In Hebrew, the word for ‘shame’ goes beyond feeling embarrassed for yourself. It’s about hoping in something foolish; (false gods are sometimes called “shame”). It’s the anguish you feel when both you and the things in which you have trusted, are exposed.
Idols are “things of shame” – false sources of confidence and identity. But their shame is contagious – they make us shameful too! Here’s the cycle: We go to shameful things to feel OK. They make us feel even more shameful, so what do we do? More shameful things.
There are all kinds of examples…
I seek to feel better; usually in habits or patterns that add to my shame:
I buy carpet or shoes or something that promises to make me into a better version of myself. It’s more than I can afford – but it’s going to change my life! It doesn’t, and so I head back to the shops.
When I’m busy I feel safe and worthwhile. So I volunteer for every project, group and rota – even though I’m already stretched. If I stop, even for a moment, I feel worthless. So I must keep going and I must keep saying yes.
I look for love in all the wrong places. Or I invest too much in the right places; asking people to prop me up. I invest in alcohol, exercise, food, social media, but its never enough.
I hit rock bottom; and I turn again to the things that put me there.
So how do I break this cycle?
There’s two parts to my shame. The feeling – and the unworthy thing I trusted in to begin with. I need to face both. My feelings of shame are only one part, the shameful objects of my false hopes also need to be faced.
When I do this, I’m exposed and my instinct is to return to familiar patterns. But I don’t have to. The gospel tell me that here, in my ugliness, I am loved.
The real God sees my true shame, but He decides not to shame me. Instead He is shamed for me on the cross. And He rises to cover me.
Jesus is not ashamed to be our Brother. He’s not ashamed to own us before angels and kings. So when we feel shame, we don’t need to despair. We confess it in all its ugliness, then run to the throne room and cast it at the feet of the King who was cursed that we might be blessed.
But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. (Psalm 3:3)