Shame

Target Audience: Evangelical Christians

Shame1The most destructive force that has ever visited my life is shame. Normally, I try to edit my posts to make sure they are somewhat grammatically correct and coherent. This post, though, I am writing with very little editing because it is an issue that is very personal and important to me.

In October last year I began a course at my church, The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario, called Healing Care. I have been through a number of courses over the years in churches. Most of them have been forgotten long ago. Looking back, that is perhaps a good thing. I have been through 12 Step programs and self-help groups, one-on-one counselling for years for various issues. So, when a man from my church contacted me about this course, my first reaction was that I was too weird, too messed up, and I just didn’t think I would fit in. It actually began last summer when I was homeless for almost two months. I grew up in a middle class home and I never thought I would be homeless. So, when this man from my church contacted me about this Healing Care course, I was more than skeptical. In fact, I quit twice before the course even began, but he encouraged me not to quit, so I decided to go.

I entered the course with the expectation that if I ever shared my issues that the other people in the course would tell the leaders they weren’t comfortable with me and I would be asked to leave, so I decided that I would do everything I could to avoid sharing these issues. I won’t share them here, not because of shame, but because I have come to a place that I do not need to share everything about my life in order to be open and honest. Weeks passed and I successfully managed to avoid sharing what was going on in my life. Finally, I decided it was time to either go all in or leave, so I shared my story. Much to my amazement, the support in the group was overwhelming. In the final weeks in the course I learned that everyone else in that course also had the same sense of apprehension — and shame about the issues in their lives. The issues were different, but the shame and the guilt were common to us all.

I have been a Christian for over 40 years and for most of those years have lived in shame for one thing or another. The baggage that I carry is really not a lot different than the baggage anyone else carries. My sins were all forgiven by Jesus and He loves me just like He loves everyone else. The people who reinforced the shame in my life most consistently over the years wasn’t my family, or my friends, or the people with whom I went to school. The people who reinforced the shame were other evangelical Christians. It has been my experience that conservative evangelical Christians tend to be more judgmental. Each time I was judged I sunk deeper into shame. Like the graphic above, shame brought only darkness into my life. It drew me further away from God and created an image in my mind of a helpless individual looking up at a huge axe that was perilously held by a thread. I believed that God was a vengeful, angry being just waiting for me to commit one sin too many. At that moment, the axe of His judgment would come down and snuff out my life. Is it any wonder that I had difficulty seeing and experiencing the love of God. For more than 40 years the only thing that had resonated with me in conservative evangelical churches was the judgment of God. I lived in perpetual shame. Not only did this prevent any deep intimate relationship with God, I could not love others as Jesus loves me because I didn’t truly believe that God loved me. Oh, I believed it on an intellectual level, but there was this emptiness in my heart. I have told people over the years that I have long viewed myself as someone looking through a window at people sitting at a table. The people at the table were “normal” evangelical Christians participating in the life God wants for them. I am in the building, but I never felt like I had a seat at the table.

Through the gentle guidance of the leaders in Healing Care, and lots of Scripture, I began to redefine myself, not as an abominable sinner just waiting for God to judge me, but as someone God cherishes, loves, and adores. I began to identify the lies that I had been told about myself by others, again mostly by other evangelical Christians, and lies that I had told myself and believed about myself. Reinforced by Scripture and group interaction and support, I began my journey away from a shame-based relationship with God to one of accepting His forgiveness and seeking to live the life He has for me.

So what do I believe about shame now? It has no place in my life. It is a destructive force that separates me from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness. In so many ways I have come believe that shame is worse the the sin for which I feel shame. The Holy Spirit convicts me when I do something wrong. If I live in shame or allow shame to have a foothold in my life, I give an opening to Satan to separate me from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness, which is given freely. 

The Healing Care course which I took was 16 weeks, but it was merely the start of a life-long journey away from shame, guilt, remorse, and judgment that separates me from experiencing God’s love. I can never be separated from His love, but I can be separated from experiencing His love. In my life, shame has been the thing that most often separated me from experiencing the life God wants for me.

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