One of the most destructive forces in the lives of men is shame. It’s the conviction that there is something profoundly, uniquely and permanently dysfunctional about who I am. It’s deep, it’s defective, it’s only true of me and it’s permanent.
You scratch the surface of just about any self-protective and harmful action of men, and you’ll find shame. It’s behind the compulsion to control circumstances or to compensate for flaws or to alleviate pain that often results in behavior that harms ourselves and others.
WHAT SHAME ISN’T
1. It’s Not Lack of Decency. The way I’m using the word shame here is not the way it is commonly used to describe public decency, or an understood sense of decorum.
That’s one way of using the word shame, and it refers to an appropriate sensitivity to commonly understood public behavior. That’s not how I’m using the word.
2. It’s Not the same as Guilt. Guilt is about behavior; it’s black and white. We’re either guilty of a certain action or we’re innocent. It is true of us.
The Holy Spirit convicts us of our guilt. And God forgives us. The price is paid; the sin is gone from God’s memory as far as the east is from the west.
WHAT SHAME IS
1. Shame is unlike guilt in almost every way.
It is not based on external behavior; it is an attack on internal identity. It is not clearly black and white, it is enshrouded in a gray haze that we are often blind to.
It is full, not of conviction, but of condemnation. Far from being the truth, it is a lie about us. And the primary voice is not from the Holy Spirit. The primary voice is from Satan himself. Shame is an attack on our very identity; it’s a lie that we begin to agree with.
Lewis Smedes, a professor at Fuller School of Theology, says: “Shame is a very heavy feeling that we don’t measure up…The feeling of shame is about our very selves not about something bad we said or did but about who we are. It tells us that we are unworthy. Totally.”
We even see shame’s presence when we read a bumper sticker that says, “Lord, please help me be the person my dog thinks I am.”
For those of us who are Christ followers, when we’re honest we admit that we still have doubts, fears and deep disappointment about the quality of Christian we are. We know we’re forgiven, but we struggle to fully believe we are accepted. That is shame talking.
2. Shame is the heavy mask that covers our doubt of the value of our identity in Christ.
We hide our shame behind numerous masks:
We become perfectionists—deep inside we have flaws we want to cover up
We become workaholics—compensating for a lack of worth by pursuing success
We intimidate others with anger and violence—lest they see our fear or weakness
We retreat into passivity—taking no chance that we might fail once again
We pursue addictive behavior—to comfort and quiet the voices of condemnation
Shame is both the source and the consequence of our sin.
Smedes gives excellent insight on this in his book, Shame and Grace.
1. The Fall in the Garden.
In the grand scheme of things shame entered the biblical picture very early on, when Adam and Eve betrayed God’s trust in them by eating the fruit forbidden to them. Genesis 3 tells us that they immediately noticed they were naked and they covered themselves up. It’s as if they realized, “I am now exposed for others to see. There is something about me now that must be hidden, even from God’s eyes.”
When God called to them they hid themselves because they were…ashamed.
2. Secular culture.
All we have to do is watch 2 hours of prime-time TV, especially the commercials, and we will see a series of messages that are at their heart shame-filled. What you own, where you live, what you drive, how you look, how you dress, how you smell, who you are simply does not measure up.
There is something wrong with virtually everything about you. You fall embarrassingly short of our culture’s minimum standards. Shame on you.
3. Graceless religion.
In their encouragement of a Christ-like lifestyle many churches pass on a message that is more about effort and performance than it is about grace and transformation. Show up more, give more, serve more, impress others and satisfy a judgmental God who, though he loves us, is taking notes. And he doesn’t grade on a curve. “So be careful little hands what you do.”
Smedes says, “A person can catch a healthy case of shame in church.”
4. Unaccepting parents.
Sadly, some of us have been formed by parents whose primary messages were along the lines of : “Shame on you.” “I’m ashamed of you.” “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
Those words can’t help but result in shame. A child, teen, or young adult ends up believing: There is something so broken and dark about me that others have every right to reject me. Even my parents. Even God. I AM ashamed of myself.
5. The Enemy.
The seeds of our shame begin in the original fallenness of the Garden, those seeds are planted and watered by our secular culture, by graceless churches and unaccepting parents. But the true nurturer of our shame is the Enemy himself.
He takes that seed and covers it in the dark soil of hiddenness, fertilizes it with self-condemnation until it grows into a weed that wraps around us and clings to our view of ourselves.
HEALING OUR SHAME
1. We embrace grace.
The beginning of healing from shame is to remind ourselves that though we were once marinated in sin, we are now bathed in grace.
Ro. 3:24 tells us we “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Jesus Christ.” That’s it; that’s all; that’s enough. It’s all about Grace.
2. We believe what God says about forgiveness and acceptance.
Men, you are not only forgiven; you are accepted by the One whose acceptance matters the most. Never to be rejected or abandoned. Hebrews 10 is a chapter fully given to reminding Christians that while the animal sacrifices of old were repeated annually, the sacrifice of Jesus is once for all. Verses 17, 18 say, “Their sinless and unlawful acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin”!!
3. We soak ourselves with the truth of God’s words about us.
Psalm 139 says you were knit together by God in your mother’s womb. Specifically; on purpose. Before you lived one day, God already knew you. That’s significance beyond anything else.
Galatians 4:4-7 says that because Jesus sacrificed himself for you, you are no longer a slave; you’re a son. And because you are a son you are an heir. You are a legitimate recipient of an eternal inheritance.
4. We believe what God’s word says about shame: Romans 8:1
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Or as The Message puts it, we “no longer have to live under a continuous low-lying black cloud.”
No condemnation! Conviction? Sure. That comes from the Holy Spirit; it’s about our behavior. That gets forgiven and forgotten. Condemnation? None. Condemnation attacks our value and worth in God’s eyes; it comes from the Enemy, and it’s a lie from the pit of Hell.
Psalm 25:3 “No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame…” Look at those words, “No one,” “ever”. They are pretty inclusive.
Psalm 34: 4, 5. “I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”
How often are we covered with shame? Never!
5. We reject it.
Repeatedly. Verbally. That means out loud so Satan hears it.
Friends, there is no reason the enemy shouldn’t continue his attacks on us.
In the same way, there is no reason for us to hesitate to pray against them.
Shame has become like a cloak around us. It has taken years to collect it. It may take years to finally be freed of it. It has become so conformed to us that sometimes we think it IS us.
It’s not. We must pray that God removes shame, separates us from it. Takes it away and burns it in the trash heap it belongs in.
“I sought the Lord and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.”
My greatest joy in life is my family. I know, that sounds like the comment you’re supposed to make as a man and father. All I can say is I literally shake my head in wonder at the family I have: my wife Beryl; my daughter Barclay and son-in-law Vince, their four daughters, Bella, Brynn, Brooke and Blake; my son Alec, my son Conor and daughter-in-law Bonnie, their daughter Gemma and son Calvin. Every one of them is a genuine gift. Beyond that, I have a calling that I live out through Peregrine Ministries. It is to help men: Understand their identity in Christ, Embrace their role as men, and Live out their God-given calling in life. Bottom line is I’m convinced men matter and I want to help them live life on purpose.