Shame is Nothing to be Ashamed of

Popular, secular therapy proclaims the evils of shame. It’s wrong. Sure, shame is misused and abused, but deep-shame—deep shame alone—offers our only hope of grace-based healing. As J. I. Packer once suggested, “Seek the grace to be ashamed.” (This is a response to the anti-shame rant in the world around us.)

Shame

Scripture tells two stories of boatload catches of fish, the first at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 5:4-8) and the second at the end (John 21:2-7). In both stories:

  • Professional fishermen fish all night.
  • Their night of fishing is fruitless; not a single fish is caught.
  • The following morning, an amateur offers unsolicited and unusual directions.
  • The fishermen obey and catch so many fish that their boats begin to sink.

Despite their similarities, there is one, huge difference. After the first miracle, Peter exclaims to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” After the second, Peter casts himself into the sea and breaks an Olympic-record-freestyle to get close to Jesus.

What changed in Peter that drove him to Jesus? He had finally experienced deep shame.

The modern world hates shame

Shame is a feeling that attacks the core of our spirit. Guilt is the thought “I DID something bad.” Shame is the belief “I AM something bad.” Guilt attacks our actions; shame attacks our being:

  • Shame is the intensely painful feeling . . . of believing we are [deeply] flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance. (Brene Brown)
  • Shame . . . is that sense of unease with yourself at the heart of your being (David Atkinson).

Shallow-shame nurtures an intense concentration on ourselves. We feel our flawed nature and we frantically try to fix it. Tim Keller asks,

What is the opposite of Righteousness?  Evil?  No, the opposite of righteousness is shame, and we do everything in our power to try to cover it.

We frantically cover ourselves with desperate attempts at perfection. We “hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving” (Brene Brown).

Shallow-shame breeds self-focus; but self-obsession is the root-cause of every problem in the world. Oppression, betrayal, and greed are all birthed by self-centeredness.

So what are we to do with shame?

Modern therapists suggest we dump shame and embrace worthiness. Secular Brene Brown writes, “The greatest challenge for most of us is believing that we are worthy now, right this minute. As is.” (Without the cross, it’s the opposite of grace.) *

Brown’s therapy teaches non-biblical, gospel substitution, self-hypnosis. It’s The Little Engine That Could, huffing and puffing, “I think I’m worthy, I think I’m worthy.” Scripture disagrees with Brown. Jeremiah says his generation’s problem was lack of shame:

Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were neither ashamed nor even knew how to blush. Therefore they shall fall (Jer. 6:15).

Mark Twain agreed with Scripture (amazingly) when he said,

Man is the only animal that blushes. And the only animal that needs to.

God’s answer to shame is deep-shame

The first time Jesus creates the miracle of the great catch of fish, Peter rightly senses his own unworthiness and asks, “Depart from me because I am a sinful man.” He is saying, “Leave me alone until I claim my own self-worth.” (Brown would be proud.)

Right before the final miraculous catch, Peter finally experiences deep-shame. He had just denied Jesus three times. He is not the brave man he self-proclaimed. He’s a coward. And that deep-shame finally drove him to God’s grace.

This is all that’s required for deep communion with God: to come empty, to admit we are unworthy. Everything else is smoke and mirror therapy.

A life without regret

Shallow-shame leads to self-claimed worth. Just before his denials, Peter exclaimed, “Those other disciples may deny you but I never will.” Then his self-proclaimed worthiness failed. When the cock crows three times, he finally experiences deep shame.

Paul explains the differing results between deep-shame repentance and shallow-shame self-proclamation:

Godly-grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly-grief produces death (2 Cor. 7:10).

Godly-grief (at deep-shame) leads to deep repentance and a life without regret.

Without regret?

Shame isn’t the problem, it’s what we do with the shame. We can be angry and sin not; we can also be ashamed and despair not. In fact, we can finally find life.

Every human wants an enduring love and worth. Therefore we need something stronger than self-hypnosis. We need grace. Grace says God loves us just because he loves us. His love doesn’t depend on what we do or what we claim.

