When I was in 5th grade, I tripped over a low-hanging chain link fence – about six inches off the ground – and fell in front of the entire playground. It was an embarrassing moment, but instead of acknowledging the moment and moving on, I felt shamed. Other equally minor moments of shaming have amplified and reinforced that moment on the playground, but until recently, I’ve never been able to tell anyone about those, admittedly, incredibly minor incidents.
There are many other incidents and situations from my adult life that have been far more shameful and some for which I should be ashamed! But I was able to talk about them. I had to talk about them, or I would have died inside. The Lord, who came to cover my guilt and shame, worked to make sure I knew that the big stuff that resulted in guilt and shame was covered. But I never brought Him the little stuff that had built up from childhood. And the thing about shame is, that the longer we take to share our story, the tighter shame’s grip has on our hearts and with each passing day, the feeling of shame only grows and becomes bigger and scarier to reveal, no matter how ridiculous that might seem to others.
Shame is different from guilt. Guilt uses courtroom imagery before the Judge while shame comes upon us in the public square. When I am guilty, only the eyes of the Judge who declares me innocent matters; but when I’ve been shamed, it feels like everyone knows it. In our guilt we are legally liable and need salvation, forgiveness, and cleansing; in our shame, we need forgiveness and cleansing, but we also need to be included and invited back into the community. Guilt names our sin and begs forgiveness; shame, rather, becomes our very identity and needs to be renamed.
A perfect example of this comes from Hosea. When two of Hosea’s children are born, the Lord tells him to name his daughter “No Mercy” and to name His son “Not My People.” He names them as outcasts, disobedient and disinherited lawbreakers, representing the flagrant apostasy of Israel. But God does not leave it there. He calls them back through the promise to rename them “Children of the Living God” (1:10), You are my people and You have received mercy (2:1). Shame needs to be renamed.
The truth is that the Lord covered both my guilt and my shame many years ago. I no longer walk as one naked and exposed to the mocking crowd, but instead have a robe of righteousness, a robe of priestly garments, and carry the name of Beloved Daughter. Learning to walk in that reality, however, has been a process. Yet God delights to uncover what we have hidden, and not for the purpose of humiliation, but for the purpose of redemption. Our part in the process is to share the stories of shame and guilt, so that we can also share the stories of God’s healing. The Lord calls us not only to walk in the His Light (John 8:12). but to be lights of the world ourselves (Matt 5:14).
I hope you can trust the One who knows all your stories, the painful ones as well as the joy-filled ones, enough to share with another believer those things which have caused you to hide. There’s freedom in speaking the stories because in so doing we drain the power of the lies the devil has held over us and learn to walk in the freedom Christ died to give us.
Here you can read perspectives on life, ministry and God's Word from a variety of PCC's female leaders.