|No shame for the boy with the chocolate face (or the mama who didn't wash it).|
I was way too old when I found out shame wasn’t a necessary part of repentance. Regardless of growing up with parents who never once made me feel like their love came with conditions, our shame-filled society convinced me that it was a normal, functional feeling. Phrases like, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” were common to hear from even the best TV sitcom parents and “Shame shame double shame,” was shouted on the playground. When phrases like these are so common in our cultural rhetoric, how can any of us be blamed for thinking self-shame is a regular or even honorable response to mistake-making. Through a cultural and personal paradigm shift, I’m starting to see how shame halts us on our path to God-likeness.
Fortunately, we have shame researchers like Brene Brown to thank for shining a light on shame’s harm. She said, “I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” For me, shame is that little, lying voice that whispers, “You did it again. Even worse than the last time. There’s no way you’ll ever get it right. You may as well quit trying.” And that’s just one out of hundreds of lies I tell myself all the time.
Shame tells us that we are too defective, incapable of change and unworthy of the unrestricted love God gives each of us. It is the anti-motivator and makes us believe we are better off quitting before we mess it all up again. Shame is delivered in the form of lies and manifests itself in ridiculous comparisons, jealousy and bottom-up pride. Shame on us for not seeing it sooner… no wait, we’re banning shame and replacing it with… with what? What should we feel when we sin or make a mistake?
Lets go back to Brene for a brilliant alternative, guilt. She said, “I believe that there is a profound difference between shame and guilt. I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.” I think of guilt as the feeling of knowing I’ve done something wrong while shame is feeling I AM wrong.
I loved learning these differences. But I was left wanting for a deeper, spiritual answer. Something that I could apply to every wrong choice I make and they are plentiful in my life. If shame leaves us feeling worthless and inadequate it must come from the father of the lies. What would God have us feel? What is the opposite of shame?
I found my answer in two of the most beautiful words that could stand side by side. Godly sorrow. Breathe it in. It is one of the most gracious gifts God has granted us. 2 Corinthians 7:10 reads, “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”
I wanted desperately to have a practical understanding of godly sorrow and the words of President Benson helped me out, as I read, “It is not uncommon to find men and women in the world who feel remorse for the things they do wrong. Sometimes this is because their actions cause them or loved ones great sorrow and misery. Sometimes their sorrow is caused because they are caught and punished for their actions. Such worldly feelings do not constitute ‘godly sorrow’. Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, He who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having ‘a broken heart and contrite spirit’. Such a spirit is the absolute prerequisite for true repentance”
I describe godly sorrow as the deeply, painful sadness that comes from knowing I did something to separate myself from God. It is not an easy process and it is not pain-free. But it does allow us to put aside the world’s view of what we did wrong and focus on our longing to be closer and more similar to God. This humble response leads to true repentance, allowing God’s Atonement to absolve our sins and empower true, heart-deep, lasting change. It’s the antidote to shame and God’s perfect plan to see our mistakes through His eyes. We can discover that our worth is absolute and our mortal mistakes are opportunities to transform.
So the next time your neighbor overhears you speaking a little too harshly to your child, instead of thinking, “Oh, great! Now she knows I’m the worst mother on this block!” Try finding a quiet space where you can fall to your knees and pray earnestly for patience and pure intentions in parenting. Then hug that little one and tell him you’re sorry and you’ll keep trying just like he will.
Or how about the next time you show up to your meeting an hour late because you didn’t read to the end of the e-mail about the time-change? If your normal response would be, “Ugh! They’re all gonna know what a mess I am,” just stop it. Instead, make an effort to find out what you missed so you can better serve the people around you. And yes, when you get the chance, bow your head and ask God what can fall out of your life so you can become a little more organized.
Finally, what should you do when that super cute vintage doll tutorial you tried to follow from your sister’s blog ends up looking like E.T.? You laugh or cry or a bit of both. That one actually requires no repentance (unless you blamed your husband for interrupting you and throwing the whole project off track) and certainly NO shame. So you get a pass. A PASS!! I will give you a pass right now. Don’t think I won’t. And definitely don’t think, “Gabby’s looked so perfect, what is wrong with me???” Why not? Because shame! But not shame on you, shame on shame.
If we want to love and know God in this life, we must pursue His likeness. And how does He feel about us? He loves us completely, today, as we are. He asks us to choose right, not to earn His love but to gradually become like Him so we can feel the contentment of a worthy soul in His presence someday. He just wants us back! We should feel the same about ourselves, knowing our worth to Him will not diminish with each sin but recognizing such as an opportunity to feel godly sorrow, repent with the right intent, and bask in the powerful motivation that can fuel us forward. There’s just no room in these God-loving hearts for the self-loathing that gradually forms out of shame so release the lies and cling to truth. Let Godly sorrow gradually push shame out of your life and joyfully recognize each step in the right direction along with The One who created you.