That’s why Paul can write, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus” (not through our self-worth proclamation). Deep-shame can drive us to grace. Let’s seek the grace to be ashamed and yield to grace; no striving, no hypnosis. He loves us because he loves us. That can never be removed.

We come to God in little empty boats till we overflow with more than we can imagine.

Sam

 

* I like Brene Brown, especially her call to vulnerability and her battle against using shame to bully others. But her secular answers are substitutes for the gospel; they don’t require the death of the beloved Son of God.

Our solution is not: “believing we are worthy at this moment.” Our solution is to receive worth from the Son on the cross.

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What do YOU think?

30 thoughts on “Shame is Nothing to be Ashamed of

  1. Good observation. Although I do think that, historically, shame has been misused within the church to manipulate people toward earthly ends, that does not mean that shame itself is a bad thing. Shame is the only force that causes us to completely collapse and be upheld by the power of God.

    • Hi Lynn,

      You make a great point; too often shame has been used (and still is used) as a manipulative tool to bully people into behavior (like tithing more or gossiping less.) Sure, I hope we DO tithe more and gossip less, but the gospel is a heart changed by Christ’s love, not a heart coerced by a bully.

      Thanks.

  2. I don’t separate secular and religiour truth… if it’s true, it’s YHWH’s.

    While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. We were loved since before we were conceived. I don’t see any room for shame in that.

    The beginning of the transformation of Christianity comes through the realization we’re loved; that WHO we are is not dependent on what we’ve done or not done.

    I get that deep shame can drive folks to Christ; so does crack cocaine. I don’t recommend either.

    The fact that deep shame can be a turning point does not redeem it, or make it somehow positive. The belief that we are unlovable and irreparably bad is not helpful, and is the very thing that Jesus came to relieve. That we don’t have to try to remediate our shame, and that our shame was already covered.

    Shame drives us into hiding, and much of the church, because it bought off on behavior management instead of transformation of Christ, live in hiding. They’re ashamed of their sin, even though by the grace of God and by the testimony of their lips they’re saved.

    To be saved, to inherit eternal life, one must acknowledge Christ as God. But the transformation, and life more abundantky that Jesus offers is only possible through believing we’re loved, trusting that relationship is the answer to sin, and being transformed from the inside out.

    There are plenty of people who claim Christ, who are pastors, who are saved, but who still live in the chains of shame. Shame is poison.

    • Hi Vern,

      I wondered if you would weigh in. Thanks for doing so.

      Shame is one of the classic five emotions: mad, glad, sad, scared, and ashamed. The emotions themselves aren’t bad or good; it’s what we do with them. It may be perfectly appropriate to be angry at an unjust judge, but don’t spit on him outside the courtroom. It may be appropriate to experience shame for belittling your spouse, but don’t run away and hide. (Go back to God and your spouse.)

      Emotions are always responses to something, so emotions may be the very best heart-diagnostic tools. If I’m out-of-control-furious at being laid off, maybe I trusted my job more than I trusted God. If I’m paralyzingly-ashamed of being laid off, maybe I was getting my identity from my position rather than from God’s love.

      I’m not saying that we should dwell in shame (any more than I’m saying we should dwell in anger). I’m saying we shouldn’t stuff it. Instead, let’s examine it. Its trail will give us a clue to
      our hearts.

      Yes, I agree: we are loved by God, and he has paid a great price for us, and therefore we have great cause for a sense of worthiness, so we can kiss shame good-bye.

      But if we still experience shame–and most of us do on occasion–then let’s examine it not stuff it. There is a very good chance we’ve been trying to make a name for ourselves instead of receiving a name (like “Beloved child”) from God.

