When we travel along the roads and highways in our city, it’s inevitable that we’ll face obstacles to steer around, detours to take and bumps to endure. But occasionally there are also those times when the road seems to end, and there’s no way through.
Just as we face dead-ends on the road, we also experience them in life. One of the most crippling dead-ends that we’ll face during our journey through life is that of SHAME.
Genesis 6:5 – 6:8
5 And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
6 And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.
7 And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.
All of us have moments of shame in our lives. It’s as common, and just as troubling, as the common cold. Shame can also feel like a heavy, leather coat that just weighs you down and hinders you from functioning properly… your chest gets heavy, your arms can’t raise up toward God, and your head can only hang low.
Lewis Smedes, author of the book, “Shame and Grace”, spoke of two different events in his life that opened him to the reality of shame.
In one event, he was speaking with a friend and stated, “I feel vaguely guilty about what I’ve done…” The friend replied, “I don’t think you feel guilty at all, Lew… I think what you feel is shame.” See, it’s possible for us to sometimes feel this thing called shame and not even realize what it is.
The other event in Smedes’ life was when his mother spoke to him as she lay dying in a hospital bed. “Oh, Lewis, I’m so glad that the Lord forgives me of all my sins; I’m a great sinner, you know?” she said.
This statement sounded incredible to him, because as he reviewed her life in his mind, she was the most righteous of women… a woman of prayer, a mother and wife, and a good Samaritan in so many ways. “When did she ever have time, and where did she ever get the energy to sin?” Here again, Lewis found that it was important to recognize his own condition, and to be honest with himself.
At the end of Genesis chapter 2, we read, “Although both Adam and his wife were both naked, neither of them felt any shame.” What does that mean?
Most of the time, we think it means Adam and Eve walked around the garden in their Birthday suits- which is probably true- but there is another kind of nakedness – it is a nakedness of spirit, of soul, which isn’t tainted by dishonesty, sin and deception. It’s like the nakedness of a newborn child. It’s what we would call, “Innocence”, or “Transparency”, today- a condition where there is no shame.
But then, in chapter 3, choices were made by Adam and Eve that changed everything. In verse 7, we read that, “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.”
Shame comes into the picture when the innocence and transparency in the relationship between God and mankind- and even among mankind alone- is shattered. They are ashamed, and their first reaction is to hide.
Perhaps you know what it’s like to feel ashamed. You know how it feels to not want to be in the presence of others, because somehow they will know what you’ve done, or who you “really” are. You feel as though being in church, or around other people, will only condemn you even more. But shame is a deceiver. Shame wants you to be shut out and isolated from the source of your help. Shame knows that if it can separate you from God and Godly people, it will be able to carve away at your resolve until you are reduced to a defenseless shadow of what God wants you to be.
Understand that there is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt can be a tremendous tool to turn you toward God. 2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
The first sorrow is a god-given guilt… it’s a motivation to change what you are. The second is a world-given shame… it’s motivation is to isolate you and defeat you.
Guilt says, “I’ve done something wrong”
Shame says, “There is something wrong with me.”
Guilt says, “I’ve made a mistake”
Shame says, “I am a mistake”
Guilt says, “What I did was not good”
Shame says, “I am no good”
One of the elements of shame is embarrassment. Can you recall a time when something you did embarrassed you? You felt stupid, dumb, and ashamed, didn’t you? You wanted to do what? Run and hide… just like Adam and Eve, right?
I want to point out something from our opening scripture… Verse number 6 says that it “repented the Lord that he made man.” In other words, God was sorry that he ever created mankind because of the wickedness they were creating. If it were ever possible for God to experience “shame”, then this would have been it. If there is any consolation to me in this verse, it is that God knows what we’re going through when we have done something and wish we hadn’t.
One key aspect of shame that we need to identify about shame is that while we make mistakes, we are not mistakes. God created us, and He doesn’t create mistakes. We are merely people who need forgiveness from God… we are not people beyond hope.
Have you ever thought or said, “I sometimes feel like a fake”? “I feel inadequate”? “I just feel like I can’t measure up to what I ought to be”?
These are thoughts of shame… and Jesus specifically had these types of people in mind when He said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus wants to remove that weight of shame in our lives.
Let’s look at those statements; “I sometimes feel like a fake.” Honestly, who doesn’t?! What is the shame in feeling like you have to put on a face sometimes just to make it through the day? Just because you mess up and have a tough time living up to what you want to be doesn’t mean you’re a hypocrite. A hypocrite is not someone who fails at something they try to do… but they’re rather a fraud, or phony… someone who purposely only pretends to have certain virtues in order to elevate their own public status. In Matthew 15, Jesus pointed out the true hypocrites when he scolded the Pharisees for forcing people to keep certain laws and then themselves breaking the ones that were convenient for them.
Honest confession about your shortcomings or flaws is not hypocrisy… all of us will feel like a fake from time to time. Even King David had to, “Encourage himself in the Lord” when he didn’t feel up to ‘par’.
What about the feeling of inadequacy? Do you realize that we are only ever truly “able” when we allow Christ to be our strength? Paul said in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It’s not about whether you are able- it’s about whether you’re avail-able. Christ is able… so let him be able in you.
Jesus told about two men in the temple praying and how one prayed, “I thank you God that I’m not a sinner like everyone else” especially like that tax collector over there!”… and the other man prayed, “Oh God… have mercy on me, for I am a sinner”. Jesus was very clear that it was the second man whose prayers were heard. The one who was honest about his condition.
There is nothing wrong with being honest about our own insufficiency. Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
What about the last statement, “I just don’t measure up.” I thank God that there is no ruler or measuring stick to compare ourselves against ourselves. In fact, the Bible says, “but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” It is not our job to, “measure up”- only to keep trying to go forward. The apostle Paul compared our walk with God to a race, and said, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Did you notice that he didn’t say, “The first are the winners and the last are the losers”? He is implying that there is room for all that finish. Whether you’re first, or last, as long as you make it, you’re a winner.
I want to encourage you to release yourself from the shame that you’ve been bound by. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” It is essential that we confess our shame. We need to get it out of our mind and heart and into an open forum where it can be dealt with. Shame wants to hide itself in the depths of us where it can never be destroyed. And while it’s hiding, shame will deceive you into believing it is gone, only to surface again when you least desire it to- it’s a slavemaster that refuses to let go, as long as it goes unrecognized and not dealt with.
Find a very close, godly friend, parent, pastor or counselor to share your shame with. Once you get it out into the open, where it can be dealt with privately, shame no longer has its power of secrecy to wield over you. You will expose the shame and it can now be prayed for, condemned and rebuked in your life. Sometimes it also helps to just write out your confession on paper, or to speak it into open air when nobody else is around.
But remember, in our opening scripture, we read that Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. It never said he was a man who was perfect or sinless- it just said that he found grace in God’s eyes. I wonder how many other people living around Noah would have found grace with God, had they only looked for it?
It’s time to release yourself from shame and give your passions back to God.