Think about your home for a moment – whether you spend lots of time in your garage, fixing things, or in the kitchen baking things, you likely have a favorite tool to use – something that makes your life easier, something that you depend on, something that is trustworthy because it works. If Satan were to have a toolbox, shame would be his tool of choice. It is a well-worn tool at his disposal, it is a tool he will often use first to try and silence someone. Shame is a tool that he can count on to harm believers. Shame has proven trustworthy in his past interactions with believers – he knows that shame will silence us and get in the way of our relationship with God and with others.
This week’s sermon focused on Adam and Eve and their decision to disobey God, found in Genesis 3. Shame was the first negative emotion experienced by humanity after the fall. Satan hates what God created and he will use shame to try and destroy it. Today, shame is still one of the most devastating emotions a person can experience. I can literally see shame weighing a person down physically, with hunched shoulders, poor posture, and limited eye contact. In some ways, shame is the great emotional equalizer of humanity in that not everyone will experience depression and anxiety in this world, but everyone (unless you’re a psychopath) experiences shame. Even as you are reading this post, you are likely thinking of something that caused you to feel shame-maybe it was something that happened decades ago or maybe it was this morning, but you know what shame feels like.
When Adam and Eve felt shame, their immediate response was to cover up. Shame is a silencer. Shame triggers avoidance (fig leaves) and denial (blaming each other, and then blaming God). Shame whispers to us “I am bad”, “There is something wrong with me”, and “I am worthless”. Because of the intensity of the emotion, Adam and Eve felt compelled to cover themselves, and they used something at their disposal – fig leaves. It may seem silly to us now, but we also use things at our disposal to try and hide our shame. Almost every bad habit displayed by humanity can be traced back to shame. Lying, addiction, anger, binge-eating, avoidance, violence, isolation, overspending, etc. all has a component of shame. These behaviors are us trying to use the fig leaves at our disposal to cover ourselves.
The antidote for shame is vulnerability. Adam and Eve felt shame, so they covered themselves with fig leaves, and they hid in the trees. Nakedness is only one type of vulnerability. There is also emotional and spiritual vulnerability. Shame causes us to avoid being vulnerable in any form, shame causes us to fear vulnerability. Look at the second negative emotion experienced in the Garden of Eden – fear. When Adam and Eve heard God in the Garden, what was once a wonderful time of fellowship, was now frightening, so they hid. Shame moves us to hide, avoid, and deny.
Shame also requires us to be someone else, so we develop a mask to show the public, hiding our true selves, making it difficult for anyone to get to know us or love us. Once our true selves are revealed, there’s fear and anger at being ‘exposed’ for what we really are – human, imperfect. Shame is also one of those emotions that can be passed on to others. Often when children are harmed, the child decides that there is something ‘wrong’ with him and then lives with this burden of shame. For adults, if we experience violence or rejection, we often come to the same conclusion – we are bad, we are wrong, we need to feel ashamed. If you are carrying the weight of someone else’s shame, I cannot say this loudly enough, the sin committed against you is NOT yours. You are not bad, you are not wrong, the offender is wrong, the situation is bad. Sins committed against us leave a mark on our soul, and an unhealed wound can cause us to do things we aren’t proud of to survive. Shame will tell you not to be transparent with those you love. Shame will tell you that no one will love you because of what you did. All of these are lies. You are LOVED. You are cherished.
The shame and fear combination is the preferred one-two punch of Satan against believers. These are his tools of choice, and we can see from the example in Genesis 3, that he hasn’t changed his attack strategy. Satan is not creative, but God is. If you are reading this now, know that God put this post in front of you at this very moment to tell you that you are loved, that you do not need to be afraid to come to Him with your pain and shame, and that you can put down the burden of shame you are carrying because His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” 1 John 4:18.
- What are the fig leaves in your life? Adam and Eve used fig leaves to cover their shame. They mistakenly thought that if they covered themselves, they wouldn’t feel the pain anymore. This isn’t true. Consider your go-to fig leaves, things in your life that you use to hide your pain and keep distance from others.
- Just like our sin impacts others, so does our shame. Shame keeps us in a prison unto ourselves; it keeps us isolated from the love of God and from the support of others. Consider the areas of your life that cause you shame – now zoom out and consider how your shame is impacting those you love. Shame is a thief, and vulnerability is the cure, but you won’t be brave enough to be vulnerable until you’re angry enough to see what shame has stolen from you.
- Satan knows scripture – now it’s tainted scripture, it’s misplaced scripture, and it’s misused scripture, but there tends to be an element of truth to it when he uses it against believers. This is why it is vital that we know the Word of God.
- How can I spot an imposter? Because I use the Word of God as an anchor.
- How can I spot the voice of the deceiver? Because I know the voice of The Father.
- Consider what is in your tool box? Shame and fear are in Satan’s tool box, misused scripture is in his tool box, getting an audience with you is in his tool box – but what is in yours?
Steps to Victory
- Eve’s first misstep was that she listened to what Satan said. She then had a conversation with him. She gave him an audience. She engaged with him.
- Do you know if you hear something enough times, it can begin to sound true in the human brain? How did I learn The Lord’s Prayer? I repeated it thousands of times. The same principle applies to negative influences. If I hear that I am worthless, stupid, broken, etc. enough, my human brain will think there must be an element of truth to it.
- What are the negative tapes playing in your mind, causing you shame, making you afraid to be vulnerable?
- Write out what your brain says and then in the column next to it, write down what God says about you. The next time that old, negative tape begins to play, get your list out, and counter it with God’s truth.
- This is how Christ addressed Satan – He stated “it is written…”, so we need to do the same when we are under attack. Most of us know the rules of this world, we know the rules at our jobs, we know the speed limit on the road, and we know just how much pizza we can have before we feel sick. But many of us struggle with knowing the Word of God. Fill your mind with His truth and then use it to encourage others and disarm the attacks of the enemy.
- If you feel shame – yay, you’re not a psychopath ☺ but also FYI, shame is NOT a change agent. Shame will not work to change yourself or someone else. Oh, it may change their behavior, it may change what we can see and perceive on the outside, but make no mistake about it, shame does nothing to change the mind and the heart – only God can change those elements of humanity.
- Ezekiel 36:26 – God says “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”.
- Have you been trying to use shame to change yourself or someone else? You will know if you say “I should have …”, or “they should…” – anytime you use that particular s word, you are trying to use shame to activate someone’s behavior to suit your needs.
- If you have tried to use shame for change, repent immediately, and ask that God give you new insight to understand the situation you’re trying to control and manipulate by using shame.
- What is the first thing a child (from a healthy, safe home) does when they get hurt? They look to the parent for a reaction – is the parent worried or angry? Then the child experiences the emotion associated with the event. Then the child runs to the parent for comfort and safety. We adults like to think we are so sophisticated, but this is the model we need to mimic when life happens to us.
- When an event takes place, we need to look to God first – and His reaction is LOVE, compassion, grace, and mercy. It is not that there are no consequences, but the consequences are a reflection of His love.
- “The Lord disciplines those He loves, and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son” Hebrews 12:6.
- “Because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in” Proverbs 3:12.
- We need to let ourselves have the emotion that is attached to the event. Emotions are normal, healthy, and necessary in order to heal a wound. This is where you will need to feel vulnerable. It’s okay to be human and have human emotion.
- We need to run to God for comfort and support.
- If you notice that shame is a particularly difficult topic for you, Brené Brown is an excellent author on the topic of shame.
-Lisa Lewis, LCPC