This newsletter is the first in a three part series. Each month, we are going to introduce you to a few key concepts from our newly revised study, Shame: Finding Freedom, which comes out in September. Trying to describe what shame is and how it operates is a little bit like trying to pick up jello! It’s not easy!
You may be painfully aware of how shame operates in your life, or you may insist that it doesn't. Either way, what you need to know first is that shame is not neutral. Shame takes direct aim at the image of God in us. It chisels away at our dignity, derails our purpose, and fractures our relationships. Instead of being neutral, shame operates with a well designed strategy to disconnect us from God and others.
Let’s start with a simple definition: Shame is a sense that I am flawed, unacceptable, and unloveable. Shame creates a narrative that tells us things like, “I am too much, I am not enough, I am broken, I am stupid.” These are all identity statements that shape the way we see ourselves. Eventually, the voice of shame is so loud that we start to believe it, and it begins to impact the way we live.
Here is where it gets complicated. Not all shame is bad. For example, We all experience legitimate shame. This is the shame we carry for our sin and the ways we have harmed ourselves and others. We are, in fact, guilty. We feel ashamed for what we have done. Yet even in our legitimate shame, the enemy tries to create obstacles that keep us from getting to Jesus. Shame can take our guilt and twist it to convince us that we are losers, that we are a burden, or that we will never change. Believing the lies that shame whispers keeps us from moving toward God and receiving what he is offering. But we are not without hope. Jesus takes the punishment we deserve so we don’t have to remain guilty. In our legitimate shame, Jesus invites us to confess, repent, and receive his forgiveness.
We also carry illegitimate shame. This is the shame we experience because of harms done to us or the brokeness of the world that we are associated with (poverty, lack of education, illness, suicide, infertility, abuse). Even though illegitimate shame is not our fault, the enemy will convince us it is and whisper words of condemnation. This voice becomes so loud that we begin to believe that the shame we carry is the truest thing about us. In our illegitimate shame, Jesus offers us his comfort, his compassion, and his care—inviting us to lament, grieve, and entrust our pain and brokenness to him.
Shame rarely shows up as shame. It can masquerade as anger, perfectionism, humor, withdrawing, or being controlling. Sometimes it is easier to identify how we respond to shame than to actually identify the shame that we carry. Our mind, body, and emotions give us clues to when we may be experiencing shame. Even the way we relate to others can indicate that we are experiencing shame. One of the ways that we begin to push back against shame is to recognize how it operates in our lives.
Shame has been a part of the human experience since the beginning of time. In less time than it takes to eat an apple, Adam and Eve go from being naked and unashamed to naked and ashamed. It is quite the contrast, and we have been feeling the effects of shame ever since. However, we can have hope that the narrative of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is a dramatic story that is moving us from shame to honor.
It takes a lot of courage to engage our shame stories with curiosity, compassion, and kindness. We can be encouraged by seeing how Jesus responded to men and women in Scripture who were covered in shame. Through these stories, we get a glimpse of his posture towards us in both our legitimate and illegitimate shame. We have a compassionate Savior who is not ashamed to identify with us. This is good news. He is our way out of shame.
Over the next three months, we are going to highlight a few insights and resources from our new study. In no way will these newsletters be sufficient in helping you understand the role shame plays in your life and the freedom that Christ offers. But we hope this series will be a helpful resource for you as you begin to engage your own shame stories. We encourage you to dig deeper with the Shame: Finding Freedom revised study.
For The Ezer Women’s Discipleship Team
This month, we are going to read Hannah’s story from 1 Samuel. We have included three passages as well as a retelling of the story written by Christy Peterson. As you reflect on her story, answer the following questions:
- Where do you see shame (harms to me, harms by me, and brokenness of the world) in the story?
- Is Hannah’s shame legitimate or illegitimate? How do others respond to her?
- How does God respond to her in her shame and grief? How is her honor restored?
- What encouragement does this story give you?
