Shame comes in all shapes and sizes:
A big zit on your nose.
A past full of brokenness and abuse.
A rip in the seam of your pants.
A failed marriage.
Silly or serious, we’ve all felt it. The exposure of a vulnerability or apparent shortcoming that drives us to run away. To cover up. To hide. And unfortunately, The Church (my church, even me personally) can foster environments of shame, even when we’re not intentionally trying to.
It makes sense. The Church, a place of grace, hope, and unconditional love, is also an environment full of expectations. Standards of behavior naturally emerge in any culture, but engaging in Church culture comes with a built-in assumption of moral superiority. We profess faith in God and innately feel our lives should reflect that (even if we don’t).
And while some shame is understandably innate, some is undeniably overt. We’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit there are many in the Church who willingly use shame as a means to control. To maintain power over people. To protect their personal preferences. To manipulate others towards their desired outcomes.
Innate or overt, when we fall short (which we always do), shame moves in. Becomes a constant companion. And shame is a horrific house guest.
God deals in conviction, not shame. Shame is based in condemnation, in pointing out deficiencies with the intent of rejecting, judging, or looking down on another. And Jesus didn’t come into the word to do that:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17 NLT)
Yet in so many church environments shame is still a primary motivator, filling our sanctuaries with guilty people. Hiding people. Manipulated people. Self-righteous people. Frightened people. Fake people. Or in more and more cases, empty seats.
So how do we know when God is convicting or when shame is condemning? Here’s some thoughts:
Shame is an ego-protection mechanism that focuses on how we appear to others.
Conviction is an inward re-alignment with who God is and has called us to be.
Shame conforms us to man-made expectations.
Conviction leads us to repentance.
Shame causes us to create false perceptions of reality.
Conviction leads us to openly face who we really are.
Shame manipulates and imprisons.
Conviction heals and frees.
Shame misuses aspects of truth to manage and control.
Conviction reconnects us to absolute truth.
Shame formulates outward behavioral modification.
Conviction births true inward transformation.
Shame pushes us towards self-protection.
Conviction pushes us towards Christ.
Shame asks us to do the work.
Conviction drives us towards the One who already did it all.
Which one is driving you? What is being fostered in your environments? What do you think?