All of us to one degree or another carry around shame. Things we’ve done, things done to us. Things we’ve said, things said to us. Things we wished we had done, and things we wish that others had done. Shame shows up in all kinds of places and in all kinds of people.
What we often overlook is how much shame shapes our identity and our lives. It becomes a driving force in our lives, how we work and how we relate to others and God.
In Future Grace: The Purifying Power of the Promises of God, John Piper says shame comes from three causes:
- Guilt. This is the one many of us know well. The addiction, the hidden sin, the abuse we don’t talk about, the affair, the divorce, the poor parenting, our failure at work and in life. We carry around guilt for ourselves and often without thinking, for others. When guilt becomes public knowledge, we have shame. Now we are known for what we have feared.
- Shortcomings. Shortcomings and failures are something all of us experience. Some of them are real and others imagined. Some are life shaping, and other shortcomings we simply shrug off. It is the ones that are life shaping that lead to shame. When our frame of mind says, “You are a failure, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t beautiful, strong enough or worthwhile”, we experience shame.
- Improprieties. These are the experiences in our life where we feel silly, look stupid or are embarrassed. We make a mistake, and it feels like everyone knows about it.
What do you do with your shame?
According to Romans 10:11, if you are a follower of Jesus, you will not be put to shame.
Yet shame is a driving factor in the lives of so many.
Here are six ways to move forward from your shame:
1. Name your shame. If you don’t name something, it takes ownership of you. This is a crucial step. You must name the hurt, the guilt, the shortcoming, the impropriety, the embarrassment, the abuse, the loss, the misstep, the sin. If you don’t, you stay stuck.
I’ve met countless people who couldn’t say the name of an ex, name the situation of hurt or talk about something. This doesn’t mean that you are a victim or wallow in your pain, but naming something is crucial. Without this first step, the others become difficult to impossible.
The saying, “Whatever we don’t own, owns us”, applies here. This is a crucial, crucial step.
2. Identify the emotions attached to it. Many times when we are hurt, we are an emotional wreck and can’t see a way forward. All we know is that we are hurt, that life isn’t as we’d hoped, but we aren’t sure what to do.
What emotions are attached to your shame? Is it guilt? Loss? Failure? Missed opportunity? Sadness? Hopelessness? Indifference?
Name the emotion that goes with your abuse, abandonment, divorce, failed business, dropping out of school, not meeting your expectations or the expectations of someone else.
Often times we feel shame when we have a different emotion attached to it, but shame is far more familiar to us. Do you feel neglected or hurt or sad? What emotion is conjured up from a memory?
3. Confess the sins that are there. Do you always have sin when you feel shameful? No. Sometimes it is misplaced shame. It is shame you have no business owning. You didn’t sin; someone else sinned against you.
Sometimes, though, there is a sin on your part. You may have sinned, and that’s why you feel shame. Sometimes your sin might be holding on to that person or situation.
Sometimes you need to confess that your shame is keeping you from moving forward and keeping you stuck.
Bring those sins to light.
4. Grieve the loss. When we have shame, there is a loss. This loss might be a missed opportunity or missed happiness. It might be bigger than that and be a missed childhood, a loss of your 20’s, a loss of health or job opportunity.
It might be a relationship that will never be, something you can never go back to.
As you think about your shame, what did you lose? What did you miss out on? What did that situation prevent you from doing or experiencing? What hurt do you carry around? What will never be the same because of that situation?
5. Name what you want. This one is new for me, but it has to do with your desires.
Often the reason we stay stuck is because we know what stuck is. We don’t know what the future holds. Beyond that, we don’t know what we actually want.
We carry shame around from a relationship with a father who walked out. Do you want a relationship? Do you want to be in touch?
We carry shame from a failed business. Do you want to get back in the game?
Can you name, in the situation associated with your shame, what you want?
Sadly, many people cannot.
If you can’t name what you want, if you can’t identify a desire, you will struggle to move forward.
6. Identify what God wants you to know about Him. When we carry around shame, we carry around a lie. In identifying that lie, we are identifying the truth that God wants us to know about Him.
If you feel unloved, the truth that God wants you to know is that you are loved. If you feel unwanted, God wants you to know you are wanted. If you feel dirty, God wants you to know the truth that in Him you are clean.
All throughout scripture we are told that God is a Father, that He is as close to us as a mother nursing her child, that God is compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, gracious, tender, strong and for us.
The list goes on and on.
In that list, though, is the truth, the antidote to your shame and what you need to remind yourself of to move forward and live into the freedom of Jesus.
Freedom is hard.
Let’s be honest, freedom is difficult. Living in sin, shame, guilt and regret is easy. It is what we know. It is where most people live and reside.
Freedom is scary. Freedom is unknown. Freedom leaves us vulnerable. Freedom leaves us not in control.
Yet, this is what it means to be a child of God. To live in freedom. Overflowing freedom.