“O guard my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”
— PSALM 25:20 (NRSV)
The cost of our connection with sin is inevitably shame. And in the complex world of relationships there enters a complex interdependence of shame between souls relating with one another. Sometimes we don’t know whose shame we are feeling, ours or theirs. Sometimes as we protect other people we, in fact, protect ourselves. Yet sometimes when we protect other people we are embarrassed for them, as we could imagine them being embarrassed for us in the same circumstance. Sometimes we feel shame for others’ sin—for the affect it’s had on us (e.g. abuse or neglect).
Shame is an incredibly relational subject. Maybe it’s only when we have fallen short within our connections with others that we feel emotions like guilt and shame.
But apart from a godly shame that draws us into repentance for sins committed, God wants us to shut the door on shame; to instead draw daily on the forgiveness in grace.
Grace, of course, is God’s gift to humankind so spiritual freedom is accessible. Otherwise sin would forever set us apart from God.
Overcoming the Burden of Shame
I’ve been thinking a long time now about how universal traits for shame are. And whether people consciously admit their shame or they drive it down deeper into their psyches it doesn’t really matter.
Because shame is intrinsically connected with sin — the inward and outward manifestation of the disconnect with ourselves, let alone God — we, as thinking and feeling human beings, particularly if we consider ourselves ‘moral’, struggle when we fall short. Then we experience shame.
Our consciences are implicated.
And for this, I’m sure, grace came about. Because we could never, ever, reconcile our sin, and still these days are thwarted by its presence, God stepped in and made a way for us to live, heads held high, even as we are — sinners.
Shutting the door on shame is possibly as simple as instituting habitual and instinctual repentance at the foot of our sin. In other words, immediately having sinned we confess it and step forth on the path toward repentance. Our shame is hence relieved. And in instances of having not sinned we step into thankfulness for the wisdom implicit in grace that kept us clear of temptation and kept us, for that moment at least, true.
Shutting the door on shame is as simple as honest confession and movement toward repentance. The quicker and more efficient we do this the more effective our absolution at the conscience level is. When our shame comes as a result of what’s occurred to us — beyond our sin — we confess this too, seeking God’s healing.
God wants us to live free with our heads held high, having dealt with our shame at the cross. Because shame is connected with sin we need to draw on grace, each day, in learning to live shame-free.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.