    • I would agree- except, I cant, based on my own life…I needed the deep shame, to find humbleness. I was born without it, as it looks like now when I think about it. Shame did not drive me away from the church. Then again. This was not shame caused by any minister, pastor. It was shame found during conversation with God Himself…Sam actually did not specify, which he is talking about….the shame somebody is trying to awake in us, or shame that we ourselves find by taking a look at our lives or through God, who lovingly points it out, so we can step back on the narrow path:)

  3. Hi Sam, It’s not that I disagree with what you are saying, but I do feel like there is a lot more to talk about here. The Brene Brown TED talk I sent you we were using in the context of a Christian counseling class. We were talking about how when we feel shamed we need to return to our identity in Christ which is our true self. I found it very helpful to distinguish between guilt (I did something wrong) and shame (I am something wring). Both are true because of our sinful nature, but as we come into fellowship with God, though we may continue to do things wrong (sin, and feel guilt, and repent), our BEING is no longer wrong, since we are a new creature in Christ. Especially in abusive relationships, shame is a common weapon. Living in shame does not lead to health, or good decision making or to God.

    • ok, I do disagree a tiny bit…I think Peter was experiencing mostly guilt (I betrayed Jesus), rather than shame. I also think the quotes you used from Jer 6:15 and Mark Twain are about (“committing abomination”)…actions not being….therefore guilt not shame….and called for repentance (action) rather than shame (paralyzing).

      Also, you introduced a new term, “deep shame,” and I would love to have that defined a little better. (deep shame vs shallow shame vs godly grief vs guilt…I feel like maybe we are not all using the same references when we think of those words and it may be causing unnecessary confusion.)

      • Hmmm. I still think Peter felt shame after his denials. That’s why he went out and wept bitterly.

        I also think we can repent for the cause of our shame. It’s not just actions we repent for. We repent for speaking unkindly, yes, but also for the underlying reason we did so, and that underlying reason is almost always that we get our identity from something other than God.

        We can repent for getting our identity from looks, money, prestige, etc.

        In fact, if we get a real change of heart in the areas of our self-identity, we’ll find we do fewer things we later feel guilty about.

        IMHO.

        • Repenting (guilt) for our shame (being/identity) in other things than our identity as children of God….I think that’s a good way to put it all together Sam, and that helped me a lot.

          OK, one more thing….all the examples we have talked about have to do with shame around sin….do you think shame can have nothing to do with sin? For example, I tend to be a quiet, highly observant sort of person which has caused me some grief because people think I’m aloof…I didn’t sin in being that way, nor do I base my identity in being that way (or not being that way.) I understand and accept it, and sometimes challenge myself to expand from the comfortable (like using a non dominant hand, I am being “loud” in this conversation, which isn’t my natural state.) However, it does carry some social stigma. In fact, I think this is what Brene is mainly taking about, not avoiding responsibility for sin but accepting the built-in quirks of our engineering.

          • EXCELLENT distinction. Thanks.

            Yes, one of the “shame” concerns Brene Brown addresses is the shame of our own personality or nature. You give a good example in your introversion (is that an okay word for it?).

            Even here, I don’t encourage wholesale stuffing of shame, nor the little engine that could self-hypnosis (“I think I’m good, I think I’m good.”).

            I am a strong introvert in a family of mostly extroverts and in a circle of strong extroverts. I understand the “shame” at times of feeling … hmmm … like a dweeb (that’s a technical term). Recently I’ve been sensing God ask me to follow my shame trail to its source. I think there is still something in me that envies the skills of others, to be at ease to say whatever is on their mind. I want to think first.

            That’s why I shared a quote two weeks ago by Isak Dinesen, “Godly pride is faith in the idea God had when He made you.”

            I think my “shame” led me to understand I sometimes value the opinions of the world more than I value “faith in the idea God had when he made me.”

            So , with any shame, I say we use it like a trail of breadcrumbs to see what our deepest beliefs and desires are.

            • I was trying to imagine how you would answer that, and I came to the same conclusion, that in the end, I no longer feel shame about that particular trait, but I used to, and it is because I put a cultural preference for extroversion, or wanting to fit better into a cultural ideal, above God’s plan in making me.

    • Hi Sarah,

      I too like the distinction between guilt (I DID something wrong) and shame (I AM something wrong). My point is that an examination of our shame will always lead us to uncovering some area in our lives in which we aren’t living as a Beloved. (See my response to Vern elsewhere in these comments.)

