Listen to me, Shame!
Fool me once, Shame on you; fool me twice, Shame on ME! Have you heard the old
expression? It's supposed to remind us to learn from our mistakes, to figure out how to do better
in a single painful lesson and then move on with our lives. Simple, right?
But shame doesn't really work that way, does it? If you've lived any length of time, you likely
have something that causes you shame. The most non-self-aware person can identify with
shame even if it's for surface things like a hair in a mole, or how you look in a bathing suit, or
that embarrassing passing of gas or blurting out of something you meant to say only internally.
Reminds me of dining out with my children a few years ago. Emily, Sam, Will, and I landed at
a Cracker Barrel on a random Sunday, and Will was always excited to get a Sundae of Sunday...
he liked the irony of it, I think, a Sundae on Sunday. At the other end of the restaurant, the wait
staff carried out a piece of CocaCola cake with a candle and started a robust version of Happy
Birthday at a table of people we didn't know, and they, chagrined as most people are to be
serenaded by servers who may or may not really enjoy what they are singing, endured the off-
key rendition. As the servers finished up the chorus, my quiet, introverted, youngest child, 9 or
10 years old, suddenly lifted his face up, pumped his fist dramatically, and yelled - yelled, mind
you - Whoo hoooo!!
In the context of family, safe as it was, Will hasn't experienced any lingering shame from the
incident, but those embarrassing moments can hang around for a decade or three and be
replayed in our memory... like the time I fell at a local restaurant and showed the unsuspecting
diners my fancy underwear. I actually dreamed about it just last night, and in my dream, a
former young pastor of mine saw it, and with blared eyes and a mystified gulp he said, "Is that...
are you wearing granny panties?" His wife looked at me with judgy eyes, and said, "Mary
LOU!" I woke up embarrassed and ashamed. I don't know which was worst: the pastor's
imagined remarks or the fact that I was wearing granny panties. All this from an incident a
hundred years ago!! And seriously, Granny panties are comfortable, sister!! Wear them with
Brene' Brown says there are 12 shame categories that are the most familiar in us humans:
appearance and body image, money and work, motherhood and fatherhood, family, parenting,
mental and physical health, addiction, sex, aging, religion, surviving trauma, and being
stereotyped and labeled.
Oh my word! There's no area of life that is exempt! She further explains that Shame is the
belief that we are flawed and unworthy of belonging. Something we've experienced, done, or
failed to do, renders us unworthy of connection.
Mistakes in judgement, failures, hurts and lost hopes... we carry these like a bag of rocks slung
around our neck, adding daily to the burden with promises to ourselves and to others that we
break, expectations of ourselves and others that never quite materialize, things done and undone
to us and by us, and we are left wanting.
Wanting love and connection and relief from the nagging sense that we are not enough and
never will be.
What are the things that cause you to experience shame? Mine fall in those categories described
by Brene Brown: body image, work failure, money issues (anybody dealing with debt and the
associated guilt and shame?), and foot-in-mouth disease. And the shame thing grows like
mold...one little green spot on your white picket fence or the side of your house, and you turn
around and find the whole shebang eat up with it.
Do I have to tell you it's toxic? And secrecy, darkness, isolation makes it grow.
I can remember Mom pulling old wool army blankets out of our well house... it was a little
cement block structure that held a water pump that pulled water up from an underground well
and into our house. The well house was typically cool, and Mom used a portion of it to store
potatoes all winter long since we didn't have a cellar. She'd use the wool blankets to cover and
insulate the potato bins so the spuds didn't freeze and ruin over the winter and spring seasons.
At the end of summer, she'd pull out the blankets, spread them out on the lawn to get sanitized
by sunlight, the light killing any mildew or mold that may have grown on them through the
winter snows and spring and summer rains. Once dried and free of spores, they were good for
service again, and the fall harvest would go into the well house and the blankets used to protect
our stores once again.
So how do we sanitize ourselves from the mold of shame?
