Have you ever felt like a failure? Have you ever told yourself that you are too ugly or too fat to wear something? Have you ever not done an activity because you felt that you were not good enough? Have you ever told yourself you are unworthy and thus will never be in a relationship? If you have said any or all of these statements to yourself, then you will know the voice of shame. Shame is an insidious, merciless, and unrelenting emotion. Our first parents also knew the voice of shame. We do not see this word in the Yahwist’s account of the fall into sin. Rather we have words “I was afraid” when Adam and Eve realized that they were naked and they hid for fear of God. (Genesis 3:10) If you place yourself in the story of Adam and Eve after they listened to the serpent and disobeyed God, you will find the all too familiar voice that sounds a lot like the messages above. “You are a failure.”
Shame is a huge problem that silently infects society and proclaims loudly inside our heads. If we take a closer look at shame we can see that it contains no elements of good. It is entirely bad, harmful and unhelpful. What is the cause of shame? Sin is the cause of shame. The first time we can see shame is immediately following the entry of sin into the world. Because of sin, there is shame. There is nothing good about sin. Sin tears us away from the love of our Father in Heaven. Sin damages our spiritual health which in turn affects our physical and mental health. Likewise, shame tears us away from the love of our Father because it makes our relationships cloudy and murky, but it also corrupts our mental and physical health.
Messages of shame often start in childhood. The messages can be blatantly instilled in us by our parents or more subtly instilled, such as by bullies at school. However it enters, it does so with the aid of sin. Shame is so sinister that sometimes we do not even know that these shame voices have infested our minds so thoroughly. And these shame statements linger into our adulthood and further erode our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. So, what can we do about shame?
We have established that shame is bad. Shame never helps us. Yet so often we give into the voice of shame and then we get further ingrained in shame messages to the point that we cannot see anything good about ourselves. And where you find shame, sin will be lurking, and where there is sin, so too will shame be. We need to rid ourselves of shame. Shame is a product of sin. But we are children of God. We need to let go of our shame. We need to let go of the shame statements that we are too fat, ugly, unworthy, unlovable, etc.
Once we have identified that a belief we have about ourselves is related to shame, we should discard it. We need to fill our minds with loving statements and statements that will bolster our physical, mental and spiritual health. We can create different statements to build ourselves up, such as statements of love and worth. This exercise can be a very painful one especially if we have experienced trauma and abuse. The love statements can feel so foreign because we are so used to the shame. But with practice, we can start to override the shame. Christ conquered sin on the Cross, and he has made it such that with his ever present and enduring love, we can conquer shame.
If we are not aware of our shame or our experiences are such that we are completely entangled in shame, we can believe that we are truly unworthy and unlovable, which can lead to significant mental health challenges. Through the sin of the world, we are led to believe that we are horrible, rejected, and worthless. But if we really look at this, this is the voice of the devil and of sin. We forget that our Father loves us despite our faults, our failings, and our shame. It is through Christ’s sacrifice that we are reconciled to God and our sin and shame are wiped away. What did God do for Adam and Eve’s sin? He sent a Savior. What did God do for their shame? He clothed them. God loved them, he cared for them. We are not pieces of trash in God’s eyes. God loves us and is always calling us back to him, even in our sin and shame. God does not want us to continue in our sin or our shame. God’s message to us is one of love. Who are we to disbelief our Creator? Who are we to give into sin and shame? When we turn from sin, let us also turn from our shame. For sin and shame belong together. But thanks to Christ, we belong to love and to God. “Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” (Jude 1:21)