Have you ever felt like running and hiding due to shame? How thankful did you feel in that moment?
Author and counselor Dan Allender says shame can feel like quicksand where we pull away from relationships and reality and slide into a pit of despair. Can you relate? I can.
Hero hides in shame
When I was seven, I fell in love with Lori. She lived across the street, and she was my princess. To prove my love, I vowed to save her from her burning castle (er, house). To do this, I needed to start the fire.
I found some matches and went outside to light my stick, which would ignite the inferno from which I could save her. Except, the match burned my finger, and I dropped it. Trying to put out the fire, I blew on it—that’s how you put out birthday candles, right? Well, the fire spread on the dry Kansas summer grass.
I rushed to the back of the yard and threw the matches over the fence. With all evidence of my wrongdoing eliminated, I ran inside. I told my mother there was a fire. After vainly trying to help put out the fire, I said, “I don’t feel so good” and went to bed. I hid under the covers in shame.
When the firemen finally put out the three-yard fire, my mother forced me to talk to the chief. He asked me how it started. I lied, telling him I rubbed two sticks together, further intensifying my shame. He gave me a stern lecture about the danger of matches, but he didn’t say anything about starting toaster fires (story for a different day).
I laugh about this story today, but whenever I think about shame, I can’t escape the picture of me hiding in my bed wanting everyone to leave me alone and for my mistakes to go away.
The many forms of shame
Whether it’s the shame of an affair exposed, missing an appointment (again), or overeating, our focus shifts to a painful self-absorption and a desire to hide. Sometimes we can even become violent toward anyone who threatens us. A mistake turns to sin when we start to lie, cover up, or heap self-condemnation on our heads.
Shrouded in guilt and shame, we can’t see anything to be thankful for.
Dan Allender defines shame as “the traumatic exposure of nakedness.” When we get caught in a mistake or sin, we feel ugly and unacceptable. How could anyone possibly love me?
Shame exposes what we worship. Whether we’re trying to look good, do good, or appear put together, when we fail, we want to run away and hide. Our idol has failed us.
We can relate to the sons of Korah in Psalm 44: “I live in disgrace all day long, and my face is covered with shame” (Ps 44:15 NIV).
Thankfully God doesn’t leave us alone in our shame.
Gratitude arising from shame
In Psalm 139, David describes the vanity of running away from God’s presence. He admits, “Where can I go from your Spirit?” God is present in the heights, the depths, and across the farthest sea. Even in the darkness of our own making, God is there.
Jonah tried to run away from God because he didn’t want to obey God. His shame intensified as he recognized his sin would cause harm to the sailors who sailed the boat. When God calmed the storm, the sailors bowed in worship. But Jonah sank into the belly of the great fish that swallowed him. Only from that place did he cry out for mercy.
“As sorrow opens our hearts to redemptive desire, it halts our long fall into destructive self-absorption. Hope in our Advocate opens our hearts to confidence, and confidence stops the fearful flight of shame. Gratitude softens the self-hatred of shame.”—Dan Allender, Cry of the Soul
Shame has no power in a heart that is full of thanksgiving. Gratitude arises when we are stunned by God’s pursuit of us even when there are abundant reasons for him to reject us.
When I was hiding under the covers of my shame, my mother called me out. The firemen exposed my folly, and eventually I confessed my wrongdoing. I didn’t tell the full truth for years as I felt ashamed to tell my “girlfriend” what I was really trying to do. No one would have believed me.
Shame loses its power in the face of acceptance
And that’s the point. When we feel ashamed, we don’t think others will like us or believe us. Shame is our attempt to tell others all the reasons we’re not worthy of their love and respect.
When I first met Audrey, my wife, I wallowed in lots of shame. So I tried to shock her by telling her all the things I had done, giving her plenty of reasons to reject me. She didn’t. Instead, she loved me for who I am. She told me those things don’t matter. That’s grace.
In Psalm 139, David remembers that he is wonderfully made and rejoices that God even thinks about him. He says, “How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!”
Imagine that! David is known as a man after God’s own heart, but he’s also an adulterer and a murderer. He failed in many respects as a father, though he was successful in his career. But he rejoices that God loves him. That’s grace.
Grace is God telling us, “I don’t care about all you’ve done. Come follow me. I love you. Just the way you are.”
Life.Church just released a new song called “As You Are” that’s worth a listen:
We will fight the cycle of guilt and shame until Jesus returns. If you don’t feel shame, then you’re dealing with pride and arrogance. The opportunity before us is to repent and receive God’s invitation to come to him.
In Luke 5:31–32, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
My challenge today is to repent and receive afresh the assurance of God’s forgiveness. Watch how that assurance turns into thanksgiving.
Jesus, thank you that you came to seek and save the lost. I praise you for paying the price for my guilt and lifting my shame. In faith, I lift my eyes to you today as you are the lifter of my head. Fill my heart with thanksgiving as I receive the assurance of your love. Loose my tongue to sing your praise. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.