I hate shame… and I tend to believe God does too. Shame separates us from those who actually love us. Shame lies to us and makes us hide from those who long to help heal us.
It makes us put on a mask in front of those who we have to deal with and avoid those we don’t.
It places unwarranted distance between us and God.
I’ve battled with a fair amount of shame in my life, struggling with an adolescent fear of letting God down. While I know I’m not alone in my imperfections, it bothers me to know that I’ve been unable to even keep my own standards, let alone his. I’ve been near certain that God, much like an employer towards a lackluster employee, has been prepared to “let me go,” multiple times in my life because I just wasn’t cutting it.
Shame has skewed my view of my relationship with God. Shame either has made me hide from him or try really hard to earn what which is unearnable: a father’s love, offered with no conditions.
But the beauty of what happened on the cross, and more importantly what happened three days later, means that sin, while corrupting and diseasing, does not have to have the final word. The corruption that it brings does not have to stick… and we do not have to live as if it does.
Intellectually I know this, but enjoying the freedom that comes with this free gift of, what C.S. Lewis once alluded to as ‘Bleeding Charity,’ has proved easier said than done in my life.
A really smart man who I greatly admire once told me he thinks my relationship with my son could be my practical savior… I think he may be right.
Not to long ago I got a phone call from my son’s mom. He was at her house for the weekend and had gotten in some small amount of trouble. What he did, while not the most damaging act a child could do, warranted a phone call so that his mother and I could discuss how best to handle it.
Apparently, however, in the mind of a nine-year old boy, he had committed the unpardonable sin.
At some point my son had apologized to his mom, but had one very specific request of her: “Please don’t let daddy know.” On this, he pleaded with her. There was no negotiation.
Well of course I had to know and she told him so.
For the remainder of the evening I scrolled through text after text from her about how shaken he was that he had let his daddy down; that, although he struggled to put it into words, he feared that his dad would think less of him.
Yes, he was extremely sorry, but the agony he was experiencing was coming from the thought of daddy finding out. He wept. He hid in his room. When his mom went to drop him off at school, knowing I would be picking him up, he threatened to run away.
He did not want to see me.
I think it’s interesting that the very first person in recorded history, after doing the one thing God told him not to do, had the instinctive, gut-reaction to hide. That’s the first thing Adam did. Read it. He messed up. He hid… that’s shame… and we’ve been doing it ever since.
But I love what happened next. God didn’t panic or yell or punch a hole in the drywall. God didn’t call down fire from heaven… No.
He went looking for him.
I was honestly troubled. I wasn’t troubled over what my son did. I got over that, although correction would still take place. My heart was aching because he was experiencing so much shame… shame that was keeping him from wanting to come home to his dad… a flawed dad, but a dad who nevertheless loves him, who longs to work through this with him, who longs to forgive him the very second he apologizes.
He simply had a skewed view of my love for him. The father’s love that he was operating out of was fickle, and weak, and easily withdrawn; no where near the real love I have for him. This truly bothered me.
I’d wager it bothers God too.
The afternoon came. I picked him up. Part of me was thankful that he actually didn’t run away.
I could tell he was nervous. He wasn’t his playful, charming self. He had his hat down low and he stared out the window.
I let this happen. I didn’t want to immediately deal with the situation. I don’t know why. I just drove while he sank and blankly glared at passing trees and homes.
Finally, the time came for us to sit him down and talk it out. He knew what was coming. Tears immediately formed in the corners of his eyes.
We talked through it… Full House music played in the background.
I let him know that we would deal with what he had done, and yes he would be punished, but that the biggest problem at hand was this: he messed up, and he felt that he couldn’t come to me… We were going to fix that problem right now.
I needed to let him know that shame was not going to work in our family; that when someone in our family messes up, the best way to deal with it is immediately and boldly.
Mistakes are part of who we are and we needed to make a decision that we were not going to let failure and shame keep us from having the best relationship we possibly could.
Learning lessons through correction and discipline will be part of our family but shame will have no place.
It destroys. It infects.
Shame cannot be part of any healthy relationship.
He agreed. We talked about the issue at hand, talked about appropriate corrective measures, and embraced each other warmly. I let him know how proud of him I was, and how much I loved him… then I locked him under the stairs for two weeks… just kidding. We don’t have stairs.
Guilt, for a period, can be good. It can draw him to me for forgiveness. Shame does the opposite. It separates.
My son was convinced that his failures would drive a wedge between us… that I would be let down and embarrassed of my son.
Yet, in that moment, of us dealing with his mistakes, I felt MORE like his father than I do 99% of the time when all is well in our world.
What he thought would cause separation between us, actually made our relationship more intimate once properly dealt with…
Because that’s how a good father responds. If he was my employee, he would have been fired long ago. But he’s my son. He doesn’t get fired. He gets pulled closer.
But how quickly we are to respond to God in the same way.
Just like Adam and just like my boy, when we fail, we hide. We find a bush to crawl behind or we pull our hat down and stare out the window. Why? Because we let our Dad down. We’re not worthy to be his children. We realize that we’re made from dirt, and we’re vulnerable and naked, and what Father would ever be proud of that?
But then God comes looking for us.
We’re His children. Not employees, and when children make mistakes, you pull them closer, not push them away. This is where REAL parenting actually takes place.
How often do we allow shame to keep us in hiding, to make us want to run away? How often do we suppose our Heavenly Father looks at us and shakes his head rather than looks at us, much like I did with my son, with pain and aching in his heart… pain and aching because he sees us operating our of a lie that we we can’t come home, that we’re not good enough, that he views us… a little less than the really good children.
We allow the shame of our mistakes to destroy our relationships, that, because of those very mistakes, could be made so much more authentic, intimate, and substantial.
My dear friend Dedra used to say, “The friendship ain’t real until you have your first fight!” I believe her. It’s in our flaws that real intimacy begins.
Don’t allow shame to keep you from coming home to God.
Congenitally we know that no one is perfect, and nothing happened in our life that meant we were going to be perfect from now on… not even our decision to follow Christ. So let’s not parade around as if we believed that, and allow shame to make us retreat from a more intimate relationship with our perfectly loving Father.
That’s not God’s intention. That was the point of the cross and the resurrection… to let us know that sin doesn’t have to stick.
It’s time we relax and accept that Bleeding Charity* that is just so hard for us to swallow sometimes… let’s look for God in those moments, and not retreat into hiding with our shame… because he’s going to come looking for us anyways.
*How ‘Bleeding Charity’ was never the name of an emo band is beyond me… man, if I could do it all over again…