“I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori, and were an epitaph to be my story, I’d say, ‘My name is Ryan, and I loved people by trying to break the power of shame. I hope I did right by my family in the end.’”
I wrote these words a little over a year ago as part of a 57-page English paper that related all the work of Robert Frost to my life, as the epitaph of what will go on my gravestone. Those words were true then, but, in the context of my life, it’s almost like a different person had spoken them, and recent events have left me grasping not only the mission of my life’s work but how to fulfill that mission.
Not only do I want to be loved and have the power of shame broken in my heart, but I need it.
I need it more than ever. It has gotten better, but there are days when shame is so crippling it leaves me up until 3 or 4 in the morning. And I would much rather feel that strong emotion pointed at myself than turn it outwards and unleash a fury of anger and bitterness on the rest of the world.
Learning from people in the Bible
Characters in the Bible, to me, are so compelling because they are so flawed and imperfect, but God uses them for good anyways. Many of these characters felt tremendous shame, and Jon Bloom of Desiring God tackles the topic of how God broke the power of shame in these characters and broke the shackles of its hold over their lives.
Without naming the characters, Bloom cites the Samaritan woman in John 4, who is shamed by the community for having multiple failed marriages. She comes to a well alone to draw water and hide from the public shaming of the community.
He also cites David’s actions in 2 Samuel 11, who abused his power to sleep with his soldier’s wife, got her pregnant, and then covered up his adultery by making sure that soldier died. He cites the hemorrhaging woman in Luke 8 who touches Jesus to receive healing while cowering and hiding in shame when he interrogated the crowd over who touched him.
“These are three biblical portraits of people who tried to hide their shame in the wrong places,” Bloom writes.
“But the wonderful thing is that all three experienced God’s power to break shame’s hold over them and set them free. And this wonderful experience can also be ours.”
Origin of shame
Judeo-Christian theology holds that the origin of shame came from the Fall when Adam and Eve bit into the fruit in the Garden of Eden and tried to cover themselves and hide from God when they gained that knowledge. Adam and Eve then found themselves vulnerable to sin and vulnerable to God’s judgment, as well as unprotected from the vices of Satan in ways they couldn’t have imagined before.
“We also live in this dangerous world and have the same instinct to hide ourselves,” Bloom tells us.
We feel shame first because we sin and fail morally, and we inevitably always will. In Romans 7:15, the apostle Paul writes that “for I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate,” and Paul continues to say that we are “captive to the law of sin.”
We also fail through our weaknesses, as Hebrews 5:2 tells us that the anointed priests chosen by men to act on behalf of God are blessed to act “gently with the ignorant and wayward since he himself is beset by weakness.”
Our failures and weaknesses are the sources of our shame, and because that shame is fueled by pride.
We “will go almost any length to hide [our failures and weaknesses] from others.” We expend tremendous energy and time avoiding that kind of exposure.
Shame encourages us to hide, and always will.
We hide in our house when leaving the house is too painful and we don’t want the exposure. We hide in throwing ourselves into our work, or our phones or TV or social media. We hide behind our accomplishments. We hide behind being “busy”, and we also hide behind excesses in our personality, like scathing sarcasm or being overly social.
“Pride moves us to use whatever we can to hide our shame,” Bloom continues.
Our instinct to hide, though, is there for a reason, and it isn’t wrong to have that instinct
Christians break the power of being bound to shame through the refuge and protection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We don’t have to be ashamed in our weaknesses anymore because Jesus told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” so like Paul, we may too be proud in our weaknesses, whether that be a physical defect or how we fall short of who we want to be.
We can say, in the words of Paul, that “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” In terms of our moral defects and sin, we can rejoice in the death and resurrection of Jesus because He put away our sin through sacrificing himself for it. And there’s more: Hebrews 9:28 tells us that Christ will come a second time not only to deal with sin but to “save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
In Christ, we break the power of shame.
The Samaritan woman at the well believed in Jesus at the well and destroyed her shame. David confessed his sin in 2 Samuel 12:13 to Nathan in saying that “I have sinned against the Lord,” and his guilt and shame was later paid for by Jesus. The hemorrhaging woman admitted to the crowd her source of shame and how she was healed, and Jesus told her in Luke 8:48, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” In each of these people, believing in Jesus and confessing before him broke the power of their shame, and moved forward with hope.
“Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame,” Paul tells us in Romans 10:11.
Jesus bore the weight of our sin and guilt and broke the power of our shame, being shamed for us in his death, and destroying that shame in his resurrection.
I look forward now in these circumstances with only hope for the future because Jesus died for us, God will never forsake us and let us go. I wrote that I was “trying to” break the power of shame with some knowledge that I couldn’t do it alone, and I can’t.
The art of breaking the power of shame requires surrender to my God, who will never let me or you go.
And my hope will not put me to shame, because, in the vein of Romans 5:5, God’s love has been poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit that’s been given to me.