Recently, I came to grips with shame. It wasn’t really a feeling I knew I had until doing a study on the book of Jonah in preparation for a sermon. In Jonah 4, God addresses Jonah’s shame. Imagine being God’s prophet and your prophecy doesn’t come true. To make matters worse, Jonah’s missionary journey ends in the repentance of his people’s hated enemy.
For me, shame rested in not being good enough. You see, my Dad nicknamed me his bad seed. Mind you, he never said it to me. However, he shared his pet name for me with his closest friends. Although I had caught a whiff of it here and there, I didn’t know this is how he referred to me until someone confirmed it after his memorial service. I wonder what he thought as I delivered his eulogy?
Bad seed. Bad as in defective, faulty. Bad as in there’s something wrong with you. And there in lies the very definition of shame. There was something wrong with me.
Guilt is what you sense when you do something wrong. Shame is what you feel when you believe there’s something wrong with you.
Like I mentioned before, I didn’t realize that I had been carrying around this big sack of shame throughout my life. But, as I prepared to deliver my sermon on Jonah, the Holy Spirit brought it to my attention and made me deal with it. Over the years, I’ve learned that’s often the case with sermons; the Lord works on you first so that you can deliver the Word effectively.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?Jonah 4:1-4 (NLT)
Imagine that you’re a prophet called by God and you realize in accomplishing His will that what you prophesied won’t come true? And your people’s most feared and reviled enemy repented because of the prophecy you delivered to them!
Yeah. Imagine what Jonah must have been thinking. He was pissed. He burned with anger.
I think Jonah’s outburst of anger is rooted in his shame.
Shame usually results when we look inward and do a self-inventory with a super-critical eye. We beat ourselves to a pulp for things we have zero control over. Shame breathes life into undesirable emotions like anger, self-disgust, and feelings of worthlessness.
Last I checked, your value comes from the Lord, not from humans! You matter because God declares you matter.
Other people’s opinion of you are just that: opinion. As a believer, my primary goal is to live a life that’s pleasing to God.
In grappling to overcome shame, I had to reconfigure my inner dialogue. I realized I desperately needed to be more kind to myself in my internal conversations. I had to acknowledge my sense of shame and examine where it stemmed from and what evidence existed to give my sack of shame any validity. I sought an eternal perspective as well as the feedback of trustworthy friends.
Shame, in my experience, is worse than guilt. Left unaddressed and untreated, shame becomes a silent killer.
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.James Baldwin
Ultimately, for me, I had to share my shame in public while preaching God’s word in front of a crowd. I had to give it words. I had to speak it out loud in order to overcome it. The Spirit showed me that this was the only way for me to slay the dragon of shame.
I pray all is well with your soul, my dear reader. Feel free to share your thoughts and own experiences coping with shame in the comments section below.
The Devotional Guy™