Psychologists tell us that we can feel shame as young as infancy. They notice this in a baby’s facial expressions as a mom steps out of a room for a moment and then back in. As the baby hears the mother coming back into the room, he anticipates making joyful eye contact. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-zesty-self/200905/what-we-get-wrong-about-shame
If the mother is preoccupied when she enters and her eyes do not meet her baby’s eyes, the muscles in his neck lose their strength, his head drops down, he turns his face away from hers, his eyes are cast downward, and he may begin to drool. This, psychologists tell us, is the expression of shame. (Ibid)
When we feel shame, we are wounded from within and it is one of the most disturbing experiences we can ever feel about ourselves. (Ibid)
Perhaps you have not called this emotion by its proper name but the last time you were embarrassed in front of others what you felt was shame. (Ibid)
When you felt self-consciousness about your looks or about your performance, what you felt was shame. (Ibid)
The inferiority you feel in the presence of others or within yourself to accomplish a task because you don’t believe in yourself is shame. (Ibid)
The discouragement you feel after not winning, making the cut, or getting the job is shame. (Ibid)
“Shyness is shame in the presence of a stranger.” (Ibid)
Shame has been called “The master emotion,” because it is the one emotion that is difficult if not impossible to dismiss. It usually creates within us a feeling of deficiency that we then attempt to fix in some way.
The writer of Genesis makes it clear that in the beginning when God created Adam and Eve, there was nothing to fix. Genesis 2:25 says “that the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”
We don’t know what walking around like that would be like because even with clothes on we struggle with being self-conscious about how we look, if our hair is straight, makeup is just right, if we smell O.K., if our jeans make us look too fat, if our colors match. If anyone notices anything that’s not right, we are ashamed.
Sometimes our shame is caused by no fault of our own. Sometimes we bring shame upon ourselves.
When sin entered Adam and Eve’s world, everything changed. They felt shame for the first time. They had a feeling of being flawed, that something was wrong with who they were, and it was, for the first time. The shame they felt in their souls made them see their bodies in a different way. That is why they tried to cover themselves with fig leaves.
They felt guilt for disobeying God. When we do something wrong we sometimes feel guilt. Shame goes much deeper than feeling guilt. Shame can be felt even when we have done nothing wrong. Shame is felt when we believe we are unloved and unaccepted.
When God went into the Garden of Eden, he knew where Adam and Eve were. He didn’t look for them because he didn’t know where they were. His looking was to let us know Adam and Eve know that he cared about them and that he knew they were hiding. They were ashamed of what they had done.
In dealing with their sin, God separated their actions into two parts. First, God dealt with their shame with grace. He made coverings of skin to cover their nakedness. Secondly, He dealt with their sin by casting them from the garden.
Notice the order in which they are dealt with. God first extends grace before there’s any hint of judgment.
People are told every day through the media, their peers, and their family that there’s something fundamentally wrong with them. If you don’t drink this product, there is something fundamentally wrong with you. If you don’t wear this product, there is something fundamentally wrong with you. If you don’t hang out with this group, listen to this music, look at this on the Internet, believe this about those people, dress a certain way, make these kinds of grades, drive this kind of car, smoke this, have this sexual ethic, raise your children like this, spend your money on these things, do as you are told, achieve this level of success, earn this much money, there is something fundamentally wrong with you. What people need first and foremost is grace.
Listen to these words from Margarie Williams’ Velveteen Rabbit: “The model boat, who had lived through two seasons and lost most of his paint, caught the tone from them and never missed an opportunity of referring to his rigging in technical terms. The Rabbit could not claim to be a model of anything, for he didn’t know that real rabbits existed; he thought they were all stuffed with sawdust like himself, and he understood that sawdust was quite out-of-date and should never be mentioned in modern circles.
“Even Timothy, the jointed wooden lion, who was made by the disabled soldiers, and should have had broader views, put on airs and pretended he was connected with Government. Between them all the poor little Rabbit was made to feel himself very insignificant, and the only person who was kind to him at all was the Skin Horse.
