Penelope (name changed, of course) hid her face and sobbed, confessing that she’d once had an abortion. Now I’d known Penelope for several years at that point and, as college girls do, we’d shared all of our most intimate thoughts and secrets. Or so I thought. But Penelope had never once even hinted at the pain that tormented her day and night. Her guilt had kept her from sharing that excruciating part of her past.
Fast forward several years – another friend, another setting, same confession. Portia had had an abortion and carried such guilt from it that she couldn’t bear it one second longer. She broke down that day at work and cried her heart out.
Jeremy lost his job but was too embarrassed to tell his wife so he pretended to go to work every day until he couldn’t hide his secret anymore. Anthony had an undiagnosed learning disability, making it a struggle for him to read so he simply refused to do it. His classroom behavior was disruptive, his grades were poor, but his secret was safe. Sarah was drowning in debt; Darryl was addicted to pornography; and Landon felt he could never live up to his parents’ expectations.
What do all of these people have in common?
And it’s kept every one of them from asking for help.
Feelings of shame transcend knowledge and reason. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people hide their failures, fears, guilt and condemnation from others because they’re driven by shame – at themselves.
Shame is the great isolator; it causes people to hide behind masks that smile and say, “I’m fine. How are you?” And in many cases, it even causes people to separate themselves completely from others.
But what gives shame its power over us? Primarily this: We let our failure or fear or fault or sin define us. In other words, that thing becomes our identity. To people tormented by shame, the unconscious message that plays and replays in their minds is not simply “You did a bad thing;” the message is, “You’re a bad person.” As time passes and that message is not deleted, it morphs into “You’re a horrible person” or “There’s something wrong with you – and you’ll never be right.” Eventually, if that message is allowed to metastasize further, it can lead to hopelessness, addiction, mental illness or even worse.
Shame is a monster – unseen, undetected and, ultimately, unslain. Shame enslaves, tortures, and destroys. And tragically, many see no hope of ever escaping it.
But there is one way. Jesus came to set us free – even from the demon of shame. The Bible tells us that when Jesus died, He took our shame for us so that we don’t have to live with it or die by it.
The blood of Christ is the only sword which can slay the dragon of shame. Why? Because in Christ, we gain a new identity – His identity. No longer are we defined by our sin but rather by His righteousness (II Cor. 5:21). We can be transformed from a “horrible” creature to a “new creation in Christ” (II Cor. 5:17), a truly good person – righteous and perfect. We can go from believing that we’ll never be loved or forgiven because we’re too “ugly” or “dirty” or “wrong,” to knowing that, through Christ, we’re really, truly worthy of being both loved and forgiven.
Of course, folks can ridicule this. They can continue to spend big bucks on therapy or to work harder at being good enough or to paste on the mask again and try for one more day to “fake it till they make it”. But it won’t help. And we know this because if people are still doing those things and those things still haven’t worked, then why would we think they ever could possibly work in the future?
They call that insanity.
Think about it: If we could free ourselves of shame, then why did Christ have to die to set us free? Just to give us another freedom option? Why would anybody die to set another person free when they have another way to get free? That’s insanity. And Jesus isn’t crazy. So that means that if he died to set us free, then He’s the only option we have.
The bottom line is that shame destroys destinies. Shame says, “Don’t be stupid – you can’t do that!” And maybe shame speaks through the voices of other people – people you know. Doesn’t matter. They’re still wrong. Shame is a liar whose mission it is to stop you from ever even trying to achieve the destiny you born for.