08 Feb Shaming Shame
I remember how sad I felt when it was finally confirmed that Lance Armstrong was found guilty of doping. One CNN reporter called it professional sport’s most epic downfall. While living in Portugal, we enjoyed watching the Tour de France and always rooted for Armstrong to win. His comeback story from cancer was an inspiration, and the fact he was using his fame to support other cancer survivors added to my respect for the man. To learn later he had used his cancer as a badge and hoodwinked the public about the drugs, left me feeling heartbroken and angry.
It was such a shame.
Shameful, too, was Volkswagen’s “dieselgate” scandal said to have been conceived over the span of a decade when employees cheated on emissions tests after realizing their systems could not legally meet US clean air standards. The 78-year-old company with a reputation for being confident and uncompromising, is now facing record financial losses and mounting legal battles stemming from its decision.
In these very public examples, shame was brought on by acts intentionally meant to deceive. The perpetrators just got caught. However, in the spiritual realm, shame is more insidious, a pervasive presence that is often camouflaged. Rather than being an external factor based on performance, it is woven into the fabric of our fallen nature, targeting the core of our worth and identity. And if I am honest with myself, I’d have to admit shame has been an all too intimate companion of mine over the years.
Even when I don’t mean to, the way I present myself to others is often a carefully veiled attempt to avoid shame. I want to disguise my flaws and appear like I have it all together, like I know what I’m doing. I want to be strong and successful and important.
My guess is, I’m not alone.
Born into sin, the shadow of shame emerges with us – a voice emitting from some place long forgotten suggesting we are intrinsically insufficient and unworthy of love. Whereas guilt condemns our actions when we err, shame attacks our value and scorns, “You ARE the mistake”.
This is why the Good News of Christ is such good news.
Stirred by pure love, Jesus became the way to break shame’s hold. Though sinless, He carried our dishonor to the cross. In the world’s eyes, His was considered a humiliating, ignoble end. Yet in the heavenly realms, His act of selfless obedience and raw courage blasted through the confining walls of shame. He shamed shame by walking into it instead of away. He faced the shadow because He understood His worth, bore our disgrace and triumphed over darkness. Thus, He declared us worthy of love and offers the gift of reconciliation to those who will receive it.
And, it is from this place of love and belonging, a new journey can begin for those who believe. Instinctive attitudes of self-sufficiency and self-righteousness once exposed can be replaced with authenticity and community. Faith can pave the way for the relinquishing of old habits, expectations, and beliefs allowing others to see Christ through our lives. And courage can be released, empowering us to prefer God’s will above our own.
Even so, shame does not surrender quietly. It keeps urging us to hide our fears and imperfections, and battles tirelessly to nullify our newfound worth. Thus, many of us still unknowingly spend much of our Christian life manufacturing worthiness and running from the shadow. Maybe beauty, wealth, knowledge, religiosity, fame or relationships – anything to keep the shadow at bay and vulnerability hidden.
That has been my struggle. In an effort to dodge shame, I’ve spent a good portion of my Christian life hiding behind others to avoid the responsibility, and potential criticism, that could come from letting my voice be heard. This process of writing is part of my journey toward freedom, toward shaming shame. But the courage to show up in my own story didn’t emerge on its own. I found my voice, first, in the safe harbor of healthy community. Walking through the door of vulnerability, I became known and then challenged to exercise my gifts, cheered on by others to embrace my individuality with its unique expression.
So, I believe freedom is found when, like Christ, we stride toward the shadow instead of running from it. When we admit our shame at being vulnerable, when we allow ourselves to walk into the messiness of pain and loss – when we relinquish control. And when we let ourselves be known.
If we yield to it, this process will repeat itself, gradually easing the world’s hold on us and revealing, with increasing intensity, the treasure within. Fear of shame will become a mere whisper, whereas faith, hope and love will grow becoming the weighty stuff of which the abundant life is made.
February 6, 2017