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In our celebrations of Easter, we find our hearts and eyes directed toward the cross of Christ, reflecting on the redemption that he has brought and what this means for our lives today. Crucifixion is known to be one of the most shameful ways for a person to die and as we study the gospel accounts of the events around our Saviour’s death, we see the shame of everything that he experienced – he was despised, rejected, mocked, abandoned, betrayed, scorned, alienated, and cast out for our sake.

Shame is an incredibly big topic that reaches out and has a say over so many different parts of our lives, it takes hold and twists our sense of self, sneaks into our relationships and taints the way that we see ourselves before the face of God. At the same time, it is so easy for us think about the topic of shame as if it has nothing to do with us, that it is only to do with those who have experienced incredible trauma and abuse and/or are struggling with heavy sins such as addiction and sexual sin. However, as we learn more about what the scriptures have to say about shame, and notice the way that the cross speaks to our shame even more than it does to our guilt, we also learn to pay attention to all the ways that shame shows up in our own lives.

In his book Shame Interrupted, Ed Welch defines shame as:

“Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something that you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. Shame is something that leaves you feeling exposed and humiliated. We are disgraced because we acted less than human, were treated less than human or were associated with something less than human.”

While guilt looks at our behaviour and the wrongdoing that we are responsible for, shame attaches to our sense of self. It plays out in community, saying that we don’t belong because we are unacceptable, unclean, disgraced. Something about us is wrong and that is playing out in the relationships we have with the people around us and in our relationship with God.

Shame wants things to remain hidden, it thrives where there is distance in our relationships, in the secrets that we keep and the whisperings in our own heads and the ones we fear are behind our backs. Shame is the voice that says that we are not good enough, that we are worthless, that we are a failure. We find shame in the places and parts of us that we feel do not belong, in the voice that says: “I suck,” or “I am such a failure.” Shame is found in betrayal, abandonment, and rejection, in the ways that we feel exposed, naked, and disgraced, we see shame weaving its way into our feelings of being on the outside and not acceptable, and in our noticeable differences whatever form they may take (race, disability, intellect, mental health and more).

Shame is found in all the places that we hide. I would like to encourage you to prayerfully ask yourself the question: what do I want to hide?

What are you tempted to keep in the shadows? Are there particular sins that you don’t want anyone to know about? Addiction, pornography use, sexual fantasy, or other unconfessed sin? Are there times when you have assaulted, abused, or taken advantage of someone else? What are ways that you can think of where you have behaved less than human?

Think about trauma and the times when you have experienced assault or abuse and continue to feel vile, dirty, and worthless. What do you want to keep hidden? Have you been sexually assaulted in any way, the acts of someone else violating an incredible precious part of who you are? What are the ways that you have been humiliated, treated as an object, scorned, betrayed, abandoned, or treated less than human in any way?

Do you want to hide your family connections, surname or other relationships because of the shame that seems to be connected to that association? Are there things that you want to hide because of what others seem to think about that struggle, for example your mental health, a disability, your culture, or other parts of your story? What about same-sex attraction, something that you want to fight against wisely but feel such weight in confessing this struggle to a trusted friend? Are there other associations you have that you want to keep hidden?

As we pay more attention to the things that we want to hide, we grow to see patterns of shame all around us. There are many patterns of behaviour, unwritten rules, definitions for status and success, all places where we feel so much pressure to measure up and always feel as if we are failing. These standards leave us feeling as if we are never enough and we find ourselves continuing to live from this place of scarcity, hiding so that no one else sees how we are failing.

We are not left stuck and spiralling in our shame. Our saviour has entered our experiences of shame and has brought honour and glory to places where we were once disgraced. As we identify shame in our life, we become increasingly sophisticated in recognising how scripture speaks into our shame so beautifully; the biblical categories of nakedness, outcast and uncleanliness are woven throughout the Old Testament and take on a new life through the cross of Christ in the New. In Christ we are no longer naked and exposed; we are dressed in royal garments, clothed in robes of white. In Christ we are made clean, we are washed by his blood and purified so that we are no longer dirty, unclean and unacceptable but sanctified and holy. In Christ we belong, we are a part of his holy people, no longer a stranger or outcast but members of God’s family.

 

Camille de Vos – Trellis Counselling

 

*This article was originally published in the Una Sancta on April 9, 2023.