Lately, I’ve become aware that as soon as I wake up, my brain does something sinister. It performs an automatic scan to see exactly where I failed the previous day, and as soon as it hits something, my body elicits a shame wash.
Do you know what I mean by shame wash?
It’s that slimy, visceral response that starts at your neck and travels down your back. It’s hot, terrifying, and suffocating. If it’s especially strong, you sit down because you immediately feel weak and dizzy. A couple of weeks ago, a friend called and told me how something I said got badly misunderstood, and before he could even finish telling me, the shame wash had already snaked its way down my back, and even though I was in the middle of a huge lobby, I had to sit down.
Let’s remember: Guilt is feeling bad about something you’ve done that doesn’t reflect what you wanted to do. Guilt can be a positive emotion, leading to reconciliation and forgiveness.
Shame is something totally different.
Shame is believing not only that you did something bad, but that you are bad. I’m convinced most of us would give lots of grace to others who make mistakes, but to ourselves, we are merciless. We believe the slimy voice when it wakes us up. This is shame, and it echoes all around us throughout our entire day.
There is a time for confession, a time to come to God and others and ask for forgiveness. There is a time to hear that what you have done missed the mark. Healthy people know this.
But sometimes, when I hear Christians ask why “we” don’t talk more about sin, I wonder what is behind that question. Because I’m convinced that most of us are so incredibly aware of our sin and our missing the mark that we are paralyzed with the reality of it. Most of us don’t need to be reminded how wretched we are. Most of us are greeted with that message when we wake up in the morning, and that ghost follows us around all day. Most of us need to be reminded that sin no longer has the power to crush us. We need to be reminded we can be made new, and move on.
Here’s what I’m trying to do in order to silence the voices of shame:
- When I recognize I did something wrong (guilt), I’m going to try to name it and repair it as soon as possible. This might mean a quick phone call, an email, or a face to face meeting.
- When I recognize I’m feeling shame (I’m worthless and I’ll never get it right), I’m immediately replacing that voice with this one: “I’m God’s beloved son, and that is what defines me.” I’m going to literally say this to myself until the shame is silenced.
- I’m going to set aside a time every day bring any sins I’m aware of to God, asking for mercy. This is the only time I’m going to linger how I’ve missed the mark. And when I’m done, I’m moving on. Any other time, I’m going to repeat my mantra, I’m going to live in grace, mercy, and new beginnings.
This feels revolutionary.
This morning, I got an email from my friend Roy, who leads an organization that seeks to restore pastors who have fallen on hard times and need restoration. The email began with Psalm 35:5-6 from The Message:
God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks. Psalm 36:5-6
Yes, God is meteoric, astronomic, titanic, oceanic. Yet not one of my thoughts escapes God’s notice or concern. And God’s fundamental stance towards me and you is always and forever love.
Who’s with me?
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