Despising the Shame
Shame is a powerful part of our human existence, and yet it is frequently ignored. Shame is the sense that one is missing something … that one is incomplete or flawed. From the time we are young children, we begin to receive messages about who we are through other’s words and actions. We might hear that we are “not enough” through being picked last for a team on the playground, or it might be the careless word of a parent who says that “we’ll never amount to anything if …” We don’t listen after “if” and just hear that we’ll never amount to anything.
As a result, we frequently spend our days trying to prove that we are enough … that we aren’t missing anything. We over-achieve or we shrink back from achieving so we don’t fail. We dress a certain way to cover inadequacies or we don’t cover enough to attract attention. We attempt to use money or notoriety or positions of influence to demonstrate that we are okay.
What can complicate shame is that others often utilize “shaming” us in order to get us to do something. We may feel uncomfortable but when the button is pushed, we feel powerless against the hidden shame in our lives.
What complicates shame even further is that there is a real sense in which we are incomplete as human beings. We were made in the image of God (cf., Genesis 1:26-27) which means that we were created to do life with God. When we are not living in communion with God, we are indeed missing something. Tragically, we can mistake this deeper sense of true shame for that false shame and consequently try to cover through things other than our relationship with God.
There is an interesting verse in Luke’s Gospel that talks about being ashamed, and it is frequently misunderstood.
“For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26)
If we aren’t aware of our battles with shame, this verse can be another “piling on” of shame. It can sound like Jesus is manipulative: “if you’re embarrassed of me, then I’ll be embarrassed of you.” It can actually feel a bit vindictive. There are many passages that speak of God’s unconditional love and the fact that He doesn’t condemn (cf. Romans 8:1) which would render this kind of interpretation as inaccurate.
So, what is going on? In the immediate context, Jesus had just said that He “must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (9:22-23) Jesus is saying, “I am going to suffer and die so that I can be raised from the dead.” I will be losing something so that something better can emerge. He is inviting His followers to live that same kind of life: “if you let go of your life, you will find your ‘true’ sense of life in me.” We let go of those ways that we try to cover our shame … performance, possessions, power, positions, etc. If we let go of them, then our true sense of shame is alleviated in the context of relationship with Him!
However, when we let go of the “old ways” of covering shame, we can feel naked. We can feel like we are incomplete. Indeed, if I follow the way of Jesus and “die” to the old things, I may feel like there is something wrong with me. I won’t fit in the world of possessions and power and prestige. To be “ashamed” is to live out of a sense of shame. For each of us, shame is expressed differently. It might come out as embarrassment or anger or fear, but the result is that we aren’t following the way of Jesus and we aren’t trusting His words. If that is the case, Jesus says, “I will be ashamed of you when I come in glory.” The words “come in glory” are a reference to the judgment when our lives will be evaluated and rewards for faithfulness given. So, He will be “ashamed” (experience of sense of loss) in the sense that there will not be reward for the one who does not live in the way of Jesus.
Hebrews 12:2 encourages us to look to:
“Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
It’s fascinating that we are encouraged to look to Jesus as the one who dealt with shame appropriately. He “despised” it. The message of a cross in the ancient days was one of shame and ridicule … the cross said, “you are an outcast, a criminal, a misfit, a lowlife.” He stared that message down and said “no, I am not any of those things” and he willingly laid down His life. Instead, He focused on the joy of being in relationship with God the Father.
What shame do you need to begin to despise? What messages of shame are present in your life? What voices tell you that you are not enough, that you are missing something? We begin to say “no” by bringing them out of the dark, and calling them what they are: lies. We progress forward as we believe that our joy is in the Father’s presence. In Him and with Him, we are perfect and complete, not lacking a thing.
Brother David Vryhof writes:
Jesus comes as One who can set us free from those things to which we desperately cling in our search for happiness. “Is not life more than these?” he asks, as he gently and lovingly touches the very places in our lives where we are most bound. “You lack this one thing. Let it go. Come and follow me.”
Do you recognize those voices in your life that “shame” you? that make you feel “less than”? Consider the places where you feel embarrassment or fear or anger. Those responses are a reliable indicator that we living out of a sense of shame.
Take a few moments and prayerfully write out some of those messages of shame. Next to each of them, write out the truth of who you are because of Jesus. Despise the shame and look toward the joy of life in Him.