“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
When God created Adam and Eve, they were naked and felt no shame. (Genesis 2:25) They lived in freedom, joy, and perfect union with God. But from the moment they sinned they were afraid and felt shame. They hid from God and wanted to cover themselves. Apart from living out of the gospel we are no different.
Brene' Brown describes shame this way: Shame says you are no good. You are not worthy. You don't measure up. You can't do anything right and you never will. Shame can bring fear and anger. Fear of man, wanting to gain peoples approval, trying to please God. Also anger which can be outward, poured out on others or it can be turned inward and even manifest itself in depression. Shame brings a tendency to say I cannot fail. I must be perfect. It says I cannot be vulnerable or honest about my failures or I might be judged.
"Funny how we as imperfect people think we can ever be perfect." (Rose Marie Miller)
In this study on guilt and shame, I am amazed as I recognize the underlying feelings of shame I held deep inside. Seeing this, I believe, is half the battle of being freed from living a life of guilt and shame.
This innate feeling of shame goes back into my younger years when I felt the need to enter beauty pageant one after another to prove my beauty. The ones I lost said, “See you are not pretty enough, smart enough, or talented enough to win. You will have to work harder.” The ones I would win never felt satisfying. I felt I had to have more confirmation, so I would try again. I once read how beautiful women focus on the one flaw they have rather than knowing they are beautiful.
I think of the things that happened while I was in psychosis. The being hauled off to a hospital in a police car, an ambulance. Being locked behind a close door of a tiny room, with a little two-pane widow, holding my fingers in a cross on my forehead thinking it would keep anyone from hurting me.
When I had my first psychotic break I fell off the throne of certain peoples lives. But they kept pushing me back up on the pedestal. I had always been so strong, so capable, so together, holding everyone and everything together. No one knew how to accept this weakness in me.
I still struggle, but I am learning that it is in my weakness that I am strong in Christ. That His strength is manifest when mine is gone.
I think of the time I first told my story. It was in church. I was vulnerable about things that had happened. A woman came up to me afterward, smiling, she said, “I will be praying for you.” I thought, How sweet. Then she said, “for the demons inside you.“ I was devastated then and have never forgotten since.
I think of an embarrassing thing I did 40 years ago. You know. You remember. The thing you did in your past that was so shameful. Satan will still bring it up so subtly, and remind you what a failure you are.
We cannot avoid shame. Our world is always shaming us in relationships, billboards, television advertisement, sports, even our own mirrors tell us we are gaining weight or getting older. Shame brings death to our very souls. It sucks the life out of it. But recognizing it, by bringing it to the light is half the battle. We can change how we respond to shame. Share your shame with someone and the Lord. Shame loves secrecy. The gospel is the perfect antidote to shame.
Guilt, on the other hand, does not define you, but says that you have done something wrong. I have been in a place where I thought more about what I did wrong than what Jesus did for me. I was guilt-ridden. I felt guilty even when I wasn't. Always self examining.
The gospel says that God intended for our guilt—that conviction of the Spirit, to drive us to Him. To bring us to Him and remind us of what Jesus did on the cross for us, and of His love for us. It is a means to bring change in us. In confession to God, our sin helps lead us to repentance. We stop running from God and fall into His merciful and forgiving arms. Our sins are forgiven. We live out of that forgiveness and righteousness of Christ.
We begin to take risks. To love others with abandonment. To think more of others than we do ourselves. Our faith and trust in God with ourselves and our lives begin to flourish. We live lives in a whole new way. A selfless way. We are more God-centered than we are self- centered. We cannot do this, but because the Spirit lives in our hearts we are continually changing as the gospel is worked out in our everyday lives. As God removes the lies and uses truth to transform us from the inside out.
Christ took our shame to the cross. He died being shamed that we would not live in shame. He covered our nakedness with His perfect life. He took our sin, our shame and gave us value and worth and righteousness. So we can be open and honest about our sin with Him and even others because our heart is to trust Him more, not building our own reputation, but being identified with Him.
This is Christmas. Christ came to live the life we could not live and die the death we should have died. He came to bring us into intimacy with Him, Father, and Spirit. He came to rescue us from ourselves, to give us life, to set us free from guilt and shame, to feel our pain, to give Himself to us. If God chose not to remember our sin, then why should we?