This article is the second in a three-part series on the topic of shame. If you have not gone through the first one, Understanding Shame, we encourage you to work through that before diving into this one. In this series, we are sharing some big ideas and resources from our revised study, Shame: Finding Freedom. Last month, we explored two categories of shame and learned how to recognize it. We hope that was helpful.
Once we can identify the ways we experience and respond to shame, we can begin to do battle with it. I know that seems like an intense word choice. But honestly, “battle” is not too strong of a word. Remember, shame is not neutral. Even though shame can be used as a tool to move us toward God and help us find freedom, it typically has an aggressive agenda that seeks to fracture our dignity, our purpose, and our relationships. Shame has the power to drive disconnection in every area of our lives. It can even disconnect us from ourselves and paralyze us from living out our calling. So we have work to do!
Numerous studies have been done on how to subdue shame. There are three ideas that these studies seem to have in common. The first is that shame can’t survive being spoken. There is something significant that happens in us when we tell the truth about the shame that we carry. That may begin with just writing your shame story down and hearing yourself tell your story. Or, it may involve telling your story to a safe person. This may involve confessing your sin or sharing your suffering. When we are vulnerable, something powerful happens in our souls. This is the second important part of battling shame. Obviously, being vulnerable is scary. Who wants to open themselves up to being hurt again, or expose their brokenness? Taking the risk of being vulnerable and sharing the shame that we carry creates an opportunity for the third important piece in battling shame: receiving empathy and compassion, which seems to be the secret weapon against shame!
In the years that we have spent developing this study, we have been astounded at how Scripture collaborates with the research on shame. Over and over again, the Psalms invite us to be honest about our sin and suffering. There are numerous passages that speak to the importance of confession and the healing that comes from telling on ourselves. There are dozens of “one another” passages that describe how we are to respond to one another in our sin and care for one another in our suffering. Most importantly, we see Jesus—our compassionate Savior who responds to us with empathy and compassion when we are covered in shame. If we are willing to tell the truth and make ourselves vulnerable by confessing our need, we will see that his face is turned toward us, not away from us. He is the great empathizer—the compassionate shepherd who meets us with truth and grace. He is our way out of shame.
As we think about what it will look like for us to battle shame, we want to help you take steps towards telling the truth, being vulnerable, and growing in empathy and compassion. This not only helps us in our journey towards freedom, but it also enables us to come alongside others and offer to them what Christ has offered to us.
For The Ezer Women’s Discipleship Team
We will read several accounts of the story of the bleeding woman, written by different gospel writers as well as a retelling of the story written by Landry 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 her story?
- Is her shame legitimate or illegitimate? How do others respond to her?
- How does God respond to her in her shame and desperation? How is her honor restored?
- What stands out to you in this story? What encouragement does this story give you?
Before reading the account in the gospels, read this passage from the Old Testament to understand the cultural context for the shame that she carried.
If a woman has a flow of blood for many days that is unrelated to her menstrual period, or if the blood continues beyond the normal period, she is ceremonially unclean. As during her menstrual period, the woman will be unclean as long as the discharge continues.
As you read these three accounts, pay attention to what is happening before and after her encounter with Jesus and how each author describes it. It’s worth noting that her healing takes place in the midst of another person's own story of healing.
A woman in the crowd had suffered for twelve years with constant bleeding. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors, and over the years she had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she had gotten worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.”
For more perspective, read this retelling of this story written by Landry Peterson. Some liberties have been taken, but we hope it captivates your imagination as you read how Jesus meets this woman in her struggle with shame.
In this short video counselor Todd Styrd, from CCEF describes the importance of fighting t against the story that shame is trying to tell you.
"The voice of shame wants to bully its way to being the only voice in the room. And so part of the journey and part of the work is, is bringing in an alternative. The voice of God may not be as loud as you want it to be at first. But it will gain in volume, it is a better voice."
We encourage you to use these conversation starters as a means of self-reflection and for discussion within your community.
1 In the previous article, we asked you to start listening to the story that shame is telling you, and to write the phrases down so that you can identify any themes or patterns. Were there situations or relationships where you were more likely to hear words of condemnation that shape how you view yourself? How would you summarize the lies you are tempted to believe?
2. We not only have to tell the truth about the shame we carry, but we also have to be willing to preach the truth of Scripture to ourselves. One of the big ideas from the study is that “The truth can transform you, as much as a lie can destroy you.” As you think about the specific lies that shame tells you, try to write a truth statement, based on who you are in Christ, that counters that specific lie. For example,
Shame tells me that I am unlovable and unwanted.
God tells me that I am loved and I belong to him.
3. This resource, Growing in Empathy and Compassion comes from our newly revised shame study and highlights some non-empathetic responses that we use when responding to others.
- Which non-empathetic responses do you tend to use with others?
- Which responses are the most hurtful to you when someone uses them on you?
- There were several explanations for why we may withhold empathy. If you struggle with being empathetic, which reasons resonated with you?
- What did you learn from the Growing in Empathy and Compassion resource?
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.
- Take a step towards being vulnerable and share your Shame Tells Me–God Tells Me statement with a friend. To whom will you reach out?
- Confession is the biblical idea of telling on ourselves in our sin. It can lead to repentance and is important in order for us to experience freedom as we move in obedience toward God and others. Is there some sin struggle you need to confess to God or someone else in order to begin the process of experiencing forgiveness and freedom?
- What is one change you could make in order to be more empathetic and compassionate toward others? What impact might that have on your relationships?
- 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 Church, you can order the materials for this study and watch the teaching online. Please contact [email protected] for more information.
Being Known Podcast: This podcast explores the intersection of interpersonal neurobiology and Christian spiritual formation. In Season 5,, Curt Thompson dives into his book The Soul of Shame chapter by chapter.
The Bible is about shame from start to finish, and, if we are willing, God’s beautiful words break through. This four-week study takes a look at Jesus through the lens of shame and shows how the marginalized and worthless are his favorites. God cares for the shamed. Through Jesus you are covered, adopted, cleansed, and healed.
Can healing happen? Yes, what trauma destroys, Jesus can and does restore. The cross of Jesus Christ is the lens that transforms and redeems traumatic suffering and its aftermath, not only for the sufferer, but it also transforms those who walk with the suffering.