But let’s distinguish shame from guilt. If you do or say or think something wrong, then your conscience may inform you that it is wrong, and you may feel bad for the wrong done. That is guilt, not shame. Guilt is admitting to doing something wrong (you did wrong). Shame makes you think that you are something wrong (as though there is something wrong with you as a human being). The latter is dangerous because feelings of self-loathing and self-worthlessness contribute to further distorted thinking, which leads to further emotional damage, which may, in turn, lead to further bad behavior. Shame forms a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break the longer one is engaged within its grip.
Also, there is nothing necessarily wrong with feeling ashamed for doing or saying or thinking something heinous. This is mere acknowledgment of the wrongdoing. When you’re guilty of wrongdoing, and you acknowledge your guilt, you may feel a measure of shame — embarrassment, disgrace, humiliation — for it. But do not confuse doing something wrong with being something wrong. In Christ you have overcome. It may not seem like it yet, it may not feel like it yet, but it’s true (Rom. 8:37). The Bible admits that you have, by faith in Christ, overcome the world (1 John 5:4)!
You need to keep a close eye on your emotions: befriend them, says Henri Nouwen, and don’t become their victim. If you let them master you, you will miss out on the kind of life God desires for you in Christ. There shall be no other master over you but Christ (cf. Luke 16:13; 1 Cor. 6:12). Also, notes Nouwen, don’t “whip yourself for your lack of spiritual progress. If you do, you will easily be pulled even further away from your center … It is obviously good not to act on your sudden emotions. But you don’t have to repress them, either. You can acknowledge them and let them pass by. In a certain sense, you have to befriend them so that you do not become their victim."1
Perhaps your negative emotions are triggered by negative thoughts that will try to master you by bringing undue shame. “You’re not good enough." “No one really likes you anyway." “The Lord doesn’t have time for you." “You never do anything right." Don’t befriend these kinds of thoughts! Here’s how you confront these kinds of negative thoughts and not allow them to control you emotionally. When you have a negative thought, such as “You’re not good enough," ask, “Good enough for who?" In Christ, the playing field for being “good enough" has been destroyed by Jesus’ perfection. When you have a negative thought, such as “No one really likes you anyway," ask, “Really? Not even one person in the whole universe?"
This particular negative thought is known as two types of cognitive distortions: 1) over-generalizing; and 2) omniscience (all-knowing). God loves you, so there’s at least one person in the known universe who loves you. So you cannot over-generalize and suggest that absolutely no one loves you. Plus, you cannot actually know that no one really loves you, since you cannot know the true thoughts and feelings of others. There are people who may really, really like or love you that you’re not too familiar with (people in the community, church, clubs or organizations, on-line, etc.). All our negative thoughts need to be confronted because all too often they do not necessarily represent the truth. Take the last negative thought offered: “You never do anything right." Really? Never, ever, do anything whatsoever right? If that were true, you couldn’t really exist in this world. The truth is that you probably do most things right, and maybe only a few things wrong; which is the complete opposite of what the negative thought was promoting.
Christ took your shame, believer (cf. Heb. 12:2), and He has no plans of giving it back to you. So, stop trying to take it back. Stop equating doing something wrong with being something wrong. Stop listening to those voices — preachers in particular — who attempt to manipulate you into subjection by keeping you under the heavy thumb of shame. Christ has set you free from all that tries to bind you (Gal. 5:1). “In everything, keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions on the journey. Keep returning to the road to freedom."2 And stick close to those whom God has given you on this road to freedom who continually build you up (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11).
1 Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom (New York: Image Books, 1998), 42.
2 Ibid., 39.
This post was written by William Birch. For the original post with comments, go to: http://willandgraced.tumblr.com/post/55592721019/