Shame: the feeling of "not good enough," acccording to our own standard or our perception of someone else's standard for us. It's what keeps us from being honest about our own struggles, sins, and less-than-perfect moments. Fear of shame drives us to perfectionism in all areas of our lives, so there would be no imperfection for others to notice and judge. (pp. 57-58)
The word "shame" conjures up many memories for me - all unpleasant:
- Wondering if God could possibly forgive me again after committing the same sin yet again.
- Being mocked for looking different or dressing out of style.
- Being scolded for normal human failings like forgetting something or not making the wisest choice.
But the ones that haunt me the most are where I have been the one doling out the shame, and I long to lay these feelings to rest once and for all. But where do I go for help and healing from the shame that seems to be so pervasive?
In Unashamed, Heather Nelson brings the gospel to bear on the shame which we all know far too well. She begins by first making the crucial distinction between guilt and shame. Guilt relates to what I have done. In the case of sin, the Holy Spirit convicts, and the resulting godly grief produces repentance. Our response should then be to cling to the promise that God is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness because Christ died for those sins. Amen? Amen!
But what about shame? Shame is more complex because it relates to who I am more than what I have done. Yes, it can arise from condemnation over sin that has been confessed and repented of, but often I experience shame because the fall has taken its toll. In this case, "brokenness" is very apt and not just a politically correct way to avoid the word "sin." I may forget. I may be socially awkward and physically clumsy. I can guarantee you that I will make mistakes. While I may not have necessarily broken God's moral law, I may be looked down upon and treat others likewise. The author addresses this rejection specifically in the areas of body shaming, social shaming, and the trap of performance/perfectionism. Yet the gospel still applies.
In the case of sin, Christ paid the penalty that we could not. In the case of shame, Christ lived the perfect life on our behalf thus securing our standing before a holy God. We are now loved and accepted for Christ's sake and united to Him no matter what others may think of us or what we may think of ourselves. This may be easier said than done, which is why Nelson emphasizes the necessity of Christian community for healing from shame. We can't do this alone. We need one another to be listening ears as we confess the shame we feel. We need patient friends who will support us as we learn to walk in freedom rather than fear. We need those who will speak the truth in love as we unlearn the lies of shame. She also discusses how the foundation of the gospel enables us to fight shame in our marriages, families, and the local church.
On a personal note, Unashamed was very timely for me as I have had recent conversations with family members about shame, specifically shame-based parenting. My guess is that ever since the fall, parenting has not been shame-free. Rather shame has been the modus operandi from generation to generation, and I've been cut to the heart that I have done my part in perpetuating the cycle. But this book has encouraged me that the way forward isn't trying to gear up my performance, but to confess, repent, and believe that the gospel is sufficient even for me. I am also encouraged that the cycle of shame is not a given and can be broken.
I highly recommend Unashamed.
We do not live for the approval or condemnation of others, but our audience is God himself - the one who calls us his beloved because of Jesus. Therefore, we move out freely into relationships without fearing or needing others' accolades or judgment. We practice our freedom at every turn - refusing to live according to shame's lies and awakening our souls to truth that sets us free. (pg. 174)
Purchase Unashamed from Westminster Bookstore (affiliate link) and Amazon.