I was listening to Brené Brown in a TED talk describe the destructive power of shame. That’s when I decided, “One day I want to teach a message that will bring healing to people at Blue Oaks who are dealing with shame.”
Shame can be lethal. It can destroy our confidence. It can wither our spirits. It can paralyze our relationships. Experts in the field say struggling with shame can lead to rage, addiction, eating disorders, depression, or even suicide.
Shame is this feeling of heaviness that sits on a person when they feel they don’t measure up to who they were meant to be. One woman who wrestles with shame put it like this, “I feel not just like I’ve done something wrong and I feel guilty, but that there’s something wrong with me.”
This Sunday we look at two questions related to shame:
- Where does it come from?
- How do we gain the power to be done with dealing with it?
Full Sermon Script
I want to start today with some embarrassing moments I found on Twitter.
If you watch The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, I got this idea from his Hashtags segment.
These tweets would be hashtag embarrassing.
AJ Mendez Brooks writes:
Just bumped into a mannequin and said, “Sorry.” Then said, “Oh I thought you were a person.” Then realized I was still talking to a mannequin.
John McKay writes:
On a trip, saw some baby horses, could not think of the word foal, finally shouted “horse kittens” and pointed. wife understood.
Noah Masterson writes:
After flunking a job interview, got up, shook everyone’s hands, and walked into the coat closet.
Got into the passenger seat of the wrong car outside of Starbucks. The driver waited until I finished my phone call to tell me.
Kelly B writes:
A friend went to place her order at the drive thru. She then heard, “Could you drive up to the speaker? You’re talking to the trash can.”
Eliza Doodle writes:
First proper job interview. Got asked, “How’s your grammar?” With a confused face, I answered, “She’s fine.” Still got the job.
Last one — Kristen writes:
I once hugged a valet guy because I thought he was going in for one but was actually reaching for my door handle.
My guess is it wouldn’t take much work for most of the people in this room to come up with an embarrassing moment in your life.
One of mine:
I was in the restroom washing my hands and a woman walked in. She saw me and immediately turned around and walked out. That’s when I turned around and realized there were no urinals in the restroom.
We all have embarrassing moments…
But go a few layers deeper than embarrassment, which eventually will probably wear off, and you’ll find that human beings have the capacity for a painful sensation, one that tends to be permanent… or at least a lot longer lasting and can do a lot more damage.
We’re in this series “I’m Done With That” and today we’re focusing on shame — I’m done with dealing with shame.
It was a few years ago I was listening to Brené Brown in a TED talk describe the destructive power of shame.
And that’s when I decided, “One day I want to teach a message that will bring healing to people at Blue Oaks who are dealing with shame.”
Because unlike embarrassment, shame can be lethal. It strikes at the core of who we are.
People never tell funny stories about their shame. They may about embarrassment; they don’t about shame.
It can destroy your confidence.
It can wither your spirit.
It can paralyze your relationships.
Experts in the field say those who struggle with shame sometimes have problems with rage… or it can lead to addiction, eating disorders, depression or even suicide.
And it’s all around us.
There’s the shame that a little kid feels when he’s consistently picked last for teams. No one wants him on their side.
There’s the shame of being home by yourself weekend after weekend when it feels like everyone else is out having fun or on dates and you wonder, “Why doesn’t anyone want to be with me?”
There’s the shame that you feel when you meet an old classmate from school and it seems like they’ve done so much with their lives, and you wonder what you’ve been doing with yours.
There’s the shame that a high school student feels when he eats lunch all by himself day after day because no one else will eat with him. So eventually he learns to hang out in the library or somewhere else so he can hide his shame.
There’s the shame from a long pattern of deceit… or mismanaged anger… or divorce… or bankruptcy… or leading a double life.
Shame is this feeling of heaviness that sits on a person when they feel they don’t measure up to who they were meant to be… and maybe never will.
Shame is not just about a failing here or a minor flaw there.
One woman who wrestles with shame put it like this, “I feel my deformity is showing — like I’m a deformed person. Not just like I’ve done something wrong and I feel guilty, but that there’s something wrong with me.”
Brené Brown says the difference between shame and guilt is:
Guilt is, “I did something bad.”
