“So,” the voice on the phone said, “we’re nearly done updating your records. Just a few more questions: are you still…. unemployed?”
Was that how they regarded being a stay-at-home-Mom? I was so stunned into stuttering: “umm… I g-g-g-uess so.” I didn’t know what to say, but I did know what I was feeling: shame.
I think there’s a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt refers to the bad feelings we have about what we’ve done (or think we’ve done) wrong. Shame, on the other hand, are the bad feelings about who we ARE. Guilt says: “You are a bad person because you did wrong”. Shame says “You are a bad person because you just ARE. You are not valuable. You will be rejected, by people and by God. You are not enough.”
I felt it all in that moment: what I was doing was not enough. Who I was was not enough. My choice to stay at home with my kids was wrong. I had failed. I was at the bottom of the totem pole. C.S. Lewis’ words about “the homemaker having the ultimate career” vanished from my mind. I had the zero career. And I was ashamed.
Later that week, I was fascinated to discover that in the Bible the words for “put to shame” can also be translated “will not be disappointed”. I had to think long and hard about that. What does shame have to do with disappointment? This is what I came up with: shame and disappointment are connected because we have a fear that whatever we’ve invested in, trusted in, built our life on, the person we’ve become will not work out well. We fear we’ve backed the wrong horse(s) by making the wrong choices about marriage, career, friends, financial plans, appearance, schools, fill-in-your-shame-whip-here. We fear that when all is said and done, our choices will be shown to be bad, and we will be disappointed. We will be ashamed of who we are and where we find ourselves.
But the Bible says that if we trust in Christ, we will not be disappointed.
We will not be put to shame.
We do NOT need to fear ultimate rejection, contempt or humiliation. For if we have trusted in Jesus, when all is said and done, God has said that we chose exactly right – and we ARE his beloved people and we will be found to be welcomed in his presence. Our choice to trust and obey him will be vindicated. We will be SHOWN to be the people of God – and the word the Bible regularly uses to describe this is that we have HOPE.
Perhaps shame, disappointment, justification and hope seem strange conceptual bedfellows, but consider how Romans 5 connects them:
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame (or, hope does not disappoint us), because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
In other words, if we have been justified, that means God has officially decreed us as “belonging to him“, and if we belong to him, we know whose we are (God’s) and where we stand (in grace). And that means, no matter what happens, we get the “OK” from Him. No rejection. No disappointment. No worry that we made the wrong decision.
If I belong to God, I can tell Shame where to park it.
Whenever Shame comes to whisper my name, I have a come-back. When Shame accuses me of being “unemployed”, instead of wanting to justify myself, I can quiet my soul and remind myself of Whose I am and Who evaluates my work (Colossians 3:21-24).
If Shame accuses us of being unlovely, unlovable, rejected, unvalued or unimportant – perhaps because we’re getting older, or we’re sick, or if our marriage has failed or our kids are rebelling, or if don’t feel we can contribute very much, or if we have done things in our past… if there is any circumstance in which we feel ASHAMED of who we are or the circumstance we in and that we need to apologize for ourselves, or ‘justify’ ourselves – we can remember that God HIMSELF has justified us. HE says we belong. HE says we’re ok. And NO-ONE has a right to condemn us or shame us. God is the only one who has the right to condemn or shame people, and He is the one who has justified and exonerated us.
Shame, this is what I have to say to you:
Somehow, that frees me to keep doing the unrecognized thing, the ‘shameful’ thing even – without fearing that we will be a disappointment or that we will have made the wrong choice.
Justification is the knowledge about EXACTLY how we will be regarded on judgment day, and it gives us great hope. Our choice to trust Jesus will be shown to have been the very best choice of all, no matter who we are or where we came from.
If we belong to God, we stand unashamed, in grace. Now that’s hope.
This post is Day 23 of 31 Days of Belonging, and was part of the series of talks I did on being a Daughter of God earlier this year. For a full list of posts in this series, please click here.