      Also, I detest the use of shame as a bullying weapon. (Such bullies really, honestly, and truly should be ashamed.)

      But the use of shame as a bully’s weapon doesn’t make shame bad. Bullies (and others) manipulate using all kinds of weapons, but it doesn’t mean anger itself is wrong.

      It’s what we do with those feelings.

  4. Sam,
    Some of us fall prey to the prevailing philosophy of our times, and by so doing, expose the one thing we are attempting to hide, our ignorance. You have done a very good job of calling our attention to the subject of SHAME, but many (NOT YOU) launch into some philosophical explanation without knowledge, and without meaning to do so, lead people astray. A reasonable “word-study” of the word, and its usage in the Bible, would be appropriate for all. As the Bible makes clear in Job 38:1-2, too often we darken council without knowledge. Easy to do. I should know.

    Shame is very real, and can be one thing that leads us to repentance (see King David), but a lack of humility can bring us to shame. As noted, shame can, and is, misused by Christians to their SHAME. We should look into the Word to find out more on the subject. It is a powerful element when not misused or abused.

    • I am sympathetic with people who teach against shame (see Verns’ comment below) because they’ve seen it abused in the pulpit.

      But the right use of shame is to examine our hearts and go to God for his love.

      Thanks for your comment.

  5. I had an act committed against me which resulted in my being an unwed teenage mother. I was treated with shame and I believed I was not acceptable to God. I couldn’t get rid of the shame because the shame came from the enemy telling me I was unacceptable to God.

    What a wonderful freedom I have now. The chains of shame no longer drag me along like a limping slave crying, “Oh freedom,” Deep shame didn’t give me freedom. I needed a redeemer.

    I continually remind myself to thank God for this gift of exoneration. I am free from shame and the opinion of others and especially the focus on myself. Guilt from sin also sets me free when i turn to the cross and remind the enemy (that liar) that Christ’s death and resurrection crushed him forever and that His grace is sufficient, I am not guilty because Jesus won it.. When I turn to God’s words, the lies disappear and are replaced by grace.

    Deep shame was the name of the game the enemy played in my head, but the truth of God’s words is the weapon by which I defeat his game. Every day.

    Jesus never pointed a finger at me when I was chained with deep shame . He offered to fill the empty places. He held out his deeply scarred hand and helped me up. He did that for me and I constantly tell him. “I know you love me. I know the price you paid for my deep shame on the cross was FOREVER,

    • Annie,

      You raise a terrific and absolutely needed point: the evil one loves to condemn us, and he uses shame to do so. But Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it through himself.

      I am so glad God freed you from the shame the evil one condemned you with.

      Yes, we come to him empty, and he fills us.

      Thanks for being so personal.

  6. wow…this was like written for me. I have felt both types of shame. And only the deep one sets you free after being rock-bottom….at least for a while (I have a bad habit of dwelling on things that have passed a long time ago-need to stop it).

  7. Sam, this is a great topic, I think because it is so powerful, both for good and evil. Thanks for this, and for making important distinctions that are not often made.
    Along the lines of how it can be used for evil, I think an enlightening question is, “Did Jesus take our shame or not?” I once was participating in a time of singing some songs of worship using some homemade books of worship song lyrics. I noticed that one song had some words like “Jesus took all our guilt and shame” and there was a little asterisk by the word “shame”. At the bottom of the page was a note to the effect, “Jesus only took our guilt, not our shame.”
    My heart’s response was “Bummer”. I imagined someone coming to Jesus with their guilt and shame, feeling bad about what they had done and about who they were, and truly coming in confession of their need for Him. Then Jesus saying, I paid it all, so you no longer need worry about your bad deeds (guilt) being held against you by my Father. But I can’t do anything about your shame, in fact you need to keep that, because frankly who you are at the core, even after my redemption, still deserves shame.
    There’s an article in the current Christianity Today about shame. Although I don’t buy all of what the article says, it pointed out that for shame-based cultures (including the culture Jesus was born into) the fact that Jesus took our shame (so painfully obvious in his nakedness on the cross) is hugely essential.
    It seems that the crux of the matter, as in so many of these deeply important dilemmas, is the difference between before we come to Jesus and after we do, and the new heart and new perspective we are freely given which makes all the difference in the universe.

