we can’t fully live a life that reflects the heart of God or experience the fullness of our relationship with Him. It’s his goal that we keep our shame and our sin hidden, but as followers of Christ, we have to be open to sharing our burdens with God and with the safe people in our life who push us closer to Him. Once our sin and shame are brought to light, they lose their power. Come to Him just as you are— He’s waiting for you.
God gives us His word that He “bestows on [us] a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.… Instead of [our] shame [we] will receive a double portion and instead of disgrace [we] will rejoice in [our] inheritance… and everlasting joy will be [ours]” (Isaiah 61:3,7 NIV). When we take hold of His promises and place our trust and faith in Him, he takes the ashes of our shame and replaces them with a crown of beauty. Our identity is secure in Him.
I’m inviting you to consider what your life would be like if you didn’t wake up bearing the burden of shame every day. What would your relationship with God look like? What would your earthly relationships look like? It’s time that you walk forward in freedom. God will meet you where you are at, with both grace and truth, and will affirm your worth.
While I no longer live under the weight of shame, I will never forget what it felt like to live every day enslaved to the enemy’s lies. I truly believe God allows me to remember that long and difficult season so that I will never forget His faithfulness to me.
“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, His merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created every morning. How great is your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.” (Lamentations 3:19-24 The Message).
My friend, I am overwhelmed by His faithfulness each and every day. There is no more shame, no more striving. That chapter of my life is over; my identity and my worth are solely found in Him. He’s all I’ve got left.
Are you struggling with shame? Join us, we want to help you see yourself the way Christ sees you. Connect with us about a life group or our mentor program here.