As we walked together on a Saturday morning, I heard my friends Sarah and Lucy describe living with a lot of shame.
“I feel bad that I don’t care more about my dog.”
“I feel bad when I buy pricey, thoughtful gifts.”
“I feel bad when I don’t buy pricey, thoughtful gifts.”
“When I serve in the church nursery, I feel bad that I don’t serve in the church nursery more often.”
Then Sarah confessed, “As I was driving to Charlotte with friends to hear Brené Brown speak, I felt horribly ashamed when I realized I forgot to buy my ticket.” The irony of that particular feeling of shame was not lost on us.
Exposing the Lie
See, Brown, a researcher and popular communicator, often speaks and writes about the wily power of shame in our lives. In a conversation with Oprah Winfrey, Brown defined shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” Sometimes shame is triggered when we forget to buy a clever gift. At other times it can be tangled up with our failures or the abuse we’ve received at the hands of others—anything that causes us to feel unworthy. While there is also a proper and right sense of shame or guilt we may feel when we are convicted of sin in our lives, the kind of shame I’m talking about is something else entirely: It’s false shame . . . and it’s crushing us.
Scripture identifies that shaming voice as the Enemy, the Deceiver, Satan, or the Devil. By whatever name we call him, let’s recognize that the voice of this being always lies. This is the voice that hissed to Eve in the garden, “God might not really have your back. You should probably take things into your own hands. Save yourself” (paraphrase of Genesis 3:1–5).
It’s the voice that baited Jesus in the wilderness by saying, “Are you positive you’re God’s Son? Are you sure God’s got your back? Save yourself” (paraphrase of Luke 4:1–13).
It’s the voice Brown identifies that’s hissing in our ears today: You’re not worthy. You’re not enough. You’re not acceptable the way you are. Save yourself by trying harder. (Spoiler alert: That doesn’t work.)
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown writes, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all women, men, and children. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.” That sounds, to my ear, like the theological anthropology I discover in Scripture. Not only do I agree with Brown that this need to be received is an irreducible need of all people, I’d argue that Brown’s identification of shame as the lie that’s choking the life out of us is the point at which the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes truly good news to many today.