When did shame become a four letter word?
Anytime the word “Shame” is used in modern contexts, it’s almost always used in a negative way. I just did a Google search of the word, “shaming,” and these are articles found on just the first page:
- Parent-shaming and how the gator attack isn’t Harman
- The Veronicas request groceries from body shaming troll
- Mom’s Facebook rant about parent shaming after gator attack goes viral
- Slut-shaming – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
- Passenger Shaming – Facebook
- Dog Shaming
- Internet shaming
A similar search for the word, “shame,” leads to you to articles about people who got wrapped up in controversy. Shame is either used as a weapon against people, or as a negative personal experience.
- What if shame has an actual positive purpose?
- What if shame isn’t meant to hurt us, but to help us?
- What if shame wasn’t a weapon to use against others, but a compass for us as individuals?
A feeling of guilt, regret, or sadness that you have because you know you have done something wrong
A painful sense of having done something wrong, improper, or immodest
What is Shame?
All of us will feel shame at some point in our life. In the aftermath of failure, we can all feel the sense of regret and guilt. While certainly feeling shame is a negative emotion, that doesn’t necessarily mean that shame is a bad thing. If we simply view shame as negative emotion, we fail to see its purpose. Shame is meant to be painful to stop us from doing something again. Like all pain, it’s unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a purpose.
Almost no one enjoys physical pain, but we need physical pain.
Imagine what would happen if you didn’t feel physical pain. If you accidentally placed your hand on a stove, you would leave it there until you smelled the burning flesh of your now substantially injured hand.
- The pain you feel when you touch a hot stove causes you to retract your hand quickly.
- The pain tells you that you’re doing something wrong.
- The pain tells you that you need to change.
There’s a disease that causes people to be unable to feel pain called congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis (CIPA). At first, this sounds amazing, until you think about the horrible side effects. Ashlyn Blocker was born with CIPA. By age five, the list of potential dangers was nearly endless. She would eat scalding food without hesitating. She would injure herself in the backyard and keep playing. She would chew on on the inside of her cheeks while sleeping. She placed her hand on a burning hot pressure washer, and left it there until her mom discovered what had happened. Without the ability to feel pain, she was an extreme danger to herself.
We need to feel pain.
Shame is a moral pain response!
When you feel shame after doing something, it’s meant to tell you to stop doing something. It serves the same purpose as physical pain, except when it comes to moral decisions. The shame you feel after lying, cheating, stealing, lusting, deceiving, indulging, etc. should cause you to pull back, stop what you’re doing, and realize you’ve done something wrong.
Shame is extremely unpleasant, but it acts as a moral stop sign. When you feel it, you should know that you need to stop what you’re doing.
Two Responses to Shame
Since we’re all going to feel shame at some point in our lives, we have to consider how we respond when we encounter shame.
Really, there’s only two main responses:
RESPONSE #1 – Stop doing the thing that caused you to feel shame in the first place
You feel the pain of shame over your actions. Therefore, you should stop doing the thing which caused you to feel shame.
RESPONSE #2 – Change your beliefs and morals
You don’t like the way you feel when you cross a moral line (but you don’t want to stop), so you move the line. You change your moral standards so that you don’t have to feel the pain of shame. Instead of changing your behavior, you change your beliefs.
In ministry, I saw it so often, people would believe what they wanted to believe so they could do what they wanted to do.
- If you want to follow God, shame makes you pull back and change your behavior.
- If you want to live by your own rules, shame makes you change your beliefs.
People believe what they want to believe so they can do what they want to do
What Do We Do With Shame?
If shame isn’t a bad thing, why does shame have such a bad reputation? The simple answer is that people don’t understand what they’re supposed to do with shame. It is something we constantly misuse:
- We stay in shame and continually feel the pain of guilt.
- We ignore shame and change our beliefs instead of our behavior.
- We use guilt against others instead of offering truth with love and grace.
Instead, there are two things we need to realize about shame:
#1 | SHAME IS NOT A DESTINATION
The reason so many think that shame is a bad thing is because they view it as a destination. They live in the pain of guilt instead of moving on to the redemption and forgiveness offer through the Gospel. As with all pain, it’s useful to feel pain, but you don’t want to STAY in pain. Instead, you do whatever you need to do to stop the pain.
- If you touch something hot, you pull away.
- If you cut your hand, you get a bandage.
- If you have a headache, you take medicine.
- If you twist your ankle, you stop walking on it.
- If you get a splinter, you pull it out.
Pain isn’t a destination, it’s a warning sign. Treat it that way in your life. When you feel moral pain, that means you need to make changes to your behavior and seek redemption.
#2 | SHAME IS INTENDED TO BRING REPENTANCE
If you’re living WITH shame and regret, it means you haven’t fully embraced or realized the Gospel in your life. The beautiful message of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is that we can be washed clean of our sin and shame.
Our shame is intended to lead us to repent of our sinful behavior and turn to Christ instead.
When we abandon shame, we set ourselves on a dangerous path. If nothing causes us to recoil at our own actions, it means we’ve become morally numb. When there’s nothing left to stir our souls, we turn to far worse things.
There comes a time in the routine of an ordered civilization when the man is tired at playing at mythology and pretending that a tree is a maiden or that the moon made love to a man. The effect of this staleness is the same everywhere; it is seen in all drug-taking and dram-drinking and every form of the tendency to increase the dose. Men seek stranger sins or more startling obscenities as stimulants to their jaded sense. They seek after mad oriental religions for the same reason. They try to stab their nerves to life, if it were with the knives of the priests of Baal. They are walking in their sleep and try to wake themselves up with nightmares.