Shame is, “I am bad.”
Well, what I want to do in our time today is look at two questions.
Where does shame come from?
How is it that people go through life crippled by it sometimes? Where does shame come from?
How do we gain the power to be done with it?
I want to start with an analogy that’s been used by many people who write about shame.
We were at the fair a while ago in one of those fun houses with the funny mirrors.
They look like ordinary, normal mirrors until you stand in front of one and stare at your reflection in it.
Then everything looks strange.
Stand in front of one and your knees look like they’re 6 feet long.
If you stick your finger down in that zone, your finger will reach from your thigh down to your shoes. It will look like ET’s finger.
Stand in front of another mirror and it looks like you’re three feet high and four feet wide. You look like Jabba the Hut.
Now imagine for a moment that your parents had a bizarre sense of humor and they decided to get rid of all the regular, normal mirrors in the house and replaced them with mirrors from this exhibit.
And they do this with not just one mirror, but every mirror. They do it not just for a day or a week, but for your entire life.
So month after month, year after year, every time you see yourself, the image is three feet high and four feet wide and you think, “I’m Jabba the Hut.”
Your picture, your identity, your understanding of who you are would be totally distorted from reality.
And what’s more, you would never know that it’s distorted. You wouldn’t have a clue. You would think that that distorted picture is an accurate representation of who you are.
Then, what’s more, this would lead to serious consequences because you would be making life-forming decisions about your future — about your work and your relationships and so on — based on dramatically distorted misinformation.
Kevin Durant would never have picked up a basketball, never have become a basketball player, if he truly believed that he was three feet high and four feet wide.
Here’s the point: You and I are at the mercy of the mirrors of our life… to get an idea of who we are.
This is true not just physically with mirrors, it’s true about our identity as persons — as emotional and spiritual beings.
We have mirrors in our life that reflect to us who we are and what we’re worth.
One writer put it like this: “The people in a young child’s life, especially a child’s parents, serve as a kind of mirror for the child, her sense of herself and her feelings, before she has the capacity to achieve this on her own.”
From the moment you first develop self-awareness, you begin to pick up signals that could answer the question: Who am I? What kind of person am I?
And from that point on you are constantly on the lookout for cues — tone of voice, facial gestures, gestures of touch — that would give you some understanding of who you are and how much you’re worth.
The people you grew up with mirrored to you, whether well or poorly, consciously or unconsciously, who you are.
When you walked into a room, if their faces lit up and their eyes gleamed, that became a part of your image of yourself. You read your identity in their eyes.
And when you walked into a room, if their faces didn’t light up, if their faces turned away, if their eyes did not gaze at you with joy, then that also became part of your image.
You read who you were in the eyes of the people in your life, and that has led to your life decisions.
And for some of you, what you read from the eyes of the people in your life was, “You’re not pretty enough… or smart enough… or good enough… or special enough to be truly loved.”
We’ve all had distorted mirrors in our life, and we all have been distorting mirrors for other people.
And one of the reasons for this is that shame is such a powerful technique for controlling other people’s behavior.
Shame is infinitely more powerful than logic or persuasion or encouragement.
Our family was at Disneyland a couple years ago. It was our son Ezra’s first time at Disneyland… and we were having a wonderful time.
But it was only a matter of time before we came to one of the rides where everyone in the family wanted to go on this ride except one member of the family who was afraid.
So we went through a series of attempts to try to encourage or persuade this one person.
And after trying to use rational persuasion like, “No one ever died on this ride, as far as we know.”
And then encouragement like, “Come on, go on this ride. You’ll be so proud of yourself if you go on it.”
And then alternate means, “We’ll give you a dollar if you go on this ride.”
Anyone want to guess what turned out to be the most powerful, persuasive technique?
It was shame.
“Look at this ride. People younger than you are going on this ride. Tiny little kids are going on this ride. They can hardly even stand on their own, but they’re not afraid.
“They’re not begging to get out of line. They’re not acting like this ride is bungee jumping with dental floss. If they can go on it, why can’t you?”