    • Oh my gosh. I can’t believe (and never heard before) the teaching that Jesus didn’t take our shame. Of course he took our shame. As you said, dying naked was a symbol of that.

      But even more, the shame is what we most needed healing from.

      I feel for those people who lack this gift.

  8. Shame before I give myself to Jesus is appropriate and necessary. Shame after I give myself to Jesus is inappropriate and unnecessary.

    • Hi Alissa,

      I agree, but I don’t want to dismiss “post-salvation” shame too quickly.

      I am “saved” but I continue to grow in sanctification. When I experience shame today, I find it leaves a trail of breadcrumbs to some part of my heart that I haven’t fully given over to God.

      Just like it is unhealthy to just smother our anger, it’s also unhealthy to “stuff” our shame. Let’s follow the breadcrumbs.

  9. Good morning, I am somewhat grieved by this post…it flies in the face of the things that I have believed about “shame” and “guilt”/ shame vs. guilt. I have always been taught and believe that shame is believing I am bad vs. guilt that says that I have done something wrong. Shame is the identification that “I am bad” because of something that I done, as opposed to just having done something wrong. I appreciate your perspective, but kept thinking that guilt and shame were being used interchangeably. A verse comes to my mind:
    2 Corinthians 7:10 New International Version (NIV)
    “10 Godly sorrow (not shame) brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
    Understanding my sin, Godly sorrow, is what brought me to repentance, not shame. I also would like to share an audio from a men’s group that shares probably the best message on shame that I have ever heard. This message speaks of freedom from shame!!! Link below is from a purity group for men
    http://puritypursuit.com/…/01/11252013MensPurityEDITED.mp3

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for sharing your comments.

      I don’t want to repeat what I already said to Vern and Sarah below (or above, depending on how your comments are sorted.)

      I do not suggest we dwell in sorrow; but I also DO suggest we use them as breadcrumbs to discover deep beliefs of the heart which must be exposed.

      Thanks

  10. Thank you so much for this post Sam.
    I am struggling with feelings of shame in college as I constantly fail to live up to expectations (my parents and my own) but I am reminded of the unconditional love and grace God has for me through your article.

    My favorite line is the bit about how shame is, “I AM something bad.” It just struck a chord in me and I felt I knew what that was like.

    Anyways, thanks so much Sam. Always reading your articles. You are an incredible writer.

    • Hi Jinwoo,

      My heart goes out to you as you feel shame, trying (and failing at times) to live up to expectations of others. We all do it. We all know it. And it hurts.

      Yes! Go to God for his unconditional love. Let that pain drive you to the one who cannot fail us, even when we fail him.

