Adam and Eve were deceived. But they were not innocent. Both of them…male and female…took fruit from the one tree that God commanded them to leave alone and in that simple act, sin entered the world. But sin did not come alone. Right on sin’s heels came the ever-powerful emotion of shame.
Shame works on many different levels. On one hand…shame helps a culture or society maintain its norms. Imagine yourself enjoying a night of intimate bliss with your spouse. Everything is going great until your child walks into the room. Suddenly, arms and legs are flying every which way in a desperate attempt to cover yourselves up. You don’t do this because you are ashamed that you are engaging in sexual intercourse. You cover up because there are simply some things that do not need to be seen by others. That emotion that causes you to cover yourself is shame. The origins of this word (shame) are linked to the idea of covering up. Remember what Adam and Eve’s first move was once they ate the forbidden fruit? That’s right. They covered up. They hid their nakedness. They masked their shame.
My wife and I enjoy the show Impractical Jokers. They do some hilarious things. And, they do some things that inevitably make us say, “he has no shame” (for instance…when one man flings the bathroom door open in a coffee shop while sitting on the toilet to ask the crowded establishment for some toilet paper). Shame, to a certain extent keeps some civility to our society. It is, in a way, a control mechanism to maintain cultural standards and values. The debate could be made as to how far the positive attributes of shame extend…but for our purposes, allow us to simply acknowledge that shame, to a certain extent, can work for good in our world.
The problem is, there is a huge downside to shame. While shame can help maintain some sort of value-based foundation, it can also destroy a person’s self-image so much that they are unable to move forward in life. Joyce Marter, a psychotherapist in Chicago once said:
Shame is self-sabotaging. It triggers feelings that we are unwell, unworthy, unlovable. Clients often identify with their shame and feel unworthy to welcome into their lives all the love, prosperity, abundance and happiness that is inherently theirs, simply for the asking.
Shame can be very dangerous when we allow it to define who we are.
Take Peter for example. Peter was a fisherman who encountered Jesus Christ on his boat one day. Jesus just made a miracle catch of fish take place and Peter, a seasoned fisherman, knew that this was not normal. Upon his realization of whose presence he was blessed to experience, he responded out of shame:
Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinner. – Luke 5:8
He wasn’t wrong. He was a sinner. We all are. Where he was wrong was in thinking that because he was a sinner, he was unworthy. Our shame, which accompanies our sins and shortcomings, convinces us that we are unworthy, unlovable, and simply not good enough. And sometimes, like Peter, it causes us to think that Jesus will see us the same way.
Jesus’ response, however, was very different from what Peter thought it was going to be. His response was quite simple. No condemnation, no judgment, no ridicule. Jesus simply said:
Do not be afraid. From now on you will be fishing for people. – Luke 5:10
It is as if Jesus does not even acknowledge Peter’s shame. Maybe because shame is a construct of humanity. God did not create shame and He certainly does not intend for you to be defined by shame.
Maybe Jesus’ words to Peter are the same words He desires to speak to you. Maybe, rather than letting shame define who you are, it is time you let Jesus define who you are. Maybe, what Jesus was communicating to Peter, He wishes to communicate to you right now:
Do not be afraid. I know what is in your heart. It’s okay. Just walk with me.
For more on shame and how Jesus responds to your shame…check out my message from Sunday!