When I was much younger in my faith and less sure of who I was in Christ, I listened to a man break down Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians, and when I say break down, I literally mean it was a broken attempt to handle the passage in biblical context. His words did not line up with truth, so I dismissed the lies as best I knew how. Shame, however, hung around to bully my soul.
Shame choked my identity and called my ability to serve in the body of Christ into question. I’d feel shame’s hot, prickly breath on the back of my neck anytime I spoke up with conviction. Our enemy’s favorite tactic is to convince us there is something innately wrong with the way God made us.
Shame keeps us from the truth.
I decided early on that using my voice brought pain, so I vowed to keep my mouth shut. For many, many years, I kept this vow until God said, “Enough.” It cost me a great deal more to stay silent than speak up. A recent trip to the dentist with my seven-year-old gave me a whole new perspective on what it really takes to shrug off shame for good.
By the time our youngest daughter came along, my older girl had started brushing her teeth all by herself. When one of her permanent teeth pushed its way up, there wasn’t much room in her tiny mouth. She struggled to reach it with her toothbrush. When I noticed the yellowish-brown color of that same tooth, I encouraged her do a better job brushing.
I felt responsible for the neglected tooth. No amount of brushing could restore the brightness of her tooth. On her last cleaning visit, the dentist used a big long doctor word to explain the discoloration. Apparently, this happened when the tooth was still in the tooth bed. A couple of factors might be responsible, including a high fever or antibiotics. Poor brushing did not cause the discoloration.
As soon as we stepped into the hallway, I told my girl how sorry I was, how wrong I was to blame her for the condition of her tooth. As she dropped her head, I recognized that classic look of shame. I lifted her chin up so her eyes met mine. “Momma made a mistake. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”
She cracked a grin and broke the silence with, “Of course, Mom! Everybody makes mistakes.” And just like that, we both let it go. It doesn’t always happen quite like that, but God spoke through this situation like a megaphone to my heart.
Freedom from shame comes through forgiveness.
The shame I allowed to silence me all those years ago originated from something false, something contrary to the Word of God. Just as my daughter’s shame about her tooth came from a misconception from someone she looked up to—her own mother.
Sometimes the people we look up to most—teachers, leaders, even parents—get it wrong. But no one is outside the reach of grace. When I told my girl that I was sorry, the truth exposed her shame, and forgiveness set her heart free.
Shame has no place in our lives as believers. Freedom isn’t found in walking out our callings or calling out our shame, though both are necessary and crucial as we defend our faith. We experience the freedom Jesus purchased for us when we forgive the very ones who heaped on shame intentionally or unintentionally.
When I first noticed my daughter’s tooth, I felt ashamed for the limits that caring for a newborn had put on me. I felt shame that I did not help my oldest do a better job brushing her teeth. In his memoir All is Grace, Brennan Manning says that shame that isn’t transformed is transferred.
Shame passes on shame.
As I apply this to my own story and my own wounds, I now understand that the shame I felt years ago could have been a result of my shamers’ own shame. And I have everything I need to shrug shame off at the feet of Jesus.
When we bring our shame to the foot of the cross, we discover the only place true forgiveness is possible. Forgiveness breaks the shackles of shame, and apologies are never prerequisites. Jesus longs to transform our shame into radiant beauty. He’s the only One who is both willing and able.
If you’ve felt the weight of shame, you’re not alone. We’ve all been shamed, and we’ve all shamed someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. We’ve been wronged, and we all get it wrong from time to time. But as we take our wounds to Jesus, may we remember that we’ve been scandalously forgiven, so we really can forgive and shrug off shame for good.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)
Jesus shamed shame on the cross so that our hearts could live in glorious freedom.