I Shame – An Everyday Experience
A few months ago the New York Times told the story of Justine Sacco, a 30 year-old corporate communications director for a large company in New York City. She was traveling to visit family in South Africa and was on Twitter passing the time as she traveled. She was “tweeting” little jokes along way to her 170 Twitter followers. There was one tweet about a fellow passenger on her way to London and his need for deodorant. Another about cucumber and bad teeth in London.
But then on the layover at Heathrow she tweeted this as she was boarding the plane. “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
She turned off her phone and went to sleep on the 11 hour flight. When the plane landed in Cape Town and was taxiing on the runway, she turned on her phone. Immediately she got a text from someone she hadn’t spoken to in high school. It said, “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.”
Then another text from her best friend. “You need to call me immediately.” Then her phone exploded with more texts and alerts. And then it rang. It was her friend Hannah. “You’re the No. 1 worldwide trend on Twitter right now,” she said.
In those 11 hours, unbeknownst to her, that one tweet had been shared and retweeted tens thousands of times around the world. She also had thousands of angry replies waiting for her including tweets from people within her company wondering how in the world she has a PR job with them. In the meantime, she’s on a plane and clueless and people were realizing it. Hashtags began to develop like #HasJustineLandedYet. The whole world knew she was getting fired before she did. And she was indeed fired.
For that day, Justine Sacco was the most hated woman on Twitter.
- Kylie Jenner, of Kardashian fame, recently said in an interview that most every day the first thing she does when she wakes up is check google for her name, because her greatest fear is waking up to people saying bad things about her on the internet.
- This is someone who’s got what everyone else thinks they want – fame, money, recognition – and she’s terrified.
- There’s one theologian who points out that for the longest time people were mostly concerned with guilt, then we were concerned with the fear of death, but today our overwhelming concern is with the fear of shame.
- Probably all of us have experienced this.
- It’s what we feel when we see them look at us from across the room and whisper and laugh.
- It’s the thing some of us feel when someone like our spouse, or our financial advisor looks to see an itemized list of how we spend our money.
- It’s the thing we feel when we find out someone’s been looking into our browser history.
- Or when the teacher sends that email reminding all the parents to make sure your kids don’t do this, but we and everyone else know our little kids were the only ones who did it in the first place.
- It’s the thing we feel when we encounter people who once knew us to be one way as an addict, or a cheater, or prone to temper tantrums, and, though we’re a different person today, it’s been a long time since they’ve seen us.
II Shame – A Working Definition
- Today, I’m diving right into a new series with you called “Beyond All Shame.”
- And, over the course of the next few minutes, I hope to help us to understand why dealing with shame matters.
- Most of us would probably be surprised at just how much there is in the Bible when it comes to the subject of “shame.”
- In fact, in the unfolding story of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation – “shame” is mentioned in the beginning, the middle, and end of the story.
- In the creation story of Genesis, the writer mentions Adam and Eve as having no shame. (Genesis 2:25)
- When it comes to the story of Jesus dying on the cross, the writer of Hebrews mentions Jesus enduring the cross and scorning its shame. (Hebrews 12:2)
- And then at the very end of Scripture, when heaven is described in Revelation 21 it’s describe as a realm where there is nothing shameful. (Revelation 21:7)
- But let me begin with what am I talking about when I say “shame”?
- Shame is a feeling or an emotion of humiliation or distress that comes from a consciousness of how others see us or see us – and “others” can include God, or even sometimes, ourselves (since it’s possible to be ashamed of our self.)
- In short, shame is the painful experience of exposure.
- Usually, shame involves an awareness of a wrong we’ve done or a shortcoming we have or ignorant behavior on our part that affects how others may see us.
- So let me give you an example of each of these.
Suppose a money manager or broker of some kind swindles people out of money for a couple of years. No one knows. He may feel a twinge of guilt about what he’s doing. But then he’s busted by the authorities. It becomes public knowledge that broker lied and stole. He’s humiliated. That’s the pain of shame. It’s different from guilt. Someone might feel guilty for something they’ve done but that no one knows about. But they don’t feel shame. Shame comes into the picture when others know about you’re wrongdoing and you are aware that others know about it.
I can remember a time when I knew something about my dad that he didn’t know I knew. It was something he felt guilty about internally. But he didn’t think I knew it. And then there was the day when he realized that I knew it and had known it for years. And on top of his guilt, he felt shame. He was distressed and humiliated in light of his fear of how I might see him.
Sometimes our shame isn’t tied to something sinful or wrong but something that our culture considers a “shortcoming” – we lose a game, we fail a class, we come up “short” in some way.
When I was in 8th grade, I attempted to run a 3000 meter race on behalf of my school. By the end of the first lap I was firmly in last pace. I couldn’t keep up. I was so discouraged and out of breath, I didn’t finish it. I bailed halfway through – just walked off the track in front of everyone. I felt relief for about one second and then a wave of shame as the rest of the team and parents were looking at me. I regret not pushing through and finishing to this day for reasons beyond shame. But I did feel shame.
