Thursday, September 12, 2013

.on shame.

After reading a widely-publicized controversial blog article this week,
I was upset-
deeply and, it felt to me at the time, irrationally.

I was unable to get the writer's words out of my head for hours,
and I couldn't figure out why.

It discussed several topics about which I feel strongly,
but I couldn't tie my reaction to any one of those things.

After some reflection,
I realized that beyond any specific point,
I was reacting to what I felt was conveyed through the writer's tone and word choice:

I really really don't like shame.

The day after I read the article,
I had a long and great phone conversation with a close friend,
trying to figure out why I was freaking out...
and also discussing the role of shame.

Can it be helpful?
Setting aside this specific article for a minute,
shouldn't we feel ashamed when we really do things that are wrong?

Some of his questions gave me pause...

I spend a lot of time seeing the ways shame has been just flat-out ridiculously and wrongly applied.

I've worked with girls who have lived through abuse.

I have seen people shamed for being young, or uninformed, or fallible, or different.
(If I'm being honest... I have done some of that shaming, or at the very least agreed with it. And that makes me so sad.)

I know so many friends who carry shame

for things which have happened to them not through any choice of their own,

or for precious parts of themselves which have been rejected by others,

or for poor decisions which have been repented of and fully forgiven.

That is the context in which I am used to thinking about shame,
and it conditions me to reject it on principle.

But what about when we have really, really done something wrong?
Shouldn't we feel shame then?
Couldn't it maybe help us be better? Or make things right?

Is shame ever good?

After days of mulling it over,
here is what I have concluded,
what I have finally put my finger on that makes me reject shame so fully.

Shame does not allow relationship.

I took a Psychology of Shame class last summer.
The professor had us watch movie clip after movie clip of scenes where characters expressed shame, and note their body language and facial expressions.

Picture shame. Can you see a person pull back... break eye contact?

Picture feeling ashamed. Where do your eyes go?
Mine go to the floor.
Even just imagining it,
I can feel my body tense and curl into itself.

I don't want to look someone in the eye when I am ashamed.
I don't want them to touch me (which for me, is a really really big deal.)
When I feel shame, I don't want to stand close to others.

Shame isolates and separates.
Shame removes us from relationship with others.

And ultimately, it makes us apply that same separation to our relationship with God.

When I have sinned, I want to be convicted.

I want to feel bad. I want to feel regret. I want to be filled with remorse.
I need to see and feel what I have done.
I want to genuinely repent, to confess and apologize, to make it right,
to wince and own it.

Christianity is a relationship.

With God, and with others.

Repentance was designed to
lead to closer relationships.
When I have to ask someone to forgive me-
God or a human-
I am, in effect, taking a step towards them.
When they offer their forgiveness,
they are moving towards me as well.
Towards, towards, towards.

If I am ashamed,
I might mutter an apology; I might mean it.
But I won't be able to raise my eyes
to look up into their face to see the forgiveness there.

Keeps us away.

Break eye contact with Him?
Not let Him touch me?
Step away and stay separate;
hope He doesn't see me?


He doesn't let me.

Conviction, yes. Conviction leads us to move towards.

But shame...
Shame says we can't step closer,
can't be seen,
can't look openly into a face.

Shame says keep a distance and be alone.

May we never believe that lie.

Our God always longs to bring us near.

But now in Christ Jesus,
you who once were far off
have been brought near
by the blood of Christ.
Ephesians 2:13

Let us then with confidence
draw near
to the throne of grace,
that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Hebrews 4:16


Martyn Wendell said...


Beth Woolsey said...

Gorgeous! And so deeply true.

Kim McD said...

YES. Heart of the Lord, beautifully spoken. A good challenge for me as I consider how I parent-- to lean into convicting/correcting/drawing in and to step away from shame. Thank you!

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