The danger of an iceberg is not what is seen, but what lies beneath. Because what lies beneath is what sinks ships. Isn’t this also true of us? Last weekend I attended a seminar on the topic of shame. I attended a seminar on trauma last year and noticed that there were less participants in attendance this year, despite the seminar being presented by the same high quality international speaker. Is this because many people are too ashamed to attend a seminar on shame?! We may think – shame, who me? But all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve carry shame. Shame can even be in our DNA and can be passed down the generations. If we have a fear of abandonment or rejection, a fear of people getting to know us, a fear of making mistakes, of being seen, or if we struggle to forgive others, or battle feelings of worthlessness or anger, chances are we may be wrapped up in shame, without even realising it. And there are many more symptoms of shame. These symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.
One definition of shame is ‘to stun, to grow numb, to devastate, to stupefy.’ Another is ‘to be astonished, appalled, desolate, wasted, ravaged, destroyed, destitute.’ Shame is the enemy of love, it tipifies shrinking back. It causes us to hide. And so many people in the Body of Christ are struggling with the pressure of life, anxiety, discouragement, even addictions – which may have a root cause of shame. While there is a difference between humility and humiliation, there is also a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt, a painful feeling of regret and remorse when we have done something wrong, is to a certain extent our friend, as it leads us to repentance and reconciliation. Shame on the other hand, enslaves us to trauma and sin, and is an enemy of true repentance, Godly humility and grace. Shame is an issue of identity, rather than behaviour, and it hinders our relationship with God and others. So many people are wrapped in the shame of a failure, such as a failed business or marriage. Many people carry this for their whole lives. Shame prevents us from fully loving others, and it prevents us from walking in healthy self-respect and dignity. We see the first example of shame and rejection in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve sinned and what was the result? Shame. The fruit of their rebellion included fear, blame, a tendency to hide and isolate, and a tendency to perform to receive love. They also questioned God’s word, His nature, and His heart and they rejected relationship with Him.
Shame is a lie. It is a lie that we believe about ourselves where we reject God’s love and forgiveness, based on our own feelings of unworthiness. While guilt may say ‘I have done something wrong’, shame says ‘I am wrong.’ Shame personifies our behaviour. Other lies of shame include:- I am inadequate, I am stupid, I am alone. Shame tempts us to say ‘I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness.’ Listen to what you are saying to yourself. Robert Louis Stephenson has been quoted as saying that ‘the strongest lies are often told in silence.’
Like Adam and Eve, we can experience shame when we sin, or when our needs are not met. We have an innate need to be loved unconditionally, and welcomed with a place of belonging built into our heart. But when our needs are ignored or refused especially in childhood, deep roots of rejection and shame can result. Rejection and shame wound our heart and spirit and are often considered to be the worst anguish a person can suffer. Rejection and shame can be so painful that the pain is buried, affecting the ‘song’ of our life. When trauma and shame affect our song we can be out of tune, out of harmony, and and out of time. We don’t resonate. Some individuals may have experience significant unresolved childhood trauma, they may have been unwanted, or they may have been raised in an unsafe or unhealthy home and they may have experienced the trauma of unmet needs. Shame can be modelled and can in some homes be used as a tool for discipline. In other homes, standards of performance are not realistic and this can create shame. For some, it may be the family rules that one had to live by, such as ‘Image is everything’ ‘Be good all the time’ or ‘Don’t rock the boat.’
I like the analogy of a treasure chest. We each have a treasure chest that our parents can fill when we are growing up. Parents can fill our treasure chest with love, affirmation, affection, and a sense of purpose and destiny. However for many reasons, parents are often unable to fill our treasure chest. Most parents do their best, but ‘you can’t give away what you don’t have.’ As a result, what do many people do as adults? They fill their treasure chest with other things – food, alcohol, drugs, shopping. The gold, the glamour and the girls. Our treasure chests can also be filled with busyness, good works and charity. We can do the right things with the wrong motives.
We don’t have to have experienced a traumatic childhood to carry shame. It can be the culmination of little experiences over a lifetime. An unkind word here, a difficult experience there. Being the recipient of a single bullying incident. Shame can even come from the cultural beliefs and customs of a culture, such as the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ in New Zealand or the need to ‘save face’. Even the words that have been spoken over us or to ourselves can cause us to feel shame. Such as ‘I wish you were never born’ or ‘No one will ever want someone like you’. The power of life and death is indeed in the tongue. We may have experienced rejection for our appearance, colour, gender, weight, or a deformity, our ability or social status. The labels that may have been applied to us may have caused shame, but just as we remove labels on a new garment, we must also take off the labels from the garments of shame that we have worn.
But there is a remedy for rejection. Derek Prince has even written a book with this title. Jesus himself was acquainted with rejection and shame. He was despised by his own family, his own people, friends, leaders and the crowd. He also felt the pain of feeling betrayed from His heavenly father. And just like the woman with the issue of blood who shunned shame and reached out to Jesus, we can do the same. What this tenacious woman did shows that what is not possible with man is possible with God. She was healed by touching the hem of His garment. She was set free immediately from her physical condition and the associated psychological affects of shame.
However, for many of us, healing may take time, years even. But we can take heart that Jesus understands our feelings of shame and rejection and He bore the pain of rejection on the cross. Our healing from shame is achieved when we begin to appropriate what Jesus has done on the cross. We know that He doesn’t want us to walk in shame, and we can break free from the lies, judgments we have made, and roots of unforgiveness, bitterness and resentment. The law of sowing and reaping means that when we have judged those that have hurt us sometimes we can reap this by becoming like what we have judged, doing the very thing to others that we have hated. We may also without realising draw people to us who will continue to wound and shame us in the same ways.
But we can recognise the wounding(s) that we have received and also our sinful responses to the wonding. We can invite Jesus to heal and we can repent and confess our sin. We can forgive others and reckon the sin dead on the Cross. We can remind ourselves of our identity in Christ and that we are made in the image of God, who was able to separate identity from behaviour. Who does He say that we are? Are we a girl in the cinders or a Cinderella? (cheesy I know). Jesus can set us free from the lies that we have believed about ourselves. Sometimes we may feel like we are walking around the same mountain. And some of us will be walking around this mountain with a small backback, whereas others may be carrying a very heavy overnight pack. But we can be free from the cycle of shame, pain avoidance, and control. God wants His people to be a people of honour, but we can’t walk in honour when we are carrying shame. There is hope, and the Bible says that that we are not to be afraid:
‘Do not be afraid, you will not suffer shame.
Do not fear disgrace, you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth and remember n o more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your maker is your husband
The Lord Almighty is his Nme.
The Holy One of Israel is Your redemmer,
he is called the God of all the earth.’
We can be restored to God’s original design for our lives. Instead of our shame we can receive a ‘double portion’ (Isaiah 61:7). We can walk restored in His glory and we can ‘love others to life’. And my favourite quote from this seminar was – ‘We ought to be so filled with the love of God that we splash on people.’ Let’s pursue healing and wholeness so that we can jump in puddles.