Earlier this month I announced I would write on the topic of shame. Little did I know that we would be walking through this together. I uncovered a new layer of trauma in counseling and I can’t stop going over the tendrils of shame that still try to sink their way into my thought life, my relationships, and my daily outlook.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write a Biblical, grounded way to define shame but I can’t quite craft a succinct definition that captures it. Instead let me tell you what it feels like (maybe you can relate).
It’s heavy. Pervasive. Dark.
It feels like an erupting volcano that spills its hot breath and messy lava over everything in its path.
It feels like piles and piles of laundry I can’t quite stay on top of, so I succumb to the pile and just lay there in the mess.
It feels like a knotted ball of string in the core of my gut, growing and getting more tangled as I try to ignore it.
It feels like treading water in the middle of deep ocean waters, with tired arms and legs and no land in sight.
It’s chaotic. Suffocating. Toxic.
While I’ve been wrestling through this place, I’ve thought of you many times, friend. I’ve thought of you wading through the lava mess, trying to untangle yourself, on the other side of this very same ocean. I want to call out to you and say, “we’re in this together.”
Shame doesn’t want us to link arms. It isolates us and keeps us in fear, secrecy, blame, and judgment.
But here’s what Brene Brown says about shame:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame…The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.”
Ann Voskamp’s words echo Brene’s:
“Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
So that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m telling my stories in safe places. I sit in my counselor’s office and tell her these new revelations to my past. She says, “Now it’s not a secret anymore.” We’re unknotting the ball and laying it down string by string.
I cry to my husband about my overwhelm, and then we dig into the laundry pile together (this is actually literal- I can’t stay on top of the dirty laundry ha).
I call my best friend and leave her a long voicemail filling her in, as I step out of isolation and the lava cools at my feet. She responds and says that she hears me and she loves me.
Friend, I may not have a perfect path forward for you to get rid of your shame. I’m just figuring it out myself right now, too. But what I can do is shout to you from my side of the ocean.
You’re not alone. We’re in this together.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:12
When we wrestle with shame, we feel like our brokenness is the whole story. Shame says, “Your past defines you. You are too broken to be loved. You will never be whole or healed.” Shame tries to keep us trapped in the dark.
Years ago, after I experienced the most painful parts of my story, I felt like the main character in The Scarlet Letter. I was stuck in that darkness, and thought everyone around me could see my sin, shame, and trauma on display. It made me want to hide from others, and I didn’t feel welcome in God’s presence or with other Christians who seemed to have it all together. I thought I was destined to wear a “V” for victim, a “D” for divorce, and an “A” for anxiety for the rest of my life.
But friend, shame does not tell the whole story.
Your wounds and scars and baggage do not define you. The present struggle you are wrestling does not define you. The biggest brokenness you feel when you think of yourself? THAT does not define you.
As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. He binds up the brokenhearted. He restores the years the locusts have eaten. He brings beauty from ash and brokenness. He proclaims freedom. He sets the captives free.
There is nothing too dark or too heavy or too broken for Him that He cannot redeem. The Bible is full of real people God re-defined instead of letting their brokenness tell the whole story.
We get to be like Jacob with his sinful past who was newly named “Israel” and blessed by God as the father of a nation. God re-defined Jacob and used him as the foundation of a favored people.
We are able to stand firm like Joseph, who said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). God sustained Joseph and rescued others through him.
We can comfort those who mourn and stand by their side, like Ruth did for Naomi. God restored Ruth’s broken heart and brought her a sweet redeemer in the form of Boaz, and even used her in the lineage of Jesus, a true Redeemer for the rest of us.
We can cry out to God in our shame, our pain, our brokenness like David throughout the Psalms. God forgave David in his repentance, and still used David’s story and his heart to show others how to walk through the light days and the dark.
We can be like Paul, who stepped into humility after he met the Lord and brought truth to others. God transformed Paul’s heart and gave him a powerful testimony that allowed him to speak to others from a place of true awareness of his need for a redeemer.
What if instead of hiding from God in our brokenness, we instead prayed that He would meet us there and transform the way we see the hard parts of our story? What if we prayed for Him to use our brokenness, however He can, to bring hope to others and bring glory to HIS greatness? What if instead of covering up those parts of our story, we shared with others to let them know that they’re not alone? In your honesty and vulnerability with yourself, God, and others, I pray that you might be released from shame, darkness, and feeling like you will never be free from those heavy burdens. Because, dear heart, when you set those things into the light, the darkness cannot have as much power here.
Let’s not give shame the final say.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” -Romans 8:1 ⠀
When I wrestle with the weight of shame, my past says to hide. It says “you are not welcome here.” It chokes and stifles. It makes me feel like I’m covered in grime and stains that cannot be scrubbed clean. Shame says my baggage will prevent me from moving forward or getting through the door. It says, “this is who you are; this is the whole story.”⠀
I want to refute that, in the name of Jesus. ⠀
Because we are in Christ, shame is no longer part of the equation. ⠀
Where shame stifles and chokes, God’s Truth breathes life into us. Where shame whispers lonely, God says loved. Where shame hides our secrets in the darkness, God tells us to talk them over in the light. And freedom is found there.⠀
Will you join me in throwing off that cloak of shame? He already washed us clean, so we can stop rolling around in old dirt. He calls us to new life- the shame of the past died with our old selves. He calls us redeemed, so we can re-claim our stories in Him.⠀
Friend, I am praying that we would know that freedom, all the way down to our toes and in the marrow of our bones. If you’re anything like me, and you’re still dragging around the baggage and chains of the past can this be the month where we drop them at the door, once and for all? ⠀
As much as shame wants us to think we’re too broken, this is not the whole story. But we have to let go of the shame first. Because if anything, the SHAME is holding us back. ⠀
Your story is welcome here, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of it unfolds. Together, let’s step through the door into freedom, friend.