There is a vulnerability crisis in the church today. What I mean is that far too many Christians keep up appearances and keep their human interactions on the surface level. Simple exhortations to not be that way will do no good because at the root of the behavior is shame. If we want to have healthy behaviors in the church, Christians will need to have their identities fully based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Shame is a mindset, not a behavior. It is the notion that something is wrong with your personhood. It is to believe that somehow you are deficient, defective, or worthless as a person. It is to not have the ability to distinguish between what I do and who I am. When we live with a sense of shame (either knowingly or subconsciously) we are setting ourselves up to practice idolatry. If we really think there is something wrong with our very humanity, we will seek something to base our value and acceptance upon. This is why the workaholic cannot stop working, because he believes that by much effort, hard work, and productivity it will make up for the deficiencies in his life. Others will then accept him. Indeed, he will accept himself. This is also why so few people take Sabbath breaks or take advantage of a day off or even all their vacation time. After all, they feel too guilty if they are idle.
People who live with a sense of shame do not realize that they have the right to set personal boundaries. If you have a terrible time of saying “no” to people, then it is a good bet that there is some level of shame working underneath the surface. It just seems selfish to such people to refuse a request. Living with shame is awful because one feels as though she is simply not good enough as a person compared to others. The over-responsible, over-achieving, over-functioning person is compulsive about doing things perfectly well so as to avoid feeling ashamed of poor performance. Conversely, others avoid responsibility, under-achieve, and under-function in the belief that if they were to do the job they will surely fail – so best to not do it at all.
The real problem with all this is that it is a performance-based life. And, so, it is crippling. Always wondering if you measure up is a depressing way to live. Unfortunately, there are far too many performance-based churches out there which shame people for struggling, asking honest questions, not complying with man-made rules, and not being like everyone else. If I have not made it clear enough yet, trying harder does nothing to break the cycle of shame. Satan has enough of the world on a self-improvement path; let’s put ourselves on God’s path to freedom.
If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed (James 5:16). Jesus has taken our shame away because he faced it down and achieved the victory for us that we could not achieve ourselves. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). The cross may have been a humiliating experience, but Jesus did not let that stop him from bringing us salvation from sin and shame.
We do not need to wear our hearts on our sleeves in order to become more vulnerable with one another. Struggles with life do not mean we are defective – it just means we are real people. Unless we come to grips with scorning shame, we will live stunted Christian lives in plastic Christian churches. Only through embracing the truth about ourselves, and accepting Christ’s sacrifice on our part, will we experience genuine spiritual and emotional freedom. There is no need to live in the isolation of shame. Our identity is in Jesus.