They said he would come after me and they were right. He was waiting outside as I hesitantly emerged from the high school girls’ locker room. I was relieved to see a group of people there. Someone was sure to step in if they saw a seventeen-year-old boy harming a fourteen-year-old girl.
It all started a few days earlier when I said something to a mutual “friend” about a young man’s looks. It was a naïve, but derogatory, comment that my “friend” reported to him. I heard that he was going to confront me about it and put me in my place.
As I took a few steps out of the dark locker room into the brightness of that sunny day, this tough guy greeted me with a full-handed slap across my right cheek. I was totally shocked and in intense pain. As stunning as the assault was that no one lifted their voice or a finger to help me. I was alone, in pain and publicly humiliated. I heard no one defending me. The only voice I heard was the sinister voice of shame.
The Impact of Shame
The voice of shame tells us that we are something bad. It is different from the guilt that we feel when we do something bad. Shame may accompany guilt for a while and that is normal. But feelings of shame can linger long after an incident is over. Even after we have confessed and turned from our sin, if that was the issue. We can also feel a sense of embarrassment and shame for no apparent reason.
Shame can create an insatiable desire for approval. It provokes us to perform to please others. It keeps us from reporting our abusers. It causes us to fear exposure and rejection. Shame robs us of the joy of forgiveness. It can dominate our thoughts, shutting out the loving voice of the Holy Spirit. Shame has done all this to me, so I know how it operates.
The Story of My Shame
I started to believe that I was not good enough when I was a child. My dad was easily angered and did not allow opinions contrary to his. My four siblings teased me as the baby of the family. My peers criticized my looks, and I was always nearly the last to be chosen when teams were picked. Boys that I liked rejected me. Then that older boy slapped me, and no one stepped in. I could go on.
Early in my life I decided that something must be inherently wrong with me. Maybe you came to the same conclusion about yourself. That was shame talking to us.
Shame did not stop there in my life. After being married for only a few months when I was twenty-one, my new husband decided he was done with marriage, so I was out. Angry and hurt, I then pursued nearly any guy who would bother with me, even virtual strangers.
I know now that shame’s voice is what lured me into that dark place. I had given up on being loved and accepted, so I settled for the fleeting pleasure of being used for a while. I ended up with a stack of shame a mile high and very little hope.
But God graciously met me in that valley of despair. He loved me into his arms where I have found acceptance and comfort throughout the many years since. But shame still screams at me from time to time tempting me to listen to its lies.
A New Identity
A few days after that young man hit me when I was a freshman in high school, my older brother, who was a senior, enlisted a couple of his friends and confronted him about it. He never bothered me again. Knowing my big brother stood up for me helped to dull the sting of my shame.
Jesus is a loving big brother to those who put their faith in him. He stood up for us against shame on the cross and provides a way out of it for good. (Hebrews 2:11-15) But we must lay hold of that deliverance. One of the first steps to doing so is to deny what shame says and believe God instead.
The Bible is full of the good things God says about us. But those encouraging words can be hard to accept when we have listened to the degrading voice of shame all our lives. Sometimes pride can tempt us to hold onto our old familiar, shame-filled identity. We may get some strange pleasure out of feeling sorry for ourselves over the bad things we have experienced.
But if we humble ourselves, let go of the past and choose to believe God’s voice, we will hear about a wonderful, new identity. The identity that he gives us as his loved, honored, and accepted child.
Start to Silence Shame
God changes and heals us by many means: prayer, worship, fellowship and his Word. I believe that the Bible is the most reliable and stable of these. It is a rock that never changes. (Matthew 7:24) Meditating on it teaches us who God is and who we are. It lowers the volume of shame and increases the volume of the love of God.
Here are just a few simple but powerful, biblical truths we can meditate on to begin to silence shame:
- I am not ashamed. God says he removes the shame of my youth. (Isaiah 54:4)
- I do not have to hide from others. God invites me to hide in him and be safe. (Psalm 32:7)
- I am not rejected. God gladly chooses me and loves me. (Colossians 3:12)
- I am not dirty. God says I am completely clean. (Ephesians 5:26)
Shame is cruel. It belittles us and whispers that we are substandard. It sneers at us and makes us want to hide. Shame has a loud voice, but it does not have the last word.