And of course the real message was,
“If you can’t handle this ride, something is wrong with you. You’re lacking in the courage department. So you can choose that if you want to, but we’ll withdraw a little bit from you emotionally. We won’t be pleased with you here today. We’ll be a little bit ashamed of you, a little bit ashamed that you’re in our family.”
No one, of course, said it in exactly those words, but in-between the lines the meaning was clear.
So finally the humiliation got strong enough that I said, “Alright, kids, fine I’ll go on the darn Teacup ride, just get off my back.”
This kind of shame that’s used to control and to manipulate other people is highly destructive, and some of you have been deeply wounded by it.
Some of you grew up in families where you heard it everyday.
Some of you maybe attended churches somewhere along the line where shame was the primary technique to motivate people’s behavior or to try to control them.
The primary need for some of you here today is to hide because shame always causes you to want to hide.
You know, the writers of Scripture say God did not make human beings to go through life with shame.
In Genesis, the writer of Scripture says about Adam and Eve —
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. Genesis 2:25
There was no hiding between them — no secrets, no hiddenness. They did not experience shame.
And then came sin, then came the fall, and the writer says —
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Genesis 3:7-10
And we’ve been hiding ever since — hiding from God and from each other.
For some of you in this room, or for some of you who are watching online, the primary way you’re going to receive the power to be done with dealing with shame… is to stop hiding whatever it is that has created shame in your life.
You need to find another person who will be loving toward you and bring it out into the open.
You need to find some new mirrors, more accurate mirrors.
Maybe you need to find a good Christian counselor.
Maybe you need to find support in a loving community of friends who will give you the gift of acceptance.
Maybe you need to join a small group that will do that for you.
One of the primary commitments we have here at Blue Oaks is to help people get into small groups where they can find people that will care for and prize them.
Some of you have been hiding a long time, and today, if you want to be done with dealing with shame, you need to stop hiding and come out into the open.
Now it would be wonderful if my only job today was to say that this is the whole story about shame — that shame simply happens to us as a result of outside forces mistreating us, and if I could just get the accurate mirrors in my life that all shame would go away.
Many people in the field of psychology who write about shame, write as if that’s the whole story.
But the writers of Scripture say there’s more to it than that.
Sometimes shame is a result of looking at a flawed mirror, but sometimes I experience shame when I look at an accurate mirror — when I look in a mirror that reflects me as I really am.
The writers of Scripture say that one of the reasons I feel I’m a flawed person… is I am a flawed person.
There’s greed inside me.
There’s selfishness inside me.
There’s envy and jealousy inside me.
Sometimes I hurt people I love.
Those things happen and I can’t just snap my fingers and make them go away.
Now this is a very important thing about shame, and again, you tend not to read this in all the stuff that’s written about it.
Sometimes shame has important things to say to us… and we need to listen.
The capacity to experience shame is one of the most important parts of being a person — a human being made in the image of God.
It’s one of the things that separates us from the animals.
It’s a noble thing to be able to experience it.
If someone is utterly incapable of experiencing shame, if someone cannot experience shame anymore, then something has gone wrong.
There’s an old expression that people used to use if someone wanted to insult a woman. It’s not used very much anymore, but if they wanted to insult a woman they would sometimes use the word hussy.
And it’s part of a two-word phrase — not just “She’s a hussy,” but people would say, “She is a shameless hussy.”
I’m not even sure what a hussy is, but apparently if you’ve been hussing you ought to feel bad about it — it’s not a good thing to do.
If someone has fallen so low that they do bad things and don’t even blush over them, then sometimes the question will get asked, “Have you no shame?”
That is, if you can do bad things and not experience remorse or shame over them, then you’ve lost something essential to your humanity.
It’s just important that we listen to this when we think about shame.
Hermann Goering, who had been the designer of some of the worst evil in Nazi Germany, was on trial at Nuremburg, and they had been reading a list of the atrocities that he had been involved in — just mind blowing things.
As they were reading the list, he leaned over to Albert Spear who was also on trial at Nuremburg and said, “Never mind. Someday they’ll build monuments to us.”
This is a person partly responsible for the destruction of millions and millions of human beings in this evil empire.
And as it was being revealed for the whole world, his response was, “One day they’ll build memorials to me.”
