In the previous post, I shared how guilt is our friend. Modern society is full of ways to get rid of guilt. Alcohol, drug use, pornography, sex can all be a sort of anesthetic to numb the pain brought by guilt. Many people will tell you that you simply need to stop feeling guilty.
They may say your standards are wrong, that you were raised in too conservative a family, or you have been brainwashed. They will give you 101 reasons why you should not feel guilty about doing what you know is wrong. But there is nothing wrong with the fact of guilt. There is nothing wrong with taking responsibility for our actions.
Shame, however, is a different story.
Shame and guilt are often confused, but they are not the same. As addicts or women who feel trapped by our sin, it is not the guilt that makes us feel trapped, it is the shame.
Guilt has to do with our actions. It is a fact: we did something wrong. Shame attacks who we are.
When you fall into pornography again after weeks of being free, or when you sleep with yet another guy you just met, or when you waste yet another night lost in lust, what is the question you are most likely to ask? Many of us, upon waking up the next morning, will look in the mirror and ask the question upon which shame hinges:
“What is wrong with me?”
The idea that something is wrong with us, that we are somehow defective, worthless, and hopeless- that is shame.
If guilt is the quiet tapping that says, “That wasn’t right,” shame is an angry yell, an accusation against who we are. Shame is the culmination of all the lies we have bought over the years. It is the realization of all our worst fears- we are not worth it, we can never be free, God could never love us, we are liars, we are hypocrites.
Shame is full of labels and judgement. There is no grace in shame. There is no God in shame.
Shame seeks to identify me by my actions. It is because of shame I label myself a failure. It is because of shame I identify myself as a porn addict. It is because of shame I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror in disgust. It is because of shame I believe I am unable to be married. It is because of shame that I feel worthless.
Do you see it? That isn’t guilt! Guilt says, “What I did was wrong. I was wrong. I am sorry.” Guilt is human because mistakes are human.
Shame attacks us on a spiritual level. It drives us away from God and attempts to shift blame. While guilt accepts responsibility, shame reliquinshes it. Like Adam and Eve who each had fingers to point, when we are caught in shame, we refuse to admit our wrong and instead try to cover it up. Perhaps it is because we are trying to redeem ourselves from the identity shame has given us.
If I acknowledge that I did this, then I really will be a hypocrite. I already am one, but no one else knows. I have to hide this.
Shame destroys all the truths about your new life in Christ. Instead of being His beloved, you see yourself as unlovable. Instead of being redeemed, you see yourself us unredeemable. Instead of being His child, you see yourself as reviled. Instead of seeing yourself as free, you see yourself as unable to be freed.
Shame screams out that there is something wrong with you, something that makes you unable to be anything different. It robs you of your freedom to choose. It dictates. It abuses.
Imagine if you had a real life conversation that contrasted guilt and shame. As a new nanny to two small boys, I have witnessed plenty of ‘accidents.’ When little Wes decides to grab my water bottle and spill it all over the floor, I have a few options of response.
I can ignore it like it is no big deal and clean it up, which will not teach him anything. He will very happily march back to grab the bottle again. I need to somehow let him know that this is wrong. I can gently say, “Uh-oh! We don’t do that” and have him help me clean it up. Or, I can lose it, and ream out a 15 month old boy for being clumsy and stupid, lecture him about how hard it is to clean up, make him lick it up off the floor, throw him in his room, slam the door shut and never let him out
Obviously, we would label that last response as abusive. It is easier to see shame when we see it in real life. We understand that it is wrong to attack the essence of a person. We understand that it is harmful to speak to them that way. We understand and desire grace when we interact with others.
Why, then, are we so prone to ignore the message of grace with ourselves?
The next time you fall, ignore that voice of shame, that voice that would tell you you are not worth the blood of Calvary. Walk right past the taunts and snarls that label you a failure, hypocrite, screwed-up, messed up, ugly, unlovable, stuck, trapped, hopeless, and walk straight into the arms of Jesus, and find grace.