Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 – Forsaking Shame

ashamed

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
do not let me ever be put to shame;
in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me;
rescue me speedily.
Be a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me.

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God….

My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love. (NRSV)

Shame is powerful. It keeps a person locked within themselves with their secrets hidden far from others. Far too often we try and cope with our shameful words or actions through promising to work harder, pledging to have more willpower, and/or plain old complaining that life is unfair. None of this gets to the root of our shame. Unlike guilt, which our conscience identifies as specific behaviors to repent of, shame is the message of our inner critic who obnoxiously decries that we are somehow flawed, not enough, and inherently lacking intelligence.

Shame is the insidious mechanism which interprets bad events as we ourselves being bad. Shame lives in the shadows and feeds on secrets – which is why the posture of shame is to hide our face in our hands. If shame persists, we withdraw from others and experience grinding loneliness.  Therefore, the path out of shame is to openly name our stigma and tell our stories. In other words, throwing a bucket of vulnerability on shame causes it melt, like the Wicked Witch of the West.

In contrast to the unhealthy hiding of ourselves within prison walls of shame is seeking refuge and hiding ourselves in God. Even a cursory look at today’s psalm evidences an open and vulnerable person who wants nothing to do with shame. The psalmist unabashedly and without shame is quite forward in presenting his wants to God.

The psalms are meant for repeated use, to be voiced aloud again and again. In doing this simple activity, we shame-proof our lives. God’s face shines upon us and takes away the shadows of shame. It is no coincidence that Jesus forsook the shame of the cross through publicly uttering the words of this psalm: “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

Unchecked verbal violence will eventually lead to physical violence. If wordy persecution comes from others, the primary tactic will most likely be shaming the people such persons want to control. Abusive people will frame a justification for violence because the people for whom they are leveling shame are “bad,” even “monsters.” If the verbal persecution comes from within, the shame can reach a critical mass of suicidal ideation and perhaps outright attempts at ending one’s life.

There is no living with shame. The good news is that we don’t have to. Instead, we can live in the strong fortress and the rock of refuge which is God. The Lord traffics in redeeming mercy and steadfast love, not in the demeaning judgment of shame. We can flee to God and find grace to help us in our time of need. There is no shame in reaching out for help. We all need deliverance from something. Its a matter of whether we are open to ask for it, or not.

Father God, into your hands I commit my spirit – everything I am and all that I hope to be – so that Jesus Christ might be exalted in me through the power of your Holy Spirit. I choose to leave shame where it belongs – nailed to the cross. With your divine enabling, I shall walk in newness of life through expressing my needs and wants with courage, confidence, and candor. May it be so according to your steadfast love. Amen.

Click You Are My Refuge sung by Shannon Wexelberg and Matthew Ward and allow your spirit to open.

Psalm 31:9-16 – Lord, Have Mