I share my story because Jesus removes my shame. Removes, not removed, because I am human and broken and need Him to remove it again and again. God may have the power to forget our sin (Isaiah 43:25), but we are mostly unable to forget anything on our own- without an almighty God to absolve our bad memories, or a physical injury that leads to amnesia, or a degenerative disease like Alzheimer’s.
We tend to dwell on the pain or run from it, but never remove it. And if it bottles up, the side effects add up and what started with one incident can takeover our entire identity. All things the same, on our own, we cannot forget our shame. But Jesus can remove it. Then it’s up to us not to pick it back up.
What is shame?
I used to associate shame with the aftermath of a heart buried in high crimes and prison time, but we all struggle with it even if we haven’t been convicted in a court of law. We have all lied before, all wished someone unwell before, all done things we want to keep secret behind a locked door. Some of us have experienced trauma at the hands or under the words of others that left a mark. Shame comes to us all, but it does not leave on its own.
Shame is a negative (often self-focused and self-enforcing) emotion that brings worthlessness, distress, and disconnection. It is elusive, yet pervasive. It is an invisible burden. We can feel guilt or “godly sorrow” when we’ve fallen off the right path, but shame or “earthly sorrow” is what tells us we aren’t good enough to set our feet on the right path.
It sticks and it stays and it pins us down in ways we cannot see at first glance. Shame lives in the good opportunities we shied away from, the loving people we turned from, and good things we did not allow to come. It permeates our minds, our hearts, our bodies, and shapes our souls to fit in an invisible prison.
But we read in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” And we want to be free indeed. So if we see the work done on the cross sets us free, then how can we live free? How can we be set free and then actually be free?
How does Jesus set us free?
In this new era of information over-saturation, many voices offer us weapons to combat shame. As Christians, our war is not found in the wielding of weapons, but the resting in the perfection of the cross.
Personally, I prefer to fight back against the shadows of shame with the way Dr. Curt Thompson talks about the light of Jesus in his book The Soul of Shame. When looking at Hebrews 12:1-2, Dr. Thompson points us to the prescription:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus set us free on the cross. He knew the joy set before him, rejected shame, lived in His Father’s name, and endured it. Every bit of shame that wanted to smear our name was nailed on the cross with Jesus. We have to stop picking it back up.
- The great cloud of witnesses have gone before us, yet there are people in our midst who are for us. Thompson writes, “Our struggle against shame is begun not by ourselves but in the company of trustworthy friends, family members and spiritual mentors. Remember, isolation is one of shame’s primary methods. We therefore must be cautious of thinking that we can do this by ourselves through sheer force of will.”
- God came to save us and the greatest act of love prompts a great response in us to leave behind every sin we need saving from. So he tells us to “…put aside everything that holds us back from running the race with perseverance…. Shame functions first, as satan did with Eve, by drawing our attention, even in the minute moments, away from our focus on God’s voice telling us that we are loved and that he is pleased with us.”
- If we keep looking at our sin or our struggles that brought about the shame, we will completely miss the message in our Messiah that Thompson explains, “…we are to fix our eyes- our attention- on Jesus. What set Jesus apart was that he heard (‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’) and acted on it. It is imperative that we do the same. Shame will do everything it can to distract us from this message.”
How do we live free?
After we have been set free and we believe we are free, our soul is transformed from one of shame to one of hope. And one way we can live free is to tell our story. To say it loud and proud and to shine light on the truth of what happened, without celebrating the shadows.
I spoke on a panel in October, attempting to share my journey to appreciate the weight I lived under for so long as I stepped out from underneath it. And while I prepared by reading The Soul of Shame, I found something new in an old Scripture I read many times before:
We boast in the hope and the glory of our God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts throughout the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. Romans 5:2-5
When we tell our story, “we boast in the hope and the glory of our God.” We remember where we came from, whom we came from, and know what we hope for and who we hope in. We do not boast in what we perceive as our own greatness, but we trumpet the triumphs God writes through His greatness in our lives.
When we tell our story, “we also glory in our sufferings.” We consider both the good and the bad as blessings, because everything brings us closer to God who can use it all, the author of all, the Father who doesn’t want us to fall. Hashtag blessed still applies when we suffer.
We tell our story “because we know that suffering produces perseverance.” When you know you can make it through, you push through. You keep going anyway like my pastor, Josh Howerton, says, “Go again. Go again. Go again.”
If you go again and again, the suffering brings perseverance. The perseverance brings character. And character brings hope. Therefore, the suffering meant to break us down? It builds us up instead. This sequence is a journey from believing God set us free to living freed. Because once our roots grow into a harvest of hope, we have broken free from the harness of shame.
We tell our story because “hope does not put us to shame.” Hope is trust that good will come, that our faith will not fail to believe in our faithful God, that our God is good and faithful. Hope brings us to the land of milk and honey, to healing and joy, to a new inheritance.
We tell our story “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts throughout the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” When we receive God’s love, we are strengthened from within by a force that cannot be taken out. When we believe hope, we let the promise of the perfect One penetrate and saturate our souls. The One who fulfilled prophecies and laid miraculous mercies on the forgotten and down-trodden, the One who died for all imperfect persons and then raised to life to give us hope, the One who is the one and only Son of our God: Jesus.
Jesus removes my shame again and again because God gave me a new name: Beloved.
I am free when I walk with Him. So I tell my story again and again. All for His glory.
Join me today on the Known Podcast to hear my story of identity, marriage, and the power of prayer.