See, if he could experience a little bit of shame, it would have said there was some spark of humanity left in him.
If he could at least have felt some pain over what he had done, what his life had become, maybe he could have been led to forgiveness.
One of the most important things in gaining power to be done with dealing with shame is learning to discern between this healthy kind of shame that could have saved Hermann Goering or at least told him how off track he had become… learning to discern between that… and the junk that tends to get in our way that comes from distorted mirrors.
And I want to tell you a story about both kinds of shame — a true story about a real person… I’ll call her Angela. It’s not her real name, but it’s a true story, and many of you have experienced similar kinds of stories one way or another.
Angela was in my class in sixth grade. She had frizzy hair, a real pale complexion, big freckles and buck teeth… and was not considered very attractive.
She was not popular socially. She said strange things sometimes.
And in the cast system of my sixth grade class — young people just getting ready to enter adolescence — she was on the lowest rung. She was like untouchable.
A lot of you, when you think back to when you were that age, can remember someone like that in one of your classes.
This is what life was like for her:
No one voluntarily ever sat by her.
No one ever befriended her.
Her words carried no weight with the rest of her class.
No one responded to her suggestions, so she learned to quit making them.
If a joke was going to be made at someone’s expense, generally it would be made at hers.
And no one ever stuck up for her.
No one ever said to the rest of the class, “Cut it out. Stop treating her like this. Why don’t you treat her like a human being?” No one ever said that.
Now this was not an overt decision. There was no name for the position in the class that she occupied. No one voted to make her class leper.
It was just understood that what she did and what she wore and what she said was just going to be unacceptable.
Now, it was about sixth grade, where I was growing up, that girls stopped having cooties, and boys and girls would sometimes “go out.”
No one knew what you were supposed to do when you were “going out,” or if you were actually supposed to go somewhere, but that’s the year we began to “go out.”
To “go out” with Angela would have been unthinkable. In fact, if you wanted to insult a boy in that class, all you would have to say is that he’s in love with Angela or he kissed Angela.
She lived every day between the despair of not being noticed and the knowledge that if she did get any attention at all, it would be to shame her.
And now, looking back 35 years later, I wonder —
Why did we do that?
Where did that kind of cruelty come from?
Why didn’t I ever go sit next to her?
Why didn’t I ever stick up for her?
Why didn’t I ever say to other people, “Leave her alone.”
Because I knew better.
I knew better… but I never did anything.
You know, shame is a funny thing.
Here’s part of what’s strange about it.
That group would have shamed anyone who came to her defense. That group of sixth graders would have shamed anyone who befriended her.
It was the threat of being shamed, rejected by the group, that kept people away from Angela.
It was shame that kept people from doing the right thing.
But now I look back at what we did — and what all groups of kids do, what all human beings do — and the fear that she brought to school every morning… and the pain that she took home with her every night…
And how hard she must have worked to keep her parents from ever finding out because she wanted them to be proud of her… she wanted them, as all kids want their parents, to think that she was happy and smart and successful and popular at school.
She had to keep that pain a secret. She had to keep it in the closet.
And I think about that, and I think about what it would be like if one of my kids going through school would have to experience what she experienced.
And you know what?
I look back at it now, and I feel ashamed. I just feel ashamed… because I knew better.
And in the years between then and now I have known some people and loved some people who have been hurt, and I know what it can do to people.
See, there’s different kinds of shame in that story.
There’s the kind that Angela carried with her every day. And it was false and it was evil.
It told her that she was unlovely and unlovable and unattractive and unwanted. It wasn’t true. She was a child of God.
But there’s this other kind of shame.
There’s the shame that I feel now looking at the gap between who I was and who I was meant to be… who I wish I would have been.
The shame that tells me — God made me to be compassionate and courageous. He didn’t make me to be cowardly and cruel.
This is what one writer calls “redemptive shame.”
Now, that’s a very odd phrase and one you’re not likely to read about in articles that get written about shame in our society… but it’s true.
It’s about that kind of painful, hopeful signal that says you’ve fallen short of God’s plan for you… and that’s not okay… and that needs to be remedied.
Now how does that shame get healed?
