Today, we often hear about shaming messages. Fat-shaming. Body-shaming. Mom-shaming. Even Fallen vegans-shaming. In this day of social media and Internet outrage, we see daily examples of people being denounced, ridiculed, and shamed.
It has surprised and disturbed me to see Christians resorting to these tactics as well. Just recently, I felt saddened to see Jackie Hill Perry come under attack. As I read tweets accusing her, I felt grieved. Jesus said that we would be known as His disciples based on our love for one another. I wasn't seeing much love towards a talented, young woman who has a remarkable story of redemption. (And who, in my opinion, did nothing wrong.)
Shaming messages have been around since the serpent spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden. Even though I wasn't raised in the age of social media, I can look back and recall many ways that shame influenced me.
When a boy in my class in 6th grade called me gorilla because of my hairy arms, I became ashamed of my arms. Before that time, I wasn't even aware that my arms were hairier than normal (compared to my Dad's arms, mine were pretty smooth!)
When, as a third-culture kid, I moved to the U.S. in 8th grade, I was proud of my pretty purple sundress that my Mom and I bought for Easter. Until other teens asked where I bought my Easter dress. Apparently, K-Mart was not an acceptable answer.
When I realized that some moms looked down on others who resorted to getting an epidural during childbirth, I felt shame at my birth stories. Each of those three unique stories of days filled with joy became a little less joyful to tell because I felt like I wasn't as good as those who could endure a natural childbirth.
When other young moms were following the latest Christian parenting program and I chose to follow what felt right for me, I felt ashamed when I admitted I wasn't buying and reading and following their book. I'll always be thankful for a wise Christian friend who reminded me that as long as I was following God's book and being obedient to Him, I didn't have to worry about not following someone else's program.
With shame comes insecurity. And so we begin to build walls to help us feel safe. We begin to hide. We begin to protect parts of ourselves. Shame tries to cover up reality (as I shared in my Valentine's Day post).
We often begin to change to fit into someone else's expectations. I know I have been guilty of putting far too much emphasis on what others think and adjusting myself when I have felt like I didn't measure up.
Some things I can laugh about now. I remember hearing a couple of college friends talk about how their husbands (neither one was dating at the time) would never wear whitey-tighty underwear, but would only wear boxers, because whitey-tighty underwear was so...ewwww. I knew my boyfriend wore embarassing white underwear because we sometimes did laundry together. I determined then that I would need to make sure I bought him boxers when we got married. And, I did (because, who knew who might be spying on his underwear?)
It grieves me when I hear shaming messages among the teens I work with. It can be very slight--a certain inflection in the voice as one comments on an older phone that another is using. Or, one teen asking another what grade they made on a test, when they know that the other one struggles more academically and probably doesn't want to share their results. And, even though teens may respond with deflection or bravado, I often wonder if an arrow of shame has lodged in their hearts that will cause them to build even stronger walls around their hearts.
Sometimes I see on teens on social media receive a very direct shaming message. Or, a student tells me with tears about an unkind remark. Or, the cruel phone call. Or the social media page set up to mock them. It hurts my heart to hear about it and I can't imagine what their hearts go through.
None of us likes the messages of shame that weigh down our hearts.
Even though we all experience guilt in our lives--we have all said and done things that we regret--we often put shame in the same catagory as guilt. But, shame is an invasive feeling that we ourselves are deficient, instead of something that we have chosen to do that is wrong.
In this way, all shaming messages originate with Satan, the enemy of our souls.
I believe that the gospel breaks shame.
I share daily that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I sing along with my students that there is "no shame in life, no fear in death" and "lay down your shame, all who are broken lift up your face" and "bearing all my sin and shame in love you came, and gave amazing grace."
I can picture the love and kindness in the eyes of Jesus as he looks at...
the rich young ruler
the woman at the well
Peter, the impulsive one
Zacheuss, the tax collector
and, the woman caught in adultery.
With each of these encounters, I see compassion and love in the words of Jesus -- not judgement and shame. In fact, his words of correction are towards the teachers of the law who tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders
But even with head-knowledge about the fact that Jesus died to set me free from guilt and shame, I still often let shame slip in and bring judgement and weariness in my heart.
Our enemy knows just where to accuse.
"If you were a better wife, your husband would love you more."
"You don't spend enough time in Bible study to lead others in their spiritual growth journey."
"There are so many gifted writers in the world sharing the same messages you share--why are you even trying to write?"
"If you were a better Mom, you would have called her yesterday."
"If you were a better friend, you would have done something more for her birthday."
"If you had been a better mother, your son would've turned to you instead of taking his own life."
Our frailties and vulnerabilities leave us open to accusations.
With each shame-filled message, the gospel lets me know that I have two responses.
First, to see if there is any guilt and to acknowledge it. If I have been remiss (and I so often am) I can go to the cross for the forgiveness that I need. Jesus has already paid the price--I don't have to make myself pay by wearing the cloak of shame. I simply need to confess and receive the forgiveness that has already been offered.
Secondly, to see if the enemy is using shaming messages from culture and accusing me of things that are simply not true, I can choose to listen to the voice of my Creator, instead. I can remind myself that He has made me in His image and He delights in me.
In either scenario, I don't have to be weighed down by shame. And, once the joy of my salvation has been restored, I have the motivation to share with others the incredibly good story of a Savior who has come to rescue me from sin and shame.