It was my shame, but it wasn’t to be carried alone. I had a friend who knew it all, and God entered in and healed the pain.
I was being laughed at. I was only a seven-year-old, but for the first time, I felt the cold icy winds of being mocked and shamed.
The situation was that it was my school assembly and I thought our class had won a prize for some art project. So I got up from sitting on the floor and started to walk to the front.
Within seconds I realized that I was the only one standing and moving.
Slinking back to sit on the floor, I felt every eye was on me. I felt very alone and stupid. Kids were laughing and making sport of me.
That was the first time I remember being exposed to the humiliation of getting it wrong. I went on to have many other moments of shame.
Like a bumper boat being shoved from one intrusive experience to the next, our little life gets bumped and bruised along a passage of painful moments.
Shame can be defined as ‘a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.’
It sounds very technical, doesn’t it?
But shame is very much an emotion. To know shame is to know a hole in your life that is bottomless. You can fall into it and keep on spiraling down.
It’s a cold shadow of being completely alone – exposed, unloved, a fool.
Do you remember your first moment of shame?
That moment when your flaws and failings were exposed. You were seen and not known in grace. It might have come from someone else, that painful exposure, that mocking. But deeper and more lasting are the shame messages we say to ourselves.
There is something in yourself that you loath. A self-hatred festers and poisons your life. It’s a comparisonitis to perfection; however you define perfection.
Your the only one in this ‘shame world.’
Everyone else has got it perfectly right. We stay in our personal shame hole because we may well be shamed even more in the very instance of exposing our failures.
We either hide or we hit. In any exposure of flaws, we either hide away or we hit back and retaliate. What’s your defense strategy?
The God who enters our shame
They had got it wrong, and they knew it. They had stolen fruit from the orchard and discovered, for themselves, that it was poisoned.
I remember my father telling a story one day of how he had been to an area of our farm where some beautiful plum trees were growing by a stream. The trees were ripe with big red plums, and looking for a plum to eat on a hot summer’s day, he looked up into a tree.
To his surprise, two little boys were sitting high in the tree. He called out to them, ‘What are you doing up there?’
They responded, ‘We’re looking for Mr. McPherson’s pigs.’
‘Well, you won’t find them up there!’ he told them.
We laughed heartily at their quick-witted response.
They had been exposed for breaking the rules. They were stealing fruit, not looking for pigs.
In Genesis, we find another couple of plum stealers.
Adam and Eve ate the fruit that was out of bounds. They had got it wrong. Badly wrong. The choices they made were human in experience, and now they experienced the fullness of exposure. Guilt and shame washed into them.
But the dancing trinity did not shy away from their exposure. Instead, they entered into it and clothed their exposure with a sacrifice of something of their own creation.
And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. Genesis 3:21
The Christ who enters our shame
Fred: ‘He’s coming to dinner.’
Jenny: ‘Our place? Our messy kitchen? He’s going to see our dirty oven and the dust on the mantlepiece.’
Fred: ‘Oh yes, he also wants to eat with people like us – the prostitutes, gamblers, tax collectors, adulterers, loan sharks, addicts, and all the crazies that have been shunned and looked down upon.’
Jenny: ‘That’s a big party.’
Fred: ‘He also said not to make a fuss and do anything special. He wants to simply be with us, enter our world and wash our feet.’
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:15-17
Here is the Christ who enters the world of the shamed. Not to cast judgment and punishment, but to offer presence to loneliness. They had been shamed by the rocks thrown. Now someone without shame was entering their world.
They were being known, discovered, explored, and touched. There was a deliberate act of intrusive love into their world.
Jesus once had a conversation with a woman who carried a shame load. At the end of the conversation, her response was joy. It was a liberation that led to her telling her whole community that she met with someone who knew everything about her but wasn’t turned away.
In her freedom, she invited her whole community to come and experience this newness.
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” John 4:29
We enter in
It may not take it away completely, but having someone safe enter your shame place and not be turned away is a most special gift. To be loved and affirmed deeply even when the shame is known is a starting point for deep healing.
It’s the acknowledgment that we have all got it wrong somewhere along the journey and that the invitation is to be connected at that level of human exposure.
So we take careful yet deliberate steps to defuse the power of shame in each other. We make sacrifices of ourselves so that others don’t feel so naked and exposed. Stories are told, bread is shared, and common flawed humanity is discovered.
You got a face not spoiled by beauty
I have some scars from where I’ve been
You’ve got eyes that can see right through me
You’re not afraid of anything they’ve seen
I was told that I would feel nothing the first time
I don’t know how these cuts heal
But in you I found a rhyme.
And I’m a long way
From your hill of Calvary
And I’m a long way
From where I was, where I need to be
If there is a light
You can’t always see
And there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a kiss
I stole from your mouth
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out
U2 – Song for someone
Every one of us needs someone safe, a bearer of the Christ, to enter our world and disturb the shame with grace. To ‘not be afraid of anything they’ve seen.’
Quotes to consider
- Shame is the raincoat over the soul repelling the living water of Jesus that would otherwise establish us as the beloved of God. Andrew Comiskey
- An addict needs shame like a man dying of thirst needs saltwater. Terrence Real
- I think that is God’s plan – to meet me where I am, in all my ugliness, not where I pretend to be or wish I were; to meet me in my weakness and shame and fear and to give me hope that God loves me, that He can change me, and that He can use me. Dr. Larry Crabb, Real Church
- Shame causes us to see our identity as flawed rather than seeing ourselves as having flaws. Dan Allender Hope when you’re hurting
Questions to consider
- What was your earliest shaming event, and how did it affect you?
- What would it have been like to be deeply in that moment?
- How do you respond to shame now? Do you run, hide, hit back, or invite an entering in of Christ and others?