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Dealing with Feelings of Shame
In a church service one Sunday, an old woman's heart swelled with emotions as the minister thumped on the pulpit. He was speaking about Christians to feel shame for the things that they had done and repent from their sins.
As a practicing Christian, the woman felt a lot of shame over her past transgressions and poor choices. She felt compelled to share her feelings with the pastor after the service ended.
"You know, pastor, I committed a terrible sin years ago and I still feel shame over it to this day." To her surprise, instead empathizing with her, his face became grim. "Woman, your shame has become a stronghold in your life that you must root out," he said.
When I heard a pastor tell a similar story, I could imagine the shock that must have been on the old woman's beaten down, careworn face. In situations like this, the question comes up: as Christians, aren't we supposed to feel shame over what we have done wrong? The answer is yes and no. We are to feel shame, but them let go of it after we repent.
Some other common reasons we feel shame:
- Our backgrounds: we grew up poor and were embarrassed by our hand-me-down clothing and lack of resources
- Our bodies: we hate our physical features or disability and try to cover them up with oversize clothing or makeup
- Our intellect: we are not as smart or well educated as our peers
- Our jobs: our work is not a career that would impress people
- Our financial status: we can't afford the same luxuries as the people around us
Legitimate vs false shame
When we are confronted by shame, we need to analyze why we are feeling this way and evaluate whether our feelings are valid. There are some things in life over which we have no control that may be provoking us to hang our heads.
If any of these causes listed on the right are the source of our shame, we need to re-examine our values. God accepts us as we are. He expects us to accept ourselves the way He accepts us as His beloved children.
There is another kind of shame that plays a valuable part in our repentance and reconciliation with God. Shame happens when we realize that we have sinned and hurt ourselves and others. It can be an overwhelming, as it was for the woman speaking to the pastor. How can we handle it?
A Biblical example
One man who lived in the Middle East long ago understood how to overcome his past and taught others to do so. He grew up as a Jew under a renowned teacher. When the people in his town started embracing the new Christian faith, this man started to persecute them. He stood by and held the coats of men who stoned a Christian leader to death. He spoke murderous threats against Christians and tried to imprison them.
Yet God intervened and called him to a life as a minister. I am talking about the apostle Paul, whose story starts in the book of Acts 9. We can only imagine how Paul, then called Saul, must have felt when God struck him with blindness and he realized he had been persecuting God's people. It is interesting to note that the next time we meet Paul, he is preaching the gospel. I am sure that Saul felt shame for his past deeds, but he didn't seem to carry that burden into his Christian life. Instead, he realized that he is a frail human being who needs salvation through Jesus Christ (Romans 7:17-20). We can put our shame behind us in the same way and move on.
When Paul spoke of his past to the Galatian church, Paul honestly admitted that he intensely persecuted and sought to destroy the church, but said that God had called him by His grace to preach the gospel to the gentiles.(Galatians 1:13, 16). Paul did not carry a burden of shame and guilt around with him. Instead, he helped the Corinthian church to overcome their sense of shame after he had confronted them about their sins.(2 Corinthians 2:7-16)
The Corinthian church was a troubled place with a lot of problems. When Paul confronted them with their sins, they went overboard with shame and guilt.(2 Corinthians 7:8-13) Paul told them that their shame should only last a little while.
Relevant Scriptures Written by Paul
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. Old things have passed away and everything becomes new
2 Corinthians 5:17
We are flesh but God gives us spiritual weapons to pull down strongholds
2 Corinthians 10:3-4
Our minds can be renewed and we can become a new people
We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us
We can put on the new man, renewed by the knowledge of the Creator
Shame is temporary
Shame was meant to be a temporary measure to bring us to godly repentance. Christ died to remove all the shame in our lives. When we hold onto it, we deny His sacrifice and hold ourselves back from the repentance that will restore our relationship with God. We may feel regret, but should not feel ashamed.
God gives us the spiritual weapons and divine power to demolish the strongholds of shame and other pretensions that set themselves up against God. We can take captive every thought and make it obedient to Him. (2 Corinthians 10:4-6). If we call out to Him in our pitiful human state, he will save us out of our troubles. We will never be covered in shame. (Psalm 34:5-7).
Let us grab hold of these promises from God, let go of the lurking shame in our lives, and enjoy the freedom that He gives.