Guilt is feeling bad about something I have done, shame is believing I am bad because of the things I have done. Although often used interchangeably they are different. I am against the idea of promoting guilt. Too often guilt is left unprocessed and leads to shame. Or else it is falsely manufactured for manipulative purposes (such as in the case of guilt trips and overt obligation). Yet, I do admit that guilt can be motivating and helpful in the process of transformation. Shame, on the other hand, is ugly and destructive.
For instance, if I lose my temper and yell at my kids, guilt shows up like a big arrow and points out that I should not have lost my temper. I feel bad because it was a bad thing to do. The guilty feeling can lead to progress- it can give me pause so that I realize the mistake, rectify it (apologize), think of a way to do it differently next time and then move on. However, too often, I ignore that uncomfortable guilt (or deny it altogether). It festers and grows into shame. No longer am I the mom who yelled, shame increases the incident so that I am the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mom who also yelled.
Shame exists as a natural internal result of our actions. We feel shame because sometimes we do truly horrendous things. It is the arrow, not to the action, but to the fact that we are not o.k. to have been capable of such an act. Or sometimes shame is a result from habitual smaller errors- we have allowed our selves to repeat them so many times that we can no longer claim to have made a simple mistake. If I yell at my children every day, it is not a singular misstep. It is a fault in who I am, pretending otherwise is ignoring the truth. Shame is the mirror to reflect the brokenness in our character. I call shame ugly and destructive not because it is untrue- it can be an unfortunately accurate depiction of the self we would rather did not exist. I call it ugly and destructive because it is hurtful to a devastating degree- and it is impossible to handle on our own. The overwhelm at the depth of our own brokenness can be paralyzing, there is little to be done other than wallow in self loathing or suppress all evidence. Unfortunately, both actions stifle vulnerability, honesty and all the good things needed for healing and transformation. In other words- shame (caused by either the truly horrendous thing or the habitual error) successfully stops the ability to move beyond the fault, leading to repetition of the original offense.
This is where the beautiful interruption of Gods grace takes place. Shame has no place in a life that has been saved through Christ. Our redemption is from sin AND shame. Shame stops transformation and the saving magic of grace. Well not “magic”- more like logic. If I am no longer crippled by shame I can go about the work of being different. I no longer need to hide from shame, I can be bold in confronting my brokenness because I know it is healed through the love of Jesus’ sacrifice. This is that good news part of the good news message- God’s saving grace redeems me from the cause of my shame. I believe this is also part of the transformative aspect of salvation. The shame message that I am unworthy is transformed into the knowledge that I am worthy of His love and transforms my broken character to mere actions that I can recognize, rectify and change.
A message that claims to deliver good news of salvation yet handcuffs us in shame is not good news at all. According to Genesis shame was introduced to the world after the fall. In my imaginings of the Garden of Eden I can’t help but wonder if a world without shame is the quickest way back to that original utopia. What would it look like if the church was at the forefront of a message in freedom from shame? Would it be the quickest way back to the original message of grace?
I understand the fear that exists, the thought that shame is what holds us in check. The belief that feeling bad enough will lead to better choices and that perpetuating the shame message will prevent struggles for others. But in truth it has the opposite effect. Shame stops us from transforming and only when we share in freedom from shame can we be healed.
Meet the Pasotr
Pastor Heather and her family have been a part of the Cold Lake Community since December 2006 and she has been the pastor at Community Baptist Church since September 2017.