There are few things as debilitating as shame.
Dr. Jung calls it “soul eating.” Dr. Brene Brown describes it as “corroding.” Shame undresses our defenses. It leaves our most vulnerable parts out in the open and then promises something bad is going to happen. Shame is the twin brother of fear. It moves and chains in the same way. It screams lies at us until we give up, because that’s what it wants.
It wants, more than anything, for us to stop. To freeze. To stop progressing, creating, loving, hoping.
Depression turns the lights off and makes you think nothing good exists. Shame turns the lights brighter so that you can see all the dirty parts that much clearer. If it can get you to focus hard enough, long enough, on those parts, you’ll stop believing you deserve anything good.
Shame is so deceptive because it gets you to do the destructive work for it. All it has to do is show you the way, highlight the failure, recall the sin – and your mind is off, running a thousand different scenarios but always coming back to the same conclusion: I’m not good.
This is the problem God wanted to fix. I want you to read the next part at least twice, because, if you are in the valley of shame, you won’t believe it the first time. If you’re in the valley, you probably won’t believe it even after reading it one hundred times. Still, I have to tell you because it’s true. And when I started to really believe it, I started to actually feel some freedom. Only moments at first. But then entire hours and eventually entire days. If you can get the seeds of this truth planted into your soul, your shame’s days are numbered.
God wants to get rid of your shame even more than you do.
I know this is true because of Hebrews 9. In this chapter, we read a lot about ancient temples and high priests and the practice of ceremonial sacrifice. Not exactly riveting stuff, until you get to the middle of the chapter.
The writer of Hebrews used all of this history for a reason. He (or she) was trying to make a point. You see, in the original order of things, temples only got us so close to God. High priests only had access to the presence of God once a year. And (pay attention to this!) sacrifices only cleaned the surface.
The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. Hebrews 9:13
Everything they did, all of their work and purity and prayers accomplished little more than a gas-station car wash. The outside was rinsed, but the inside still stunk. Empty soda cans, fast food wrappers, and gym clothes still littered the inside. There was still a smell, an uncleanliness…a shame.
But this is the good part because God KNEW it wasn’t enough. He knew there needed to be a deeper cleaning, so he had to provide a better sacrifice.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death…
Read that last part of verse 14 again – “cleanse our consciences.” Jesus came to clean our insides, not just our outsides. He came to rinse off the sin, but also to uproot the shame. He came to make the car not only look new but to feel new too.
Why? Why did God think it was essential to not only clean the outside, but also the inside? Important enough to send His only son to live, die, and rise? The macro-answer to that question is freedom. God wanted to set us free. From what, though, depends on us.
For me, in this season of my life, Christ sacrificed himself to free me from shame because shame was/is the thing keeping me from completing the promise of Hebrews 9:14…
So that we may serve the living God!
That’s the reason God wants our shame gone so badly. That’s the reason he wants you to be free even more than you do. Not because He wants to just put you to work, but because he wants you to bloom into the creation He intended – that can only happen through service – and service can only happen through movement.
When shame makes us stop and want to hide, it’s also insidiously cutting us off from the one remedy that can kill shame. Look at verse 14 again. God “cleanses our consciences” from “acts that lead to death.” Those acts are what got us stuck in the first place. They are what tore us away from the joy, peace, and hope God promises. The memory of them is what fuels our shame. So in order to combat shame and accept the cleansing God provides, what are we to do?
Choose acts that lead to life.
Service, community, prayer, sacrifice, confession, worship – these are acts that lead to life. These are the actions we must choose if we are going to combat shame in a Biblical way. Hebrews 9:14 is a formula for inviting God to rid us of our shame. Accepting his cleansing is the Step 1. Choosing acts that lead to life is Step 2.
And this, like so much else in the spiritual life, is not a one-off remedy. We will need to accept Jesus’ cleanse daily – maybe even hourly at first. Constantly reminding ourselves that we are different now because of Him. Then we must relentlessly choose different. Every time there is temptation. Every time shame tries to tell us our failure is inevitable, so why even try. We must attack shame as often and as aggressively as it attacks us. This is the only way to defeat the soul-eater and end its corroding.
Because of Jesus, I can choose differently.
Move on shame, you have no hold on me.