Sometimes shame can be tied not to what we’ve done wrong or even how we’ve come up short, but we’ve done something ignorance that’s improper. Have you ever shown up at a restaurant that had a dress code that you didn’t live up to that day? Or maybe the place where you work?
- Now you might say, “Well, Chris, some of those things we shouldn’t be ashamed of – losing a game or wearing the wrong thing.”
- I understand that sentiment, but that brings me to something else we’re going to address in this series.
- How do we unravel ourselves from feeling shame for things we shouldn’t feel shame for?
- How do we live in a culture and with people who shame us for things that aren’t really shameful?
I’m thinking about a young mother right now who had worked diligently to get her daughter entrance to the best school in the area where they live. But her daughter didn’t get in and the mom was beside herself with what she would tell her friends and what it would mean for her daughter’s future. You know how old her daughter is? Four.
Should that young mother feel shame? No. Did she? Yes.
- Shame plays a huge role in parenting – parents are motivated by the fear of shame and at times attempt to motivate their children through shame.
III Shame – A Common Denominator
- Shame is a common denominator shared among us no matter how different we may be from one another.
This isn’t always the case but shame can sometimes masquerade as….
Shyness (shame in the presence of a stranger)
Discouragement (shame about a temporary defeat, loss, or failure)
Embarrassment (shame in front of others)
Self-consciousness (shame about performance)
- So we try and avoid the feeling of shame by avoiding strangers, competition or trying something different in our lives, or being in front of others, or attempting to learn something new.
- In short, we give up living.
- Shame plays a huge role in our relationship with social media.
A 13 year-old in America has never known a day without the internet, mobile technology or social media. A decade ago middle school and high school students could leave school and leave the stressful relational atmosphere behind. But not anymore.
With social media – you take it with you. Until a few years ago, you could trip in the hallway in school and the other kids that see it may laugh. Today, someone who’s recording a video with their phone just happens to catch it. They post it on social media, and the moment lives on – reposted, retweeted, and “reshared” over and over. People can “tag” your fall and talk about your fall over and over.
Social media is attractive to us because it’s a way to find temporary approval from others and yet it can just as easily be a path to shaming others or being the subject of shaming ourselves.
- But shame can run deeper and interfere with more in our lives than social media.
You have a woman who’s the CEO of a company that had flat-lined and for the first time had a year where it didn’t make more money than the previous. She’s doing everything she can to improve it and has run out of ideas. So you ask her who she’s asking for help. She says, that to do that was tantamount to resigning. As she puts it, in her mind she can’t afford to ask for help because she will be seen as incompetent. She’s dealing with shame.
You have another woman who by the time she’s 26 has slept with 15 different men and had two abortions. She’s in counseling for the abortions, and the stories about the 15 men came out later in counseling. But there’s one story that didn’t come out till much later. It almost had to be pried out. She was 11 she had an uncle who made her feel so special. But in the end, her uncle came on to her and had sex with her. That lasted till she was 17 when she went to college.
She was free from her uncle but imprisoned to the behavior that was the only path she knew to intimacy with a man. It’s this story that was at the heart of her behavior with all those other men and yet she was so slow to admit it. She’s dealing with shame.
- In those very different stories, shame has leverage on the decision a person makes or course of action they take – either their present experience of shame or their desire to avoid it at all costs.
- Shame can hold us hostage in a variety of ways in our lives.
- It can keep us from doing what needs to be done for healing to take place or for us to truly move forward in our lives.
- It can keep us from being everything we were meant to be and do with our lives to the glory of God.
- It can interfere with us having life-giving abundant relationships with other people.
IV Shame In A Petri Dish
- Now, as you can already see, the subject of shame is a vast landscape.
- There’s no realm of our lives it doesn’t touch.
- Some of us need help processing the shame that’s come with our sin and wrongdoing.
- Others of us need help dealing with shame for things that really aren’t shame-worthy but our culture has made them shame-worthy.
- Others of us need help dealing with our fear of shame.
- Our fear of shame can keep us from…
- Asking for help, counsel, or advice when we could use it.
- Confessing our sin, taking responsibility for our actions, or asking for forgiveness.
- Being more up front about Jesus with others.
- Attempting to learn something new, take a risk, or be creative or innovative in some way.
Brene Brown is a professor in Houston who has become well-known over the last 5 years or so for her work on vulnerability and shame. She says something very interesting to me. She says that if you can envision shame as a bacteria in a petri dish it needs three things to grow.
Shame flourishes in an atmosphere of silence, secrecy, and judgment.
- This is a big reason why I’m doing this series “Beyond All Shame” because I want to drag it out into the light of Scripture which has much to say about shame and Jesus who, along with other things, came to deal with power of shame in our lives.
- So let me leave us with three reflections in Scripture concerning shame.
- We Were Created “Shameless”
- In Genesis 2:25, we find this description of Adam and Eve – Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
- Now this is prior to sin entering the world.
- This is when God has created them and placed them in a garden called Eden.
- The Hebrew word for Eden means “delight.”
- This tells us something about God.