If we want to overcome shame, we must be real by listening to the voice of God rather than to the other voices that seek to put us down.
Most of us have felt as insignificant as the Rabbit at some point. It might have been because of something we have done. However, sometimes it is because of people who take great gratification in lifting up our deficiencies. It might have been someone’s goal to humiliate us, bully us, trick us, or take advantage of us.
Recently a thirteen-year-old committed suicide after her father punished her by cutting off her hair and posting her punishment on the Internet. He publicly shamed her and a day later she killed herself, not realizing that as terrible as shame is, it is something that we can overcome, but she can never overcome taking her life.
To keep from feeling all alone, some people pretend to have it all together and they hide within a group. While they would never want to be singled out and shamed for anything, they will allow another person to be singled out, alienated, made to feel worthless and ashamed, just so they can hide from their own inadequacies. This, of course, is not the way to overcome shame, by making sure it happens to someone else.
There were likely some like that in a group of men that brought a woman to Jesus at the Temple where he was teaching a crowd. While he was speaking the teachers of the religious leaders and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.
Can you see her face? No, you can’t, and neither can any one else because the shame of this moment means she is not showing it to anyone.
So, there she is, at Jesus’ feet as the accusers tell Jesus she has been caught in the act of adultery and they ask Jesus what should be done with her. “The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” they asked.
So he stood up and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.
People have pondered for centuries what Jesus was writing. Some say he wrote some of the sins of the woman’s accusers in the dust. I think he was writing words for the woman to read because she was the one looking at the dust. Her shame would not have allowed her to look up.
I think Jesus was writing something that she could read, something that would give her hope, something to restore her sense of self-worth, to assure her that she was loved and accepted.
Just as God looked for Adam and Eve to cover them in their shame, Jesus looked to cover this woman in hers.
After Jesus told the group that the one who was without sin could cast the first stone at this woman, they all began to leave until Jesus was left with this woman and probably along with a lot of unused stones.
Jesus asked the woman: “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”
“No, Lord,” she said.
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
Dr. Fred Craddock was vacationing once with his wife in Gatlinburg, TN. One morning, they were eating breakfast at little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished-looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” But sure enough, the man did come over to their table.
“Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice.
“Oklahoma,” they answered.
“Great to have you here in Tennessee.” the stranger said. “What do you do for a living?”
“I teach at a seminary,” he replied.
“Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I’ve got a really great story for you.”
And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple. The professor groaned and thought to himself, “Great… Just what I need–another preacher story!”
The man started, “See that mountain over there?” pointing out the restaurant window. Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, ‘Hey, boy, Who’s your daddy?’ “Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’ He would hide at recess and lunchtime from other students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad.
“When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’. But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.
“Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, ‘Son, who’s your daddy?'” The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, ‘Who’s your daddy?’. This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy:
“‘Wait a minute!’ he said. ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.’ With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.
With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again.
Whenever anybody asked him, ‘Who’s your Daddy?’ he’d just tell them, ‘I’m a Child of God’.” The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?”
The professor responded that it really was a great story!
As the man turned to leave, he said, “You know, if that new preacher hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably never would have amounted to anything!” And he walked away.
The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over and asked her, “Do you know who that man was who just left that was sitting at our table?”
Becoming real is a process of learning to listen to the correct voices in our lives.
Any voice that tells us that we are flawed beyond repair because of something we have done or because of something that has been done to us is a lie from Satan that seeks to destroy our self-esteem and create shame that seeps into our souls.
The cross is the emblem of suffering and shame. Jesus experienced the humiliation of being stripped of his clothes, beat within a breath of death, hoisted on a cross, to take our sins upon himself so he could defeat death. The love of Jesus covers your shame. His victory over death is so we can also have victory over the shame of our deficiencies.
The strength to move past our shame is found in the same place the adulterous woman found it, in the grace of Jesus. It is in the same place that 12-year-old Ben Hooper found it, in knowing he was a child of God.
If you bring shame with you to church today, why take it home with you? Why not leave it here? Let the grace of Jesus remove it from your life, and go live for Jesus. Go claim your inheritance.