Hi everyone, Rob here. After reading Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly (see last weeks post), I’ve been doing some thinking about the issue of shame. I like her differentiation between shame and guilt: Guilt = I did something bad. Shame = I am bad. Both are powerful emotions but very different from one another. Owning that we did something bad, something that doesn’t measure up to our value system, will lead to apologies, making amends or a behaviour change. Believing that we are bad often leads to self-protection. We apologise half-heartedly, blame others, lie and justify our actions in a defensive manner. Brown says that “shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.” Shame reinforces our behaviour but guilt deals with it.
The story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 is a case study of how God deals with shame and guilt. The son shames his father by asking for his share of the inheritance, effectively saying “I wish you were dead!” He squanders his wealth, experiences famine and begins to feel shame for his actions. He decides to go home but realises that he has no right to be called a son anymore. He heads home, full of shame, hoping that his father will be kind enough to give him a job. He prepares his ‘I’m sorry speech.’ It goes like this: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” He acknowledges his guilt. He has sinned. He acknowledges that he has brought shame upon the family (an absolute no-no in Israeli society back then and most societies now. The father had every right to have him killed) and has no right to be a son. He acknowledges his own shame.
Now look at the response of the father. The son gets his “I’m guilty’ speech out but the father doesn’t even hear it. He’s run to his son (a shameful act. Father’s are meant to walk slowly. See Kenneth Bailey’s book, “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes), hugged him and kissed him. Guilt is not an issue. The father forgave him a long time ago. The issue is shame and the father sets about restoring the son’s honour. He brings him the best robe, puts a ring on his finger and throws a party in his honour. He is restored to sonship! He acted shamefully and brought shame upon the family by the world’s standards. But according to the father he was always his son, always loved, never disowned but always welcomed, never to be shamed but ready to be honoured.
Our Father in heaven wants to deal with our shame. He wants us to know that in Christ we are enough because Christ is enough. Yes, Jesus deals with our guilt on the cross but the bigger story is that he deals with our shame through his death and his life. We belong to him. What’s true for Jesus is true for us. “So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11 NLT).” Contrast that verse with the response of the prodigal’s older brother who wanted nothing to do with him!
So, in Christ, we are invited to let go of all the ‘not enough’ messages that we have embraced – not bright enough, not thin enough, not talented enough, not good enough, not happy enough, not serious enough, not networked enough etc – and leave them at the foot of the cross. Let’s now take up the words of God over us – Child, beloved, friend, brother, sister, holy, worthy, redeemed. “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before without a single fault (Colossians 1:22 NLT).”
That’s you and me.
Without guilt, without shame.