In the beginning, God created and it was all very good, but then anyone who has read the creation story knows when man disobeyed God what happened. Things went south real quick, beginning with man’s introduction to shame.
According to Webster’s shame is defined as:
“1. a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
A painful feeling is correct. Up until the moment of disobedience Adam and Eve didn’t know what pain was. Humiliation and distress were foreign concepts, because everything was good. They had no knowledge of what evil even was. Bliss. But obviously they didn’t think so, because they listened to the liar who told them there was something better. Why!?!
I struggle to understand why God did things the way He did. Like why didn’t He just kill the serpent when he decided to decieve Adam and Eve? Why didn’t He stop Adam and Eve before they ate? Why didn’t He spare us all the pain and keep the good intact. I don’t know, and I suppose one day when I’m in heaven I won’t even care, but one thing I do understand about this story is shame.
Shame runs deep into the core of who I am. It’s such a part of my identity that I often don’t even see it at work until I’m talking to my counselor about the things that cause me to feel bad.
Brene Brown, a shame researcher, defines the kind of shame I’m talking about in her book Daring Greatly,
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”
For instance, I had a conversation with my husband’s aunt yesterday. We’ve just moved to the town where she lives. (Thank God for answered prayer!) We haven’t found a church home. She’s been gracious and kind and has brought us two meals. We couldn’t ask for any more hospitality. Yesterday she called and invited us to their church. We’d already decided to go to another church. I told her I appreciated the invitation, but we were going elsewhere this week. She just said ok, but I got the sense that she was disappointed. I’m sure she was. That’s normal. Most of us want to share with others the good we have and inviting us to church was a great way to do that, however what isn’t normal is the way I feel when I tell her something I know disappointed her.
The negative, painful emotions I felt were shame. Shame that caused me to feel as if I’d done something wrong… but it goes even deeper than that… disappointing her causes me to think I am wrong because I didn’t do what I knew would make her happy. I confess I’m a people pleaser. People pleasing for me is so much more than keeping people happy, rather it’s about a little girl who’s been trapped in a prison of shame and afraid to do anything else. People pleasing gives the false notion that I’m safe and in control. What a sham!
That little girl wants to stay out of this prison, and in writing this I’m seeking the truth about where the shame comes from so that I can be free to just be me, and I can only do that when the shame is gone.
God created me for good. He created me unique. He created me as an individual with likes and dislikes. He created me in His image. He breathed life into me. No one else on this planet can reveal God in exactly the same ways I do. This is an amazing privilege. There is no shame in any of these truths.
But for some reason I often just think I’m weird. I’m ashamed of who I am. This is a lie!
My counselor helped me to understand where this was coming from yesterday. She’s counseling my daughter, too. Interestingly enough, she’s battling the same lie that she’s weird. We were both sexually abused as children. Her abuser was a cousin who lived down the road, mine my adopted father. Somewhere along the line as an abuse victim we believed the lie that it was because of something about us that the abuse happened. Another horrible lie! How insane is it that someone steals something so precious and we’ve believed it was our fault!?
As insane as it sounds it is our reality. She’s only 13. I am enthusiastic that she doesn’t have a life long pattern of destructive thinking like I do and can overcome much quicker. I pray so!
I, on the other hand, have forty three years of self-destructive patterns to break. And my abuse was from the hands of the man who was supposed to protect me – my father. Then ten years ago abuse from another man who was supposed to be the overseer of my soul – my pastor.
Gee, I know how to pick um, huh?!? No! I didn’t have control over either of these men. And that’s what’s terrifying to me. I had no control over who they were, what they wanted, or the choices that they made, and they chose to abuse me.
The only one I could control was me. But as a child how could I do that? My father was supposed to be my protector. But he was harming me. The only thing that gave me any control was to think it was somehow my fault. I at least had some control over me and that could at least assure me some false sense of security. So that’s what I did. I took the blame, and the self contempt grew. And in taking all the blame and shame, I heaped a load of responsibility on my back I was never meant to carry.
I read back over that and see the craziness of it all, yet recognize that this is my reality. This is the lie that God is setting me free from with His truth.
How I yearn for the goodness, beauty and simplicity of the Garden of Eden. A place where our good God created a perfect place where everything was provided and most of all where everything was safe. A place where even the animals ate green plants and there were no predators. A place where man experienced real meaning, purpose and life before evil ever entered the picture.
As long as we are on this planet we will live with the consequences of the fall, the shame and sin, the evil and death. But God breathed life into us. He intended for us to live. He’s promised us a future and a hope.
I’m asking myself what that looks like for me and my daughter. We live on a fallen planet, but it wasn’t intended for us to live here ashamed. Jesus took the shame on the cross. He doesn’t intend for us to live ashamed for our sins, and most certainly not for the sins of others.
The solution is the same for all of us, no matter where the shame comes from, we look to Him, and know it’s not for us to carry the weight of our sins or anyone else’s, because He took them all upon Himself on the cross. And He did this so we could live forever with Him, so the curse would be reversed, and we’d always have hope.
What does hope look like for me? On the dark days when I’m bogged down in shame, I struggle to see it. But that grain of faith God gave me gives me strength to hang on until it gets better.
On the better days, hope looks like that sense of meaning and purpose in my life that comes from knowing the same Father who watched over me and held me during the worst nights of abuse, the same Father who never left me even when I’ve tried over and over again to find meaning without Him, the same Father who created me to glorify Him in a way no one else can is never, ever going to leave me alone, has a plan for my life that involves the desires of my heart coming to fruition, has relationships with others that will build me up, and most of all promises one day I’ll be with Him forever in a place where there are no more tears, sorrow, or suffering, but only perfect love without fear.
My hope is the knowledge that though I’m here in a fallen world, that same love is with me all the time.
I just need to be still and know He is here, He’ll never let go of me, and He is all the faith, hope, and love I’ll ever need.