I spent quite a bit of time in my new book “Let Hope In” talking about shame because of the unbelievable impact I think it has on so many of us. Here’s an excerpt I hope you’ll find helpful…
Shame is the heart disease of every era. People are dying from it—some quickly, others slowly.
In its simplest definition, shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did or something that was done to you. Shame is the person who thinks they don’t belong because of something that they did or something that has been done to them. Shame says you’re not normal. Shame isn’t like guilt. Guilt says, “I did something wrong,” while shame says, “I am wrong.” Shame has no prejudices or preferences; it impacts each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter who you are; it targets anyone and everyone.
And so our human response to shame is almost always the same and can be summed up in one word: hide.
We believe the message of our past is clear: we have fallen short; we don’t measure up.
Other people are acceptable; we are not.
They succeed; we fail.
They are good; we are bad.
They are important; we are disposable.
The voices of our past have all confirmed that, and it’s easy to think that God himself joins those many voices, even though he certainly does not.
When it comes to faults, failures, or screwups from our past, the reality is we’re quick to want to cover up, to want to deny, to avoid, to want to blame someone else.
We work really hard to shake off the feeling of shame by minimizing and covering stuff up. Isn’t this what Adam and Eve do when they sin against God? They blame. They deny. They hide.
And just like that, shame is woven into the very fabric of all our stories. Welcome to a story where shame has been part of the air we breathe almost from the beginning.
Shame says I’m unpresentable. I’m unpresentable to the people around me (I must cover up my nakedness) and, even more devastating, I’m unpresentable to God (I must hide in the garden).
This shame prompts Adam and Eve to fashion masks from leaves in order to hide what was true about them. That day all humanity learned how to look over our shoulders, how to say one thing and mean another, how to hide fear and deceit behind a fake smile.
We feel this sense of exposure and shame as though we’ve been found out that we’re not who we’re supposed to be. It has created a lot of habits for us. It’s why we keep secrets. It’s why we can put on facades and pretend we’re someone we’re not.
We learned how to respond to the question, “How are you?” with “I’m fine.” But deep down we know this isn’t true. We’re not fine. We’re not fine at all.
In reality, we are hurting, lonely, confused, frightened.
So we hop from book to book, seminar to seminar, church to church, looking for that new technique promising to help us change. But do we really want to change or just appear as though we’re attempting to change? In reality, most of us are probably okay with just the appearances. Or maybe we’re afraid we can’t change. Either way, we continue to put ourselves in situations where healing could happen, but our desire to hide is greater than our desire to change.
Maybe you’ve gone through divorce, abuse, tragedy, an adulterous relationships, or rape—physical or emotional—and you’ve been left feeling unwanted and shamed. You’ve never felt the same since that day. You can’t shout over that sort of thing. You can’t dig your- self out of that pit. It has the potential to injure something about you that changes how you relate to everyone else for the rest of your life.
No matter how much the shame screams, “You’re not wanted,” God says, “I want you.” Regardless of what you’ve been through or done, God wants you. He has seen your hurt and has recorded your tears, and he still wants you. He’s lifting you out of the pit.
We don’t have to go back to the pit, or go back to our self- destructive ways, even though there’s a part of us that thinks that’s where we belong.
God does not redeem us based on goodness. God does not redeem us based on our faithfulness. He knows the worst about us, but redeems us anyway. We
never have to live in the fear that we’re not worthy of love.
We are loved with the senseless, seamless, and scandalous love of God.
And that changes everything.