As the writer of Hebrews concludes his Hall of Faith in chapter 11, in chapter 12 he opens with
a challenge to "let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run
with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our
faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is
seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12: 1b-2 ESV
Looking to Jesus, we see His shift in perspective... Before Him was the cross, and the
accompanying shame. Scripture says He was despised and rejected, and Jesus was facing the
cross which was not just the cruelest of punishments, it was the most humiliating punishment, it
was absolute exposure. The crucified criminals stripped was naked, abandoned, afraid, and
dying. Can you imagine the WEIGHT of those moments?
Yet he laid that weight aside, along with our sin, and he looked forward... and for the JOY set
before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame.
What weighty shame do you need to lay aside? Like my momma's wool blanket, exposure to
the light will help. Light overcomes darkness, and shame is a dark place for most of us. For me,
the shame of my shortcomings becomes a soundtrack that plays in the background of my
thoughts. Opening up to a trusted friend, mentor, pastor (but not one who's seen my panties in
my dreams, thank you), coach or counselor can help. Exposing your shame to light reduces its
And understand that WHO we are is not related to our deepest shame. I am not a failure just
because I've failed. Failure is an event, not an identity.
Brene' Brown says that empathy is Shame's cure. How much easier is it to feel empathy for
myself and others when I understand our value to the God of the universe! How much easier to
love myself and others when I understand how much Jesus loves you and me. How much easier
to forgive myself and others knowing He founded and perfected our faith, and as He sits at the
right hand of God, He is ENJOYING you and me!?
And how much easier to run the race-the race of life, relationships, business-to finish, to
keep my promises to myself and others, to stay the course, to lay aside the weights of sin,
shame, distraction, procrastination, when I surrender to the One who, for the JOY of
relationship with me, the JOY of eternity with His Father and me, for JOY endured, despising
the shame, so that shame became yet another enemy He defeated at the cross! My money
shame, my body shame, my disappointment shame, my panty shame... all defeated, and NONE
of it, none of it changed Jesus' opinion of me, nor diminished His love for me and Joy about
In "What Does it Mean for Jesus to Despise Shame" John Piper imagines Jesus's words:
Listen to me, Shame, do you see that joy in front of me? Compared to that, you are less
than nothing. You are not worth comparing to that! I despise you. You think you have
power? Compared to the joy before me, you have none. JOY JOY JOY. That is my
power! Not you, Shame. You are worthless. You are powerless.
Exposure to the light through friendship and community, searching for and appropriating JOY,
and allowing Jesus to bury your Shame in his tomb, then rising with Him with a new
perspective will help put shame in its place.
Music speaks to me, and a song called My Worth Is Not in What I Own, written by Keith and
Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick and recorded by Fernando Ortega (check it out on
YouTube) says this in hauntingly simple tune and words:
My worth is not in what I own
Not in the strength of flesh and bone
But in the costly wounds of love, at the cross.
My worth is not in skill or name,
In win or lose, in pride or shame,
But in the blood of Christ that flowed, at the cross.
As summer flowers we fade and die:
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by.
But life eternal calls to us, at the cross.
I will not boast in wealth or might,
Or human wisdom's fleeting light.
But I will boast in knowing Christ, at the cross.
Two wonders here that I confess:
My worth and my unworthiness.
My value fixed, my ransom paid, at the cross.
I don't want the toxicity of shame to hold me back from being and doing all that God has
designed me to be and do. Jesus despised it, so I will, too. My worth is established. Whatever
residual shame that lingers, I will surrender to His death, burial and resurrection.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to
everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16)
My shame brings me to my knees. And yet, you took it for me, so I ask for your help to
bury it, and to be raised to walk in the calling, the destiny, the hope, and the peace that Jesus
gave his life to provide for me. As he bore and despised my shame on the cross, I lay it down so
that I can run my race with endurance. Remind me daily that Your love is not dependent upon
my performance, and your love is not diminished when I am not my best.
Help me to be focused: focused on You, on the tasks laid out for me, on the goals I hear
you calling me to.
Help me be faithful: to not quit, to conquer fear, and to press in even when life is hard,
even when I feel my most unworthy. And help me be a Finisher like Jesus. To follow through,
to not delay or procrastinate, to fulfill Your plans for me.
Thank you for never being ashamed of me! I am Your daughter in love, and I will praise
you for your faithfulness and loving kindness.
In Jesus' Name,