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Shame might be a prison, but Christians are no longer prisoners. You have the freedom to leave the cell anytime. Past behavior can fuel guilt and shame only because of a poor understanding of what God has done for you.
What you do does not define who you are. What you do is only one moment in time. What you do might be mean, evil, or hurtful. If we could never change, then what we do would offer a picture of who we are. We would bear the shame of our actions forever.
Fortunately, because of a relationship with God, we can grow more loving. In this case, the hurt that Christians cause does not ultimately define who they are. God has shown us a better way and He is helping us have the heart that can love like He does.
Shame Results When You Fail To Look To God For Definition
Tenth Avenue North has a fantastic song, You Are More. You are more than what you do. That’s true because worth ultimately originates outside of creation altogether. Only God, as Creator, has the power to define what is worthy.
Those who look to him are radiant;Psalm 34:5 NIV
their faces are never covered with shame.
If you only look within and find defects and sin you will experience shame. When you believe that doing defines who you are, you’ll be caught in hopelessness. I started my book, Confident Identity, with the following description:
Shame is the deep-down sense that who you are is defective and worthless and therefore, you aren’t needed or wanted by anyone. Shame is a problem of epidemic proportions. All who struggle with it become isolated from the cause and the cure: relationship. Relationships have the potential to affirm or to reject who you are.
Shame can be activated when someone has done something wrong to you or you’ve done something wrong. It lingers when you haven’t received forgiveness and acceptance. Abuse, getting what you don’t need, and neglect, not getting what you do need, aggravate your need for acceptance.
Accepting God’s Acceptance Cancels Shame
God accepted Mary and He accepts all His children no less.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.Luke 1:30 ESV
He accepts you because of Christ’s sacrifice, no doubt. But Christ’s sacrifice was not given begrudgingly for a people that He believed to be worthless. He loves and saves because that’s who He is. But the people He sacrificed for have worth. His sacrifice proves exactly how valuable they are. He accepts you because of who you are – who He made you to be – not what you’ve done.
Emotional health requires the ability to separate the results of wrongdoing (guilt and shame) from the benefits of unconditional love (peace and confidence).
For all Christians, guilt and shame should be temporary and acceptance should be eternal. God allows you to reconsider what you’ve done and start with a clean slate. This means hope.
Shame thrives without the hope of forgiveness and a new start. It is only possible when you feel trapped in a prison cell with no hope of escaping. Make a list right now of what is keeping you in prison. For every hopeless situation, God has a way out. Nothing is impossible with God. Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, conceived in her old age.
And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.Luke 1:36-38 ESV
Tell God you’re ready to start over with a clean slate. Ask Him to show you the way out. Then tell Him to, “let it be to me.”
Matt Pavlik is a licensed professional clinical counselor who wants to see each individual restored to their true identity. He has more than 20 years of experience counseling individuals and couples at his Christian counseling practice, New Reflections Counseling. Matt and Georgette have been married since 1999 and live with their four children in Centerville, Ohio.