Trading Away Our Shame
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16, ESV)
I played my first round of the year recently and while I hit the ball well, my putting failed miserably. My body felt contorted standing over the ball, my alignment was skewed to the left, and I hit everything but the sweet spot. There are moments of mercy and grace while playing golf, like when the trees spit our ball back into the fairway, but putting is different. There is little room for error and it directly impacts our score one hole at a time.
I would like to blame my poor putting on wearing my glasses for the first time, but the truth is I don’t practice and my mechanics were rusty. I found myself on a teeter-totter bouncing between laughing it off and feeling inadequate and embarrassed. On one side mercy and grace played with laughter, while hot coals of shame pushed for control.
Knowing I had another round to play the next day, my friend Bill suggested I head to the practice green to work it out. So off I went—alone. I found a straight 5-foot putt, created a path for my putter with tees, and check my alignment, posture, and balance. I even went back to my left-hand low grip, and within 15 minutes I declared I was ready for round two. Notice that I relied on my own knowledge to fix my putting problem, while leaving the smoldering feelings of shame unaddressed.
If you struggle with performance-based acceptance like I do, then it’s important to understand the difference between shame and guilt. Feelings of guilt bring an awareness that “I did something bad” and leads a person toward confession and repentance. Shame, on the other hand, attacks our dignity and sounds like, “I am bad.” Shame incites us to hide (physically and verbally) and rely on our own resources instead of seeking help.
Shame left unattended can become toxic, cutting us off from relationship with God and others. We have two choices in addressing our shame. First, we can choose to “join evil when we seek to minimize our shame through being better, working harder, hiding more or when we agree with the shame and live into it using addictions to numb us, ultimately increasing the effects of shame” (Open Hearts Ministry, Journey Begins).
Our second option is to move toward the throne of grace (God), where mercy and grace are waiting to help us. Turning our face toward God takes an act of surrendering to the truth that we need him. As we let go of our resistance to maintain control, our hearts begin to receive his love and forgiveness. Little by little we build an awareness of the shame messages (“I am unworthy,” “I am bad,” “I am dirty,” “I am stupid,” etc.) we have agreed with and learn to replace them with the truth (“I am worthy,” “I am loved,” “I am beautiful,” “I belong”).
When we feel caught in the throes of guilt or shame, it is important to seek help. Our first source is God who generously pours out his mercy and grace to care for our brokenness through our relationship with Jesus and his Spirit. We are also created for connection and belonging with one another. We all need a community of trusted friends whose grace and mercy help us expose and name the hidden pieces of our heart so we can be light in a dark world.
January 28, 2016
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