Few things weigh us down so much as the feeling of shame. It can make us want to curl up in a ball in a corner somewhere hoping that no one, absolutely no one, notices us.
The feeling of shame causes us to believe that we don’t measure up somehow.
We may feel we don’t measure up to what others expect or need, what we feel we need to be or accomplish to be accepted or succeed, or that we don’t measure up to what we believe the Lord expects of us.
All of these or even one of them distorts our view of ourselves as well. We turn on ourselves and our heart closes off from anyone or anything. The worst part of that is that we close ourselves off from the Lord’s love, mercy, and grace.
At some time in our life, we have all felt the crushing weight of shame. Not only are our hearts weighed down, but we also have spirits stripped of joy or hope. We may feel depressed, sad, or even despairing.
The sticky truth about shame is this:
The feeling of shame is not about something we did as much as it is about who we are.
The results include a feeling or sense of unworthiness that cause us to hide from the Lord instead of run to Him. It’s what we saw in Adam and Eve when they tried to hide from the Lord after disobeying Him.
So shame becomes a snare to us, and the enemy uses it to twist our mindset and feelings about guilt, grace, mercy, love, and hope. We start to confuse guilt with shame.
We feel guilty about something we do. We feel shame about who or what we are.
The challenge increases because often these two things overlap. We may do something or fail to do something for which we feel guilt, but then old tapes or the “accuser of the brethren” adds to that with whispers about what we are or are not, who we are not versus who we were supposed to be. We move into a depressed state.
We are more likely to fall prey to this if we tend to be all or nothing thinkers. In other words, because I made a mistake in one area or on one thing then I am not good period.
We are also more prone to challenges with this if we tend to be overly responsible, need approval to feel accepted, be prone to compare ourselves with others, or replay old tapes about things that were said to or about us in the past.
When all of these start swirling in our mind, heart, and spirit, we view ourselves through filters that distort the truth. Additionally, we can tend to believe others see us through those same filters and know how flawed we are.
Some of us, possibly many of us, have reached out to someone at some point when the feelings became unbearable. What we were in desperate need of was grace, but sometimes if grace was offered to us ungraciously the shame only deepened and no healing was gained.
The enemy pushes us down again and the grace we need to bring healing is postponed. We fail to see the Lord is reaching out to us when we are agreeing with the enemy’s accusations about us.
What we most need is grace, graciously given.
Sixteen years ago when I was grappling with this issue, someone recommended a book, Shame and Grace, by Lewis Smedes. Page by page, the truths written there began to untangle the web I could not seem to escape from.
At one point in the book, an illustration is used to give a sense of what grace that heals looks like. It is so powerful that it is worth quoting here:
“On Palm Sunday morning, April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee put on his finest dress uniform, mounted Traveller, and rode away from his tired and tattered troops to Appomattox, where he would surrender his beaten army to General Ulysses S. Grant. As Lee rode to meet his conqueror, he fully expected that his men would be herded like cattle into railroad cars and taken to a Union prison and that he, as their general, would be tried and executed as a disgraced traitor.
In the tidy living room of the home where the vanquished and the victor met, Lee asked Grant what his terms of surrender were to be. Grant told Lee that his men were free to take their horses with them and go back to their little farms and that Lee too was free to go home and create a new life. Lee offered Grant his sword; Grant refused it. Lee heaved a sigh; he came expecting to be humiliated, and he left with dignity and honor. As he watched General Lee mount Traveller and ride back to his troops, Grant took off his hat and saluted his defeated enemy. It was a gracious grace. And it deeply affected the defeated general: as long as he lived, Lee allowed no critical word of Grant to be spoken in his presence.” (Shame and Grace)
So, what is the truth? Where is the hope?
“Grace graciously given honors our worth as it overlooks our undeserving.” (From Shame and Grace by Lewis Smedes)
Such a grace defeats and heals the shame that can cling to our heart, mind, and spirit like barnacles.