Shame is a poison that eats away at the fiber of our soul, leaving in its wake self-depreciation, fear, loneliness, despair, and a feeling of worthlessness.
Shame is often experienced as an inner, critical voice that accuses whatever we do as being wrong, inferior, or worthless. Jan Luckingham Fable describes it as “an unrelenting feeling of not being wanted” or of “being unworthy of being wanted.”
Shame leaves us with a deep-down conviction that we are worthless. When we do well, we still live with the fear that it will soon fall apart, for nothing good could possibly last in our lives. We expect to be rejected if the truth about us is found out. We live in constant worry over what others think of us. Shame leaves us striving under great internal pressure to prove that we are good, that we are acceptable, that we are worthy of filling a place on this earth.
Fable describes shame as a prison that “keeps a person caged in feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and even despair.”
What cure exists for the poison of shame?
Dr. Brene Brown states, “Shame cannot survive empathy.”
The cure for shame is to set yourself in the presence of someone (or Someone) who loves you unconditionally.
Shame leaves us doubting that anyone could love us unconditionally—not even God. But over and over again, the message of the Bible is spelled out that God loves us out of the overflowing of God’s enormous love rather than on the basis of any deserving deeds on our part.
Mike Yaconelli remarks, “Some of us actually believe that until we choose the correct way to live, we aren’t chooseable, that until we clean up the mess, Jesus won’t have anything to do with us. The opposite is true. Until we admit we are a mess, Jesus won’t have anything to do with us.”
David Benner adds, “The self that God persistently loves is not my prettied-up pretend self but my actual self—the real me.”
Jerry Sittser comments, “To our shock and bewilderment, we discover that there is a Being in the universe who, despite our brokenness and sin, loves us fiercely!”
Henri Nouwen points out, “We often confuse unconditional love with unconditional approval. God loves us without conditions but does not approve of every human behavior. God doesn’t approve of betrayal, violence, hatred, suspicion, and all other expressions of evil, because they all contradict the love God wants to instill in the human heart. Evil is the absence of God’s love. Evil does not belong to God.
“God’s unconditional love means that God continues to love us even when we say or think evil things. God continues to wait for us as a loving parent waits for the return of a lost child. It is important for us to hold onto the truth that God never gives up loving us even when God is saddened by what we do. That truth will help us to return to God’s ever-present love.”
Shame is a poison that eats away at the fiber of our soul. It is a prison that “keeps a person caged in feelings of worthlessness, self-hatred, and even despair.” But there is a cure: Set yourself in the presence of God’s unconditional love for you.
—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa. Pastor Tripp can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.