Shame…and Forgiveness

Sometimes when I choose to write, I don’t choose my topics as much as they choose me through circumstance, conversation, or repetition. That last one is the case here. The topic of shame has been coming around quite often for the past few days, in various ways and places. It started with a movie. That night it woke me up at 3:30 am. Then showed up in another movie. Then it became part of the discussion at Sunday Bible class. Once, and it’s easy to dismiss as a random thought. Twice, maybe a coincidence. Any more than that, and it’s God trying to tell me something.

My wife and I watched a wonderful little film on PureFlix called Old Fashioned. It was the story of a young man and young woman, totally different in lifestyle and philosophy. She rents an apartment from him; he won’t come in while she’s there. He explains he doesn’t allow himself to be alone with a woman except in very public places, doesn’t believe in dating because it doesn’t prepare one for marriage, and doesn’t believe in kissing a woman on the lips before they’re married. It’s old fashioned, and in my opinion very admirable, and it earns him a great deal of ridicule and scorn from friends and those who know him.

But she’s intrigued because her background is anything but that. She’s a free spirit, going wherever the road takes her, and is “spiritual but not religious”. But as they interact (she keeps having things in the apartment “break” and ends up sitting on the porch while he fixes them) she becomes attracted to him, and he finally agrees to go out with her (just not on a “date”). As expected, their relationship develops, but he’s unable to tell her how he feels about her or give her what she wants and needs, which is expressions of affection, love or even attraction. Then suddenly, it hits a brick wall and looks like it’s over.

You see, both have things in their past which haunt them, especially him. As the story progresses you learn he’s done some awful stuff in his younger days, before “Christ got hold of me”. He’s trying to be the man God wants him to be, but he’s never let go of the shame of his past, and it comes back to haunt him. He reaches the conclusion that “I’m never supposed to be with anyone”. Suddenly the reason for his trying to end the relationship begins to become clear.

Shame is a horrible trap, a burden that none of us can ever bear alone. It’s a tool Satan uses to keep us enslaved, a chain he jerks to remind us we’re terrible, broken people that no one, especially God, could ever love. It covers us with guilt, it deceives us into believing we don’t deserve anything good, and whenever something bad happens we tell ourselves it’s God’s punishment for whatever we did that caused the shame. It’s a dark, solitary prison cell that robs us of all of our hope. And it’s based on a lie.

Shame demands we must be perfect, even though we aren’t, can’t be, and never will be on our own. We’re not good enough; we don’t have it in us. Shame tells us we have to clean ourselves up before we can come asking forgiveness from God. Grace tells us we just need to come, and the blood of Jesus will clean us up completely. Shame won’t let us believe that. As one of the characters in another movie Hidden Secrets (another PureFlix gem-watch it) points out, “you mean, the blood of Christ is sufficient to cover your sins, but isn’t enough to cover mine?”. God tells us “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7-emphasis is mine).

The most miserable place we can ever find ourselves as a Christian is never feeling the peace of being forgiven. Our brains tell us God has forgiven us, and maybe even the ones we’ve hurt have, too. But our hearts don’t accept it. You’ve heard it; you’ve probably said it: “I’ll never be able to forgive myself”. Our shame demands punishment. It locks in on judgment and has no room for mercy or grace. Satan hands us the whip and tells us to beat ourselves with it.

Jesus tells us we don’t have to do that. We don’t have to carry the burden of our shame and constantly beat ourselves up with it. Listen to his words:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Mt 11:28)

It begins by coming to him. The way to do that is by surrender. Drop all those broken pieces of your life, your shame, your failings, your burdens, and yourself at his feet. Ask for his forgiveness for all the sin and rebellion that weighs you down. Repent and be baptized. What you get in return is rest, joy, peace, and contentment.

But don’t forget one absolutely essential final step. Once God has forgiven you and covered your sins with the blood of his Son, let go of the whip. Stop beating yourself up. Forgiving yourself is recognizing we are God’s chosen possession. If He’s forgiven us, who are we to do any less for ourselves? If your heart is full of shame God can’t fill it with his Spirit or his blessings. Shine with God’s glory; love yourself just as He’s shown he loves you. Then you can share with those who need and deserve a little love and grace. It’s the best thing of all, just like I’m doing for you.