Freedom from Shame
Written by Lila Chaffin
While sitting in my chair during the introduction of that week’s sermon, I wanted to be either excited for it, eager to learn, or even slightly tired from not having my coffee that morning. Instead, I found myself bracing for impact. The topic was missions, and I was bracing for an all-too familiar feeling of shame. I found myself waiting for the line in the sermon that inspired thoughts of “I’m not doing enough” or “I’m the only one that feels like a failure in this” or “I’m sure other Christians are better at this than me.” It was a visceral reaction that I wasn’t quite prepared for.
Unfortunately, this has become a well-worn groove for me: feel shame first and then deconstruct that to feel God’s love second. In the spirit of deconstructing my shame, I will share that my shame often centers around not being enough, whether reaching out enough to my Christian community, reaching out enough to my non-Christian friends, or doing quiet time enough to name a few. (Wow, that is not easy sharing the sources of your shame to an anonymous group of readers.)
This origin of shame is no mystery. Adam and Eve are said to be unashamed in the garden of Eden and then suddenly after they eat fruit from the forbidden tree, they feel shame so intensely that it drove them to hide from God, a pattern we as humanity still haven’t shaken.
I’m sure many of us have experienced shame. Actually, I daresay we all have, even if we haven’t admitted the source of shame to anyone but ourselves. That’s the thing about shame. Shame feeds off of the terrible, debilitating thought that we will be found out. And once found out, we fear this will be the breaking point of love, whether love from others or love from our Lord. And so we hide, we isolate, we withdraw. We hide our whole selves, or we hide the parts of ourselves we’ve deemed unfit for others. We go so far as to hide ourselves from our God.
When I withdraw from the Lord because of shame, it’s hard to imagine that He is not disgusted and revolted by my sin and shame. And yet, He knew the weight of my sin and still His great love for me made him long for my closeness. He longed for my companionship so much that he suffered and died a painful death on the cross, a truth we celebrated so recently on Easter Sunday.
It’s hard to imagine my sin incurs anything but his wrath and judgement and yet “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).
It’s hard to imagine God does not run away or at the very least distance himself from me in my sin and shame. And yet, in Jesus’ limited time on earth He sought after those that were ostracized and shamed like tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, and the sick.
It’s hard to imagine that God would love someone as shameful and broken as me. And yet, He promises his steadfast love to me for a thousand generations.
We are enough for our Lord not because of what we have done but because He does not place those expectations upon us in the first place. When we feel ourselves start to brace for shame and start to withdraw, our Lord runs towards us to lock arms with us in our fight against sin and shame.
And honestly, as I write all of this, I am still learning how the Lord’s love drives out my shame too. On my best days, I believe it and feel it with everything in me, and on my worst days, I withdraw and feel defeated. On the bad days, the church body and other believers have been the reminders of the Lord’s love I have so desperately needed. I have felt love and acceptance that has beckoned me to share my shame and be accepted and loved anyways. And it is so freeing.
I pray that we continue to love ourselves and others so greatly that shame finds no place in our hearts. And when our humanly love fails, I pray we lean even more into the restful, freeing, accepting love of Christ. Let us never forget that we serve a God whose abounding, steadfast love underlies all that He is. As Dane Ortlund said in his book Gentle and Lowly,“Looking inside ourselves, we can anticipate only harshness from heaven. Looking out to Christ, we can anticipate only gentleness.”