Face to face with my 9th grade biology teacher, her hands slightly raised from her short stature, choking my neck and her eyes bulging with a flushed face, was no way I had imagined the start of my eight a.m. class. I had even heard the warnings from my buddy Doland, “John, … John… Jo…,” then I turned into this wall of rage. And, in all honesty, she had every right to be livid. We had taken an exam the day before, and prior to the bell, I noticed the grade book open on her desk. For some dumb reason, I thought it would be informative and rather cool to read the results of the test, for any student who wanted to know their personal grade. After she released me from her firm, two-handed grip around my neck, the class sat in a hushed silence as I gingerly reported back to my seat. Needless to say, it was difficult to break the somber tone for the rest of the hour. I felt terrible, and it wasn’t a failure that I wanted to share with anyone who thought I was an upstanding teen.
I’ve never felt the sentiment of some of our cultural heroes, who boldly say of their lives, “NO REGRETS!” Are you serious!? That was a mild infraction for what many of us experience, yet I think my 40’s have been about the introspective journey of facing shame and embarrassment over segments of my past. Take for instance, just a few weeks ago, I got out my journal with plans to write out all that I still induced any type of regret or feeling of disgrace in my life. I thought the tiny writing exercise would go by quickly, but soon, I had jots that filled a whole page!
The causes of shame: things done to us (we are the victims), things we proactively did or passively didn’t do, and feeling like we fall short of some standard that others or God has set for us.
Rest assured your list won’t be my list. But, I’ll bet you have a list… An overheard conversation where you were cut to the core? A heart-rending end to a relationship? An abortion? A rape? Being caught red-handed? Saying something that ended up being offensive, you can’t take back(this can happen through written words that are often misunderstood, even with the best intentions.) Being fired? You can’t get control of your weight? An addiction? Oh my, the things that can cause us shame, embarrassment, and disgrace. And oh how the enemy of my soul and your soul uses negative experiences to drive the stakes of shame into our beings and pin down our potential.
Here are four things I have been doing with my shame. Notice I’m still processing some of that journal page.
1) Forgive-- God, others, and yourself. God gets the blame sometimes. Let Him off the hook and take responsibility for your happiness and internal freedom. Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust concentration camp survivor, explained forgiving others as a firm decision of the will. The feelings can continue much like a large bell that has been rung. The chime can be heard as the bell tolls back and forth. Eventually the sound diminishes, and the clapper comes to a resting position, as long as the bell rope isn’t pulled again.
2) Grace-- get in touch with it. When I look at my list of shame, I SURELY NEED undeserved goodness. God offers it. Yet, just like God, you and I need to offer that same kind of love and acceptance to others. They are broken too. It’s sacrificial and crazy love that busts through barriers before it is a transforming agent for our wounds of shame and regret.
3) Surrender-- when I don’t know what to do with the internal pain, I can surely surrender it to God. A few weeks ago in church, a song was sung by the Newsboys, called “In the Hands of God.” A few lines caught my attention: “When our strength gave way to the weight of guilt, Til we strain for every breath, Only One could lift our shame and make us well, And when all is finished and we face the fearsome power of death Only One has overcome the gates of hell. In the hands of God we will fall, Rest for the restless and the weary, hope for the sinner, In the hands of God we stand tall, Hands that are mighty to deliver givin' us freedom…”
That saying, “Let go, and let God…,” can go a long way.
4) Truth-- when the pain is deep enough, any lie or destructive message about who I am must be replaced with a principle or message about myself that will help me cope with any reality that I face. I find that the Bible is full of principles that help me replace stinkin’ thinkin’ with TRUTH that is liberating. A verse that comes to mind is Philippians 4:8- “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Ps. 119:80- May my heart be blameless towards your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.