“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
― Brené Brown
Shame. Shame on you. That’s a shame. What a shameful thing to do. You shameless hussy!
Shame has power. Shame doesn’t just say, “You did something wrong.” Shame says, “You are something wrong.” Shame asks, “What would people think if they knew…?” Shame says, “You are not worthy.”
We can hide it, we can excuse it, we can justify it, we can take pride in it or we can use its perverse power to judge others.
Most of us hide our shameful stuff away. We close and lock the bathroom door on more than our bad smells and unmentionable bits. We lock doors to keep our weaknesses, our temptations, our messes, our doubts, our hateful side out of sight. Shame holds us prisoner in the bathroom, in the closet, in the basement, behind anonymous accounts, inside less-shameful-than-thou good-works forts.
Some people fling open those doors, declaring they have no shame because sin, like bodily functions, is a normal, unavoidable part of life. Sometimes they re-define sin. Like the fallen woman in Proverbs they eat forbidden fruit, wipe their mouths and say, “I have done no wrong.”
Some people, understanding that dealing with shame requires the act of bringing it into the light, expose it to people who have little empathy, confessing in meetings full of other shame-based folk ready to foist their own shame onto the sacrificial confessee. Thus they punish themselves and try to cure the problem of shame with more shame.
Opening up to even one other person is taking a risk. It is a courageous act. How many of us have trusted someone with our shame story and later felt betrayed? It’s the theme of thousands of novels. That’s why we sometimes pay professionals to keep our secrets, and hope their pride in reputation will give us another layer of protection.
There are people who will sympathize (“Yes. I’ve done the same things.”) but precious few who can empathize (“Yes. I feel your pain even though I have not done the same thing.”). Jesus Christ is one who empathizes. He has compassion. He knows what temptation feels like and can understand our weaknesses, but not as a sympathizer who needs to justify or dismiss it because he is also guilty. He did not give in. Instead he bore our shame willingly, accepting shameful death on a shameful cross in collaboration with the ultimate symbol of societal rejection – execution, because he didn’t come to heap on the condemnation our shame says we deserve. He did it because he loves us and wants to free us from shame.
It’s wonderful to find that rare safe person who will respond with empathy and understanding to our shame, but there is One who is guaranteed to understand — and He not only takes it away, He changes who we are. The old shameful part dies and is buried with Him. We are raised a new creation, one that knows where grace and mercy sit. We can boldly approach God.
So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:14 – 16)