What are you ashamed of? Even pondering the question is threatening, for it confronts us with the very thing we are trying to avoid. However, once the question is asked we can’t but help ourselves from forming a list in our head. Where should we start. The shame we feel about our body? The shame we feel about our character? The shame we feel about our choices and direction of life? Much is made about shame in our world today. We are told not to shame other people and I would agree that shaming others is rarely effective. However, simply silencing the external voices doesn’t eradicate shame from our lives. If only it were that easy. The problem is often the external voices of shame only amplify and affirm our internal voice of shame. The voices of “You’re not good enough”, “You don’t measure up”, “You’re worthless” are words we hear when no one is around. Then when someone speaks them to us, there is a fear that they see right through us and speak the things we fear are true.
Shame is different than guilt, although the two often get lumped together. Guilt is about what we have done, shame is about who we are. Guilt says “I should not have stolen that candy bar.” Shame says “I’m a thief”. Guilt says “I should have told the truth.” Shame says “I’m a liar.” Shame cuts us so deeply because it is an assault on our identity.
In John 4, we are introduced to the woman at the well. Jesus (a Jewish male) asks the Samaritan woman for water. She thinks he is delusional at best. For, if he was thinking clearly, there is no way that HE would ask HER for water because of the culturally elevated status of the Jewish male and the lowly status of a Samaritan woman. As the conversation unfolds Jesus’ status is revealed to be even more elevated (first to prophet, then to Messiah) than she knew. All while her status continues to spiral downward as Jesus exposes all of her broken relationships. The chasm in status between Jesus and the Samaritan woman was far greater than she had originally feared. Her original thought is “Don’t you know who you are? Don’t you know who I am?” Jesus’ response, I know who I am, I know who you are, and yet I am still here asking you for a drink of water. Jesus exposed the shameful areas of her life so that she could be freed from the shame that trapped her internally and externally within her community.
After her interaction with Jesus she returns to the community that shamed her and said “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did”. If I was confronted by a man who told me everything I ever did, I don’t think my response would be “Wait right here while I go get you an audience of my friends, family, and community”. I am fairly certain I would encourage him to go about his way and go far, far, far away. However, the Samaritan woman doesn’t cast him off but invites him in closer. She experiences such freedom from shame that she also invites others into the places she previously had kept hidden.
This is the kind of freedom I want. This is the kind of freedom that Jesus offers you. A freedom from our shame that doesn’t come because we have silenced others, but because we have allowed Him to speak. Jesus knows that shame is an assault on our identity.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2:9-10
When Jesus died on the Cross not only did he bear your guilt, but he also bore your shame. He offered to take your old identity and give you a new one. He took your shame and offered you his glory. He took your ashes and offered you his beauty. You were created in the likeness of God, you have eternal value and eternal worth. Not solely because of who you are, but because of who you have been created to be. Christ is inviting you into a life where he molds you and shapes you evermore into his likeness.
When we allow God’s voice about our identity resonate louder than the voices around us and within us, we are following the path from shame to glory and from imprisonment to freedom. We experience healing from shame when “Who you are” is defined by “Whose you are”.