The Story of Shame

"Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change."
[Brene Brown]


Something happens once shame enters into the equation. Something old and deep shifts inside of us and we find ourselves at a complete standstill. Maybe we've become pretty good at ignoring shame, letting it turn our stomaches and then swallowing it again. Maybe we've listened to it whisper, but denied its existence. Maybe it's so rooted in us that we don't even know that we're operating out of it, but then it comes slamming into our bodies like a freight train. Something triggers that old, powerful force and it completely crushes us in a fraction of a second.

And then there we are, flat on our backs, shame towering over us like a thick shadow, it's very existence smothering us like a stifling desert. There's no breeze, no chance of relief. Just ominous, low hanging clouds. Shame is a force like no other.

I've known shame in the deepest recesses of my body. I have worn it like a robe, black and heavy, stained with my grief. I've known shame that had nothing to do with my own choices. I've worn other people's robes and felt the weight of it sink into my bones. I am not unfamiliar with shame.

It's pretty likely you've known shame too. Which makes me think about the very first human experience of shame - the day it was birthed into the world. When Adam watched Eve reach for something she was never meant for. And then he reached for it too.

It wasn't that they were suddenly naked. It's just that they were suddenly aware of their nakedness - and ashamed of it. Maybe they were crushed by the realization that they were exposed. Maybe it had nothing to do with their bodies and they were just looking for a robe to cover their grief. They hid in their shame and waited for God to come for them.

You know that sick feeling you have when you know you're about to be found out; that things have changed forever and you can't undo it? You're suddenly living in loss, when just moments before, you were living in joy.

One stupid choice that introduced shame and struggle and sadness for the rest of humanity, for the rest of time. And, every time shame hovers over us, we feel the same weight. Great loss and sorrow sink into our deepest spaces until we are paralyzed.

But there's this.

"Where are you?" He says it quietly, with a tinge of sadness, because he knows where they are. He just wants to know if THEY know where they are. He's not wondering what bush they are crouched behind - he's asking about the position of their hearts. He didn't send someone else to clean up this mess. He came himself. Great, pulsing grief leading every step. Brushing past tall grass and swaying tress, breathing in cool, sweet air - the earth is free and beautiful. Joy lives here, flooded with peace and rest. This life was good.... pleasing. But here they come, trembling. Defensive. Blaming.

For the first time he spills blood. He draws life from an animal and uses its skin to clothe them, covering their shame and whispering, even in that moment, that a stronger blood will be spilled to cover them. Someday. Maybe it seems like he was too harsh, closing the doors of the life they had loved and sending them out into a world that shame had birthed, but this was the only way.

This is how deliverance comes.

It didn't come in that lifetime, or in thousands after them. But it came at the right time - when the ground had been plowed, worked and prepared. When the world was teetering on the edge of being lost. When he had been silent for 400 years and his people had been crying out, but he hadn't answered. In silence and questioning and burning desperation, he slid in under the wall. He went unnoticed, walking with them again. Not with cool breezes and vast oceans of paradise, but with dirty sandles and human grief ripped open in front of him. Blind eyes and twisted legs. Mad minds and broken women. Disease and death. Abandoned and rejected people, clinging to his robe, wanting desperately to shed theirs.

Knowing all along that this time it was his own blood that had to seep into the earth. This time he would have to surrender himself for the sake of their shame.

Our shame.

My shame.

He did what they could never have done. He bore their shame. Naked and exposed. Beaten and despised. He let it heap up on him, crushing him under the weight. That cross, it was nothing. Those nails, they were powerless. It was love that held him there. It was the remembrance of those days on the earth as it was meant to be, walking in the cool of the day. It was the sound of their laughter, the memory of they way they interlaced their fingers when they ran, without growing tired. It was the joy of not being alone and knowing that this was the price to pay so that he would never be alone again. This was the righting, the turning, the redemption that would put things back in their place. And that made every second of shame worth it.

Which is why we are capable of change.

Shame doesn't own us anymore, not when we are his. He righted that wrong. He shouldered that great weight. He did the impossible to call us out from hiding. Naked or no, we don't have to be ashamed. The cross was more than an instrument of death. It was the second tree. For the second Adam.

I heard someone say that Jesus has invited us to eat of the fruit of that second tree.

He is inviting us to dismantle shame; to break it apart in our hands and let it crumble at his feet. He's inviting us to consume something new. Something that allows us to be what we are, as we are; to come to the table broken and desperate. Just come.

This is where change is possible.

* What about you? What role has shame played in your life? What does this speak to your experience?

*September 2013