- His will for us is not to make us miserable – He’s not some cosmic “killjoy” or “policeman.”
- His will for us is delight – an abundant life.
- And a fundamental ingredient to abundant life is “no shame.”
- Adam and Eve felt no shame.
- That’s how God made them.
- So where does shame then come from?
- Shame is a by-product of sin.
- It could be tied to the sin or wrongdoing of the person.
- Or it could be tied to the sin of a culture – such as shaming a person or making a person feel “less-than” for their race, or their handicap or a learning challenge.
- The bottom line is shame comes on the scene when sin enters the picture in the creation story and in all of our lives.
- I’ll talk more about this next week.
- But for now, I simply want us to see the heart of God for us.
- We were made “shameless.”
- This tells us something about the heart of God and it also may tell us something about why we have such an aversion to shame and are so desperate to do something about shame when we sense it in our lives.
- The problem is when we don’t understand how to process our shame, we often wind up processing it in ways that are not helpful and only compound our problem all the more.
- Which leads to this second reflection.
- 2. One Of The Reasons Jesus Came Was To Deal With Our Shame.
- Jesus came to restore what was lost at Eden through sin.
- One of those things that was lost was our shamelessness.
- When Jesus first went public with His ministry, He showed up at the synagogue on day in Luke 4 and He read this passage from Isaiah 61 –
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor…..
And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God…..instead of your shame you will receive a double portion…..and everlasting joy will be yours. (Isaiah 61:7)
- This is the passage Jesus read to launch His ministry.
- There’s a lot here, but what I want to you to notice this weekend are those words “instead of your shame.”
- Among many of the things Jesus came to address was our shame.
- And note that He’s coming to address our shame with intent of making us all priests and ministers.
- You’ve heard me say this before – that if anyone ever came in and asked all the ministers of the Branch to stand up – every follower of Jesus should stand.
- Because if you’re a follower – you’re a minister (II Corinthians 5) – you’re a priest (I Peter 2).
- But if we’re going to be that for others – we have to have help dealing with shame in our lives.
- Because it’s difficult to help set others free of shame – if we’re still projecting and transmitting our shame.
- We’ll talk more about how that happens later.
- But because Jesus came to deal with our shame, that leads me to this.
- Jesus Is The Way Forward When It Comes To Dealing With Shame
- Now, I know this sounds simplistic but let me explain with the help of a verse – Psalm 31:1 – In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.
- The way forward in dealing with shame is to take refuge under Jesus.
- There is a deliverance that occurs in His righteousness.
- I believe the deliverance in His righteousness comes in two ways.
- It comes through Jesus’ blood shed upon the cross and through Jesus’ teachings.
- His blood helps us deal with the shame associated with our sins.
- His teachings help us deal with how we live in a world that shames and feels shame for all the wrong things, and uses shame in all the wrong ways.
- Throughout the New Testament you’ll find us being encouraged to have the “mind of Christ” – to think like Jesus – to look at the world around us like Jesus – to have the same mindset and value system as Jesus.
- This is what His teachings do – they reveal His mindset – how He looks at the world and how He thinks.
- We desperately need the mind of Christ when it comes to navigating our way through a world that shames and feels shame for all the wrong things and uses shame in all the wrong ways.
- To put it another way, it’s through the blood of Christ we find freedom from shame associated with our sins.
- And it’s through the mind of Christ we find freedom from all the toxic shame of our culture.
- Living differently involves thinking differently.
- And we don’t learn to think like Jesus overnight.
- In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. (Psalm 31:1)
- Closing Questions
- So let me close by asking us four questions that I’d like for us to chew on this week and may even be on the lookout for in how we go through life.
- I encourage you to write them down and consider them this week.
- What is it you find yourself feeling shame about?
- It could be related to sin or wrongdoing.
- It could be related to something you feel shame for because the culture treats it as a shame even though it’s not.
- What is the shame talking you out of doing in your life?
- Where are you inclined to run for refuge when it comes to shame in your life?
- Some people tend to just get busy to distract them from their shame.
- Others immerse themselves ever-deeper into addiction.
- Others resort to a pattern of judging and tearing down others.
- Others resort to trying to accrue all kinds of little honors, titles, and trinkets of fame and affirmation.
- There’s are all kinds of ways we look for refuge for shame but fail to find deliverance, instead only complicating our lives all the more and hijacking our relationships.
- What’s been your default mode?
- Part of learning to run to Jesus for our refuge is learning where our defaults are.
- What things trigger your shame?
- All these questions are doing are helping us to face shame in our lives and bring it to Jesus.
- I’m going to talk practically about how we do that in the next couple of weeks.
- After all, He knows what it is to not be intimidated by shame, but to face it head-on.
- As the Hebrew writer put it – And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus….For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sad down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him……so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
- Jesus didn’t run from shame – He took it on.
- You’ve heard it said in our culture “Shame on you.”
- But because of Jesus, it’s possible for me to say “Shame off you!”
- And it’s through His blood and His teaching that this can become a reality.
- We’ll continue next week but I’ll leave you with this for now.
- Shame Off You!
Beyond All Shame