Where do we get the power to be done with the shame that comes from the fact that I am truly a flawed person?
Well, some people think, “If only I could be good enough, if only I could get my behavior to live up to God’s standards, if only I could live up to the standards of my parents or my friends or my spouse or even God…”
And so life becomes an endless attempt to do more, to work harder, to be better.
And many people have the idea that that’s what Christianity is about — that it’s this religious attempt to live up to the standards of God.
But it’s never enough.
You know, God is a holy God, a God of perfection… and we can never reach that standard.
And then there are some people who think, “If I just tell myself that I’m acceptable, if I just chant enough slogans of self-affirmation and think enough positive thoughts, then I can be done with dealing with shame.”
But see, the problem is not just getting me to think good thoughts about myself.
The problem is that there is this gap — that I’m not the person I was meant to be.
You know, one of the writers on shame, who has written widely and with influence about shame in our day, talks about shame being the severing of a bridge.
That between the important people in your life, between a child and parents, there is a bridge of trust.
And the bridge is filled as parents communicate love and value and acceptance of the child.
But it’s when it feels like this bridge is broken that shame comes in.
And you can see it — people hang there heads, they look away with their eyes, they blush.
And the writers of Scripture say that not only do we have this problem with each other — this severed bridge — but that we’ve been separated from God. That our sin and shame has separated us from God… that we hide from God.
And that the one answer, the one hope for human beings to receive the power to be able to be done with dealing with shame is something called “grace.”
That God chooses to wipe away the cause of our shame and to give us full acceptance.
And it works something like this…
Some time ago I was driving in my car and I looked in the rear view mirror. And I saw something which brought some fear, some panic and some shame to me.
Anyone want to guess what it was?
It was those flashing red and blue lights.
A police car pulled up behind me and had me pull over to the side of the road.
And I felt bad about that.
I felt bad because everyone driving by was watching what was happening, so I was feeling a little ashamed about that.
And I was late for a meeting.
I was supposed to be at a church meeting, and I was late for that, so I was feeling guilty about that… and I was in a hurry.
And he just sat in his squad car for the longest time.
I thought, “Well, I’ll expedite the process a little bit.” So I got out of my car and started walking back to his car so that we could just move things along.
They don’t like it when you do that at all.
He came on his intercom, “GET BACK IN THE CAR OR ELSE.”
So I didn’t have to think about that one too long. I went back and got in my car and waited a while longer.
Then, finally, he came over to my car and I rolled down the window, and he still just stood there for the longest time.
And so, finally, just to break the silence and get the process moving… and because I was feeling so bad, I said:
“Officer, look, I don’t want to waste your time. I know I’m guilty. I feel badly about this. I’m guilty.
“I don’t want to argue with you. So whatever it is that you have to do, just go ahead and do it. I’m guilty and I know it, and I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. I’m guilty, I’m guilty, I’m guilty.”
And he just stood there and looked at me for a few moments and then he said, “Well, that’s very interesting. You just keep telling me how guilty you are, and I haven’t even told you why I pulled you over. I haven’t even said anything yet, and all you can say is, ‘I’m guilty, I’m guilty, I’m guilty.’
“I wonder why that is,” he said. “What exactly is it that you’re guilty of?”
So I said, “Well, officer, I’m a pastor. I’m on my way to a church meeting. I’m late for it. And I’m feeling bad about that.
“I’m a pastor, so when I say I’m guilty, I’m speaking theologically. You know, I’m guilty, you’re guilty, we’re all guilty really when it comes right down to it. Don’t you think?”
So I explained my situation and then he said to me, “Have you got anything to substantiate this ‘pastor bit’?”
I wanted so badly to say, “No, do you have anything to substantiate this ‘police officer bit’?”
But I thought that wouldn’t be a good idea.
So I rummaged through the car for something to substantiate the fact that I worked as a pastor and gave him the only thing I could find which was an invitation to one of our church services.
It was an invitation to our Money and Sex series.
And he did an amazing thing. He said, “Well, I’ll tell you what.”
The reason he had actually stopped me was that the taillight in my car wasn’t working. The taillight! I’d confessed to all this stuff and it was just a taillight that wasn’t working.
