As a child and into my teen years I experienced the trauma of abuse, abandonment, and neglect. While the circumstances of those words may look different for everyone, they are real experiences that leave their mark on each one of us. For me, it led to an underlying, deep, and haunting sense of shame that affected every area of my life.
Shame is not something we talk about. It is too painful. Too painful to express. Too painful to listen to. So, we turn away. We change the subject. We pretend we didn’t hear. Maybe for fear our own shame might be exposed…
Shame is that intense darkness that follows you, taunts you, gnaws away at your very sense of self. Rejection. Self-loathing. Unworthiness. These are just some of the faces that shame wears as it drives you into a closet of hiding. But then fear enters. Fear of exposure: someone might discover my shame. Then fear gives way to anxiety: what will I do if someone sees my shame? And it becomes unbearable. Brene’ Brown describes it this way, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance or belonging.”
My shame originated from my father who spoke words of shame over me as a young child. I had done nothing to suggest or deserve those words, yet they stuck like a poison dart in the middle of my forehead. And then my father left, abandoned me, further confirming those words of rejection and shame.
Shame is the feeling or belief that we are bad. It is different from guilt that says we did something bad – that we can apologize for and find forgiveness. See, I believed somewhere deep in my spirit that I was bad, and there could be no forgiveness for that. The feelings of rejection and ridicule became the expectation and so I had to brace myself, harden myself, make sure no one knew that I cared… never let them see you sweat.
Fear. Anxiety. Insecurity. Anger. All words I could use to describe my feelings that shame evoked in me. I worked hard to mask these feelings and to just try and fit in. But my mask just covered the exterior and did not change what was really going on underneath. In fact, my mask never really fit well and began to rub and create a greater wound than it was covering.
The pain needed to be managed. So, I turned to many different things to soothe it, mask it, even deny it. But that only served to multiply the shame, and to drive me away from the one thing that could heal that wound and take away my shame – Jesus.
Even as Jesus pursued me throughout my teen years, I believed I was unworthy. The shame I carried was too entrenched to even believe that Jesus would want a relationship with me, would want to save me, to heal me – that I was worth enough for him to die for me.
The truth is, that is why Jesus came to earth, to demonstrate an unconditional love that included everyone, even the outcasts, and the “untouchables” like me. The invitation to surrender my life and receive a new life in Jesus was a relief once I was able to accept this new truth: Jesus died to save me, to heal me, and to have a relationship with me. When we can accept and embrace the forgiveness Jesus offers us, we are loosed of our burden of sin and freed from our prison of shame.
Once I decided not to run and hide anymore but to embrace the love that Jesus offered, I began to heal from my father’s hurtful words. It was then that my self defining words of fear, anxiety, insecurity, anger, began to be transformed and I began to see myself as God sees me; His beautiful, precious child. Because of Jesus I have found healing from the hurtful words of my father and my descriptive words: fear, anxiety, insecurity, angry, have been transformed as I grew to see myself the way that God sees me: faithful, calm, assured, forgiving. Knowing God personally, as a father who loves me unconditionally, has changed my understanding of myself – I am not bad. I am God’s precious child, dearly loved.
My healing became transforming as I was changed by the love of Jesus. God uses all things for our good and for God’s glory, including shame. My healing from shame has brought me from a defensive, hiding place to a place of vulnerability and empathy for others who struggle with shame.
It is in the sharing of our stories that we most often find healing; sharing my story here is part of my healing. As I am healed, I begin to recognize the new gift of empathy I have received. This gift of empathy helps me to come alongside others without judgement or agenda, but with love and acceptance, just like Jesus. God has used even this for the preparation of my calling to chaplaincy, where I find myself face to face with people just like me, suffering from hidden shame and feeling unworthy of love or deserving of the hard place they find themselves in.
I now know shame is a lie. It is not of God. We were created by God to be shame-less.
Genesis 2:25 “Adam and Eve were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
In the perfection of the original creation, there was no need to hide from God or each other. Of course, we know that is not how the story ends, sin enters the garden and corrupts the world. But because of Jesus, that is not how my story ends. Jesus came to restore me, and to walk with me through this life, as I continue to grow and be transformed into the person God originally created me to be – shame-less.
My prayer is that you would also find hope and healing in Jesus and render shame powerless in your life, that you would find yourself shame-less in Jesus.