      Sam

  11. Hi Sam, We have never met or communicated with each other but I have read some of your prior posts. I feel it is important to share my thoughts on this extremely important topic of shame. My wife, Denise, and I am Christian counselors and one of the most pervasive issues that we see in those who come to us is the issue of “toxic shame.” I use the word “toxic” as this type of shame is truly toxic and destructive and has stood in the way of so many believers realizing their true, God-given identity and thus unable to walk into their true calling and destiny. (Note: Virtually all of our clients are born-again believers). As I have read your post on shame and the accompanying comments, I really believe that part of the issue here is a misunderstanding of the terminology and, as a result, inaccurately reaching conclusions from that place. Toxic shame is built on a core of lies, and most of these lies are established in our soul and spirit, through acts of omission and commission, by the age of 2 to 4 y/o and solidified by the age of 7 y/o. In addition, various types of childhood abuse can add to these shame-based lies beyond this young age. It is this type of shame that you and the commenters identify that fall in the category of “I AM wrong” (versus I DID something wrong). As you are well aware, the other type of shame—what we would term “healthy or godly shame” (or the term “guilt,” as Brene Brown and others might use), refers to a “behavior” (not a “state of being”) that comes when we realize that our actions or responses from our hearts are inconsistent with the heart of God (sinful) and should cause us to feel a godly grief that leads us to confess, repent and find restoration in the grace of God. The problem comes when we are not clear about the differences between these two types of shame—toxic versus healthy or redemptive—as they are dealt with very differently. Toxic, identity-based shame is NOT resolved
    by confession and repentance. The core lies or false beliefs must be identified, refuted and replaced by thetruth. This may include asking for forgiveness in the process for believing the lies, but focusing on faulty or sinful “behavior” rather than the real issue—core identity-based lies—will only worsen the problem. When we exercise sinful behaviors in response to these core lies (which we all do to varying degrees), then we do enter into the category of “true guilt” (godly shame) and the resultant conviction of the Holy Spirit can free us from this shame and thus find release and freedom through the work of Christ. We cannot find freedom from toxic shame by
    confession and repentance from our actions, as it isn’t a result of our actions. True guilt or godly shame can, as it is behavior-based. If this is not clearly understood and communicated to the Father’s hurting children, they endup in more bondage and an endless cycle that leads only to futility and more sin. Also, I must disagree with your response to Vern Hyndman’s comment in that “ashamed” is one of our classic five emotions. “Ashamed” is not the same as “shame,” and the first implies behavior, the second MAY include behavior but not necessarily. Thus, it is incorrect to state that “ashamed” is simply a neutral emotion—neither good nor bad. If it is coming from a lie-based core and thus is toxic in origin, it is very damaging and NOT neutral in its
    nature. It actually is quite demonic in its impact. So, in response to your blog post, “Should we dump shame?” No, if it is originating from the true, grace-based conviction of God. Absolutely YES, if it is originating from a toxic core of lies and is the foundation for demonic torment. We MUST know the difference. If it might be helpful for you and your readers, we’ve included here a link to a chapter on shame from a book we published (with Kevin Miles) in 2013 entitled, “The Missing Commandment: Love Yourself.” (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0_rG3xSvbQORHVGQzMyQjVGU3c/view?usp=sharing). We’ve also developed a video session on this same topic that we released in a DVD in 2014 and can be found at http://www.jerryanddenisebasel.com. If you or your readers are interested, we also wrote a blog post last year entitled, “Can You Love Yourself Too Much?” We included a link to this as well as we have noticed you’ve written on this area in the past.(https://fathersheartmin.wordpress.com/2014/04/). Sorry for the length of this comment! As you can tell, I’m very passionate about this topic as we see so many in the body of Christ crippled by shame—the bad kind—and don’t know how to get free! Blessings, Jerry Basel, The Father’s Heart Ministry and J & D Publications (www.fathersheart.com).

    • Hi Jerry and Denise,

      Thanks for your response.

      I agree that many believers–too many of us believers–are crippled by shame, and I agree that there is a difference between guilt at an action vs. shame as an identity. I also agree that we need to find freedom (from both) in the work of Christ on the cross. He paid for our actions (which brings guilt); he also paid for our shameful identity as shown by his nakedness on the cross.

      The answers for both guilt and shame are found in a change of beliefs: we need to believe he took our guilt and our shame. And both are difficult to believe.

      The cure for shame (as well as guilt) is found in believing and accepting God’s new identity for us.

      That’s why we have to let shame (maybe even especially toxic shame) drive us to the cross. All our striving, hiding, stuffing, forgetting, and numbing has failed us. Our only hope is to finally change our minds (meta-noia) about our identity. We can either strive to get our own identity or we can receive it from God.

      Shame–even toxic shame–is an emotional response. In the case of toxic shame, it is a response to what we believe about ourselves, to the identity foisted on us by abuse or by others’ (or our own) acts of commission and omission.

      I want no one to live in shame, but if we experience shame (regular or high-octane), it is still a trail we can follow until we see the source of our identity, and we can get a heart-change (again, a meta-noia) and receive our new identity.

      Shame (both kinds) is a trail marker that can show us we need God’s love. Without it, we will die in our pain.

      Sam