1 Samuel 1:1-20 In this passage, we read about Hannah’s relationship with Elkanah and her sister-in-law Peninnah. We also get a glimpse of the shame that she carries and how she responds to it.
“Peninnah would taunt Hannah and make fun of her because the Lord had kept her from having children. Year after year it was the same—Peninnah would taunt Hannah as they went to the Tabernacle. Each time, Hannah would be reduced to tears and would not even eat.”
1 Samuel 1: 21-2:11 This passage records the return trip to the Tabernacle and Hannah’s prayer.
“Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they worshiped the Lord there.”
1 Samuel 2:12-3:21 In this passage, we see Samuel as a young boy and how God begins to lay out his plan and purpose for him.
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and everything Samuel said proved to be reliable. And all Israel, from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, knew that Samuel was confirmed as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh and gave messages to Samuel there at the Tabernacle.
Hannah’s Shame Story: Some liberties have been taken in this retelling, but we hope it captivates your imagination as you read how God meets her in her struggle with shame.
In this short video, Chrystie Cole gives us a quick overview of legitimate and illegitimate shame and the freedom that Jesus offers.
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self reflection and for discussion within your community.
1.How does God engage those who are covered in either legitimate or illegitimate shame? What does he offer to those carrying legitimate shame? What does he offer to those carrying illegitimate shame? What hope and encouragement can this give you?
2. In the same way a car uses indicator lights to get our attention and let us know that something on our vehicle needs tending to, our bodies do the same for us when we are experiencing shame. Which of these do you experience?
- Verbal Clues: Do you hear statements like: I am not enough, I am too much, I am stupid, or I am unloveable?
- Emotional Clues: Do you feel anger, regret, contempt, self-conscious, or unsafe?
- Physiological Clues: Does your stomach hurt, heart race, palms sweat, or do you get watery eyes or a dry mouth?
- Relational Clues: Do you respond to others by proving your worth, isolating, or powering up and getting defensive?
3. Review the Shame in the Scriptures document from our study. We hope this resource will help you become more aware of how shame is described in Scripture. As you read passages, train your eye to look for the words that describe shame. After reviewing this resource, is there anything that surprises you about the prevalence of shame in the Bible?
Scripture warns us not to be just hearers of the Word but to be doers of it as well. All of life is repentance. What is a believable next step God is calling you to take in response to all you’ve learned? Pick one or two of the below steps to take.
- It is tempting to want to spend our energy trying to identify the source of our shame. Dr. Curt Thompson in his book, Soul of Shame, recommends that instead, we put our energy into learning to recognize when we are experiencing shame. Pay attention to the indicator lights that point to a shame response. You can do this by simply making a mental note or tally marks on a note card. This exercise helps you learn to recognize when and where you are experiencing shame and how it might operate in your life.
- As you go through your day, start listening to yourself. What are the words you hear shame whisper to you? Keep track of these phrases for a while and see if you can notice a theme, how often you hear them, or the situations that create these internal narratives. Next month, we will talk about how to battle these lies and transform them with the truth.
- The new Shame: Finding Freedom study will be offered this year at all our Grace Church campuses. Sign up to be a part of this study when it is offered at your campus so you can work through this material in community with others. If you are not able to participate at Grace, you can order the materials for this study and watch the teaching online. Please contact [email protected] for more information.
The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves By Curt Thompson.
Shame seeks to destroy our identity in Christ, replacing it with a damaged version of ourselves that results in unhealed pain and brokenness. But God is telling a different story for your life.
Being Known Podcast: This podcast explores the intersection of interpersonal neurobiology and Christian spiritual formation. In Season 5, Curt dives into his book The Soul of Shame chapter by chapter.
Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame By Heather Davis Nelson. This easy-to-read book focuses on specific types of shame that we carry and ultimately points us to our most fundamental need as human beings: redemption.
Samuel Sermon Series: If you would like to hear additional teaching on Hannah and the life of Samuel, check out our Grace Church sermon series.