Saturday, August 8, 2009

Shame

I've been thinking about shame a lot the past week. I work as a counselor, helping people through various trials in life, and one of the greatest struggles I see people dealing with is shame. Of course, this exhibits itself in many different ways - addictions, violence, affairs, work, and numerous other aspects. However, underlying all of those behaviors - or symptoms - lies shame.

What is shame? One quick google search provided this interesting definition:
A painful sensation excited by a consciousness of guilt or impropriety, or of having done something which injures reputation, or of the exposure of that which nature or modesty prompts us to conceal.

Many counselors teach people to avoid shame by using words like "healthy/unhealthy" and "effective/ineffective" as opposed to words like "right/wrong" and "good/bad." Shame often causes people to turn to drugs or alcohol, sex, anger, eating, and many other behaviors in order to feel better. The result is a complex pattern of behavior that often becomes harmful.

As a counselor, I can help others develop healthier (less negative) self-talk, self-image, more moderated behaviors, or whatever the deficit is, but the foundational problem still remains – one that I (or us together) cannot even begin to touch. Even if someone were to become able to feel better about themselves and change their behavior, it still exists in history, in their memory, and even in their future potential (to return to those thinking patterns or behaviors). Ultimately, it is sin that caused shame still stains because man alone cannot forgive sin.

So what is sin, then? Gotquestions.org defines sin as transgression of the law of God (1 John 3:4) and rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 9:7; Joshua 1:18). Simply put, sin is man’s attempt to “be like God.” But why is this such a big deal, one might ask? Because, as Paul put it, “the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23).

Humans are born into a life of sin on earth, facing ultimate death. This is something to be ashamed and depressed about! But here’s where the story gets interesting, because it’s not the end of it: God has provided us with a path of healing – one single, narrow path (Matthew 7:13-14) through His Son, Jesus Christ.

So when I’m struggling with my sin, the human response is to cover it up, to make myself feel better, to use positive self-talk, to forgive myself of my deeds, and to basically deny that I’m a bad person. This is the problem, folks. In doing this, I’m rejecting the truth (reality) and continuing to allow myself to rebel against God. The real healing that brings freedom (John 8:32) is to admit to (agree with) God that I am a horrible sinner (die to myself), allow Him to forgive my sins through belief in Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross, and to let Christ live in me.

The result here is that I have allowed God to turn His face away from my sin, forgiving it and blotting it out of my history. This method of healing has a much greater cost because it requires me to humble myself and to let God do all of the work, which is very much counter-intuitive to human nature. And it's not a single event either, but rather a recurring process that is necessary as long as I'm sinning (which is pretty much every moment of every day). However, the promise is not only a peace that transcends all understand (Philippians 4:7) but eternal life. This is something to be joyful about!

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