He said, “Probably… I wasn’t monitoring it, but probably you were going a little too fast. But,” he said, “I’m just going to let you go free.”
He said he had never had an encounter like this with anyone he had pulled over before, and it was probably a story he could share around the station.
He said, “I’m just going to let you go free. You’re not guilty in my book. You can go free.”
God says that the one hope for being done with dealing with the shame that cripples the human race is the grace of God.
And you don’t have to earn it; in fact, you can’t. It’s just a free gift.
It’s why Jesus came to teach and live, and it’s why he went to the cross, died and was raised again — to make available to us the grace of God.
The writer of Hebrews said this:
Fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame… Hebrews 12:2
In other words, Jesus went to the cross so that you and I could receive the free gift of the acceptance of God.
The cross was the ultimate expression of what it is to be shamed on this Earth.
When Jesus was on the cross, people mocked Him and ridiculed Him. They spit on Him. They beat Him. They killed Him.
And in his death, the writer of Scripture says that He was bearing the burden of all of your shame and all of your guilt… and mine too.
He was paying the moral indebtedness that you and I could not pay so that we could be free of the burden of shame.
But you must receive it.
You must choose. You’ve got to decide.
You’ve got to say to God, “God, I confess not just that other people have hurt me, though they have, but also that I’m not the person that I was meant to be. And I’m tempted to hide.”
And the invitation by the writers of Scripture is to stop hiding and bring it all in the open with God… and simply accept His grace.
And then this wonderful thing will happen — you will have a new mirror. You will have a chance to look at yourself in a new mirror.
The writer of Psalm 17 has this wonderful prayer where he prays to God:
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:8
This phrase, “Keep me as the apple of your eye,” in Hebrew — the original language that the Old Testament was written — is a little idiom that refers to the little person in your eye.
And it comes from the fact that if you get very close to a person and you look directly into their eyes, if you’re very close to them, you will actually get a reflection of your own face.
Physically, if you get very close to someone and you look into their eye, you’ll see a reflection of yourself.
Their eye literally serves as a kind of a mirror for you — the little man in their eye.
You can try that right now, if you want to. If you’re here with someone that you know really well, look real close at them, and you’ll see yourself.
Or if you’re sitting next to an attractive stranger you’ve never met before, if you’re willing to risk being shamed, you might want to try it with them. Something exciting might happen today.
The human eye actually serves as a kind of a mirror.
It’s a wonderful truth about how the body is constructed by God. The human eye serves as a kind of a mirror, physically. So when you gaze deeply into the eyes of another person, you see yourself.
Here’s what the writer is getting at: You’re invited into an intimate relationship with God, you and I are.
And there may be all kinds of reasons in your mind why you think you cannot be. There may be shame that you’ve carried around, that has been hidden, locked up inside you your whole life long.
But it’s not hidden from God.
And that’s good news. That’s good news.
Because only when someone fully knows you can they fully love you.
And God fully loves you.
That’s God’s grace made available through Jesus Christ and the cross.
So the writer of Scripture says to get as close to God as you can. And what happens is God looks at you in grace with love and acceptance.
Get close enough, and you will see yourself the way God sees you. You will see yourself in the eyes of God.
You will come to see and to know and to understand, and you will actually believe. You will actually find yourself believing you are the apple of God’s eye.
You are the apple of his eye. With all your flaws and all your failures, with all the ways that you fall short… you are loved and prized and cherished and treasured in the eyes of God.
The only place to find the power to be done with dealing with shame is grace.
And the place to find grace is in the eyes of the God of the cross. That’s the mirror that brings healing.
Alright, let’s pray as the band comes to lead us in a closing song.
Now God… for people who have been looking in the wrong mirror, who have been crippled by shame, and have been hiding… we ask for grace.
And God… for people who have been living in hiddenness and shame — avoiding you, running from you, not facing up to the gap between who they are and who they were meant to be… we ask for grace.
Help us, God, to come to Jesus, the one who teaches us, who lived and died for us, and was raised again so we could know the grace and forgiveness that heals our shame.
We ask this all in Jesus’ name… and everyone said… amen.