Silence the Voice Shame

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.

Silence the Voice of Shame

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.

Unearth the Treasure in Your Trial

This article was originally published at Gospel-Centered Discipleship .

It was a dream come true. The perfect business opportunity came to us shortly after my husband was laid off his job due to company downsizing. We would have to relocate from our life-long home in sunny California to not-so-sunny Michigan, but I was completely on board.

So, we sold our home, packed up a house full of belongings, and headed east with bright-eyed anticipation for a new life. As a homeschooling mom, I was ecstatic because we would be living on five wooded acres. It was perfect for our home-learning lifestyle. We were convinced that the Lord was leading the way for our family. We fully expected not just to survive but to thrive.

However, along with the first bitterly cold winter in the suburbs of Detroit, came the stark reality that this endeavor was not heading in the direction we had planned. Unless the Lord worked a miracle, the whole plan would fail.

The Best Laid Plans . . .

My husband had always dreamed of going into business for himself. He had been in corporate leadership positions before, but never had enough clout to make a difference. He believed that if he had a chance to be a major decision-maker in a company, he could make the organization, and himself, a success.

This exact kind of opportunity presented itself when Christian friends from Michigan approached my husband with a brilliant business concept for a high-tech, nationwide identity verification system. Being the techie he is, my husband was thrilled. The business plan seemed tight. The partners had decades of business experience. The idea was a surefire win, and my husband would be the Chief Operations Officer.

But within six months, the partners’ vital connections in the industry failed. One of the partners reneged on his part of the funding, became combative with the other partners, and then dropped out. Things unraveled almost before they began. This business was going nowhere.

Looking back, we see our mistakes, bad judgment and ambition. We had foolishly put our hope in a set of circumstances, assuming God would bless them. At the time, though, all we saw were hopes dashed and dreams destroyed.

Between investing in the business and living off our savings for a year and a half, we ended up broke. Our marriage suffered. He tried getting another job in Michigan but couldn’t. My ideal home-learning lifestyle on our wooded acres would have to be abandoned. I felt like we were now out in the middle of nowhere, with no way home.

Confused by Contradiction

But through those excruciating days, I learned invaluable lessons that saved my sanity, my marriage, and my faith. All I could see all around me was a devastating loss, but God was clearing the path for far greater gain—a grander concept of who he is, and deeper insight into how he loves.

My biggest challenge was confusion over the apparent contradiction I was witnessing. We believed God directed us to make this huge move, and we obeyed. I thought that meant favorable circumstances and success would follow. Instead, we had financial trouble and marital conflict.

I blamed my husband. He had assured me the gigantic risk we were taking would pay off. I trusted him and followed him across the country to this desolate place. I knew in my mind that God hadn’t forsaken me, but I couldn’t reconcile what I was experiencing with what I expected.

I remember sitting shyly at the county government aid offices, waiting to be interviewed about my application to receive financial assistance. Not a soul in the world knew me there, but still, I wished I had worn a disguise. I was ashamed. But more than anything, I was desperate for help.

Doubting Disciples

I did receive help, including an attitude correction, from a story at the end of the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark. After a long day of ministry beside the sea, Jesus and the disciples set out across the water toward the country of the Gerasenes. Jesus told his friends where to aim the boat and then he laid down to rest.

When a violent windstorm suddenly arose, and water flooded their vessel, the disciples believed their lives were in danger. They woke Jesus, incredulous that he could sleep through such an emergency: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).

I imagine the disciples thought Jesus had abandoned them. He appeared to be ignoring their peril, after all. They might have questioned why in the world he would bring them out onto the water only to let them be overtaken by the violent waves and die. I could relate.

Painful, confusing circumstances challenge our belief in the imperishability of the love of God. They certainly challenged mine when things did not go our way in Michigan. The business was not taking off as expected and our savings were draining fast. Where did we go wrong?

I thought if we followed the Lord’s leading everything would work out. I was tempted, like the frightened disciples, to question God’s tender care. Despite their doubt, the disciples were treated to an astonishing demonstration of power and authority as Jesus quickly calmed that storm on the Sea of Galilee: “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).

Jesus has all authority to command the wind and the waves. Thunderstorms are at his command. They subside merely at his word. However, I have found that the Lord typically doesn’t deliver us from trouble as speedily as he did that day. When he chooses not to rescue us right away, he has something greater for us right there amidst our storm.

A Life-Raft in the Storm

After Jesus calmed the wind and waves, he asked the disciples two piercing questions: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

These men spent a lot of time with Jesus and witnessed astonishing things. They recently watched him cleanse lepers and heal a paralytic’s body and a man’s withered hand. They heard him stand up to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and cast out demons with authority. Yet they still did not understand who he was, and how much he cared for them.

In my fear and doubt during our rough seas in Michigan, I sensed Jesus asking me the same, probing, doubt-revealing questions about my lack of faith that he asked the disciples. Why are you so afraid, Marie? Have you still no faith?

I searched my Bible for a life preserver of understanding. I started to grasp that “all things working together for good” includes our sins and the sins of others against us (Rom. 8:28). When our decisions lead to our hardship, God promises to turn it around for good! Because of this, we really have no reason to torture ourselves with “what-ifs” when our choices lead to trials. There is no reason to blame others.

Slowly, it ceased to matter what went wrong, or whether we heard God correctly in going to Michigan. I started to comprehend that God’s plan encompasses even our fumbling missteps. Even—and perhaps especially—through our sins, mistakes, and bad decisions, he is transforming us into glorious images of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:15-18; Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:21), bringing him pure delight (Luke 12:32; John 15:8-11; Col. 1:19-22). He’s always working for our ultimate good and for his eternal glory (Isa. 48:11; Rom. 8:28-29; 11:36).

Takeaway Treasure

We never did realize the exciting, new life in Michigan we had envisioned. In his mercy, the Lord opened a job opportunity for my husband back home in California, so we moved back and started over. As insufferable as that season seemed, I am grateful for it. My spiritual life and my marriage are both stronger because of what God did in and through me during that time.

That testing forged unwavering faith and godly hope in me. I learned how to trust Jesus in the middle of my storm and ride it out to the end, holding fast to him and his promises (Heb. 10:23). I learned to accept the bumps and tumbles of my life.

Next time the wind and the waves rise in your life, instead of praying for a quick rescue, consider resisting the doubts, the fears, and the desperate desire to escape. Instead, hold fast to God’s promises. Treasure them through the turmoil. Be assured that he is sovereign and he is good.

Jesus Christ is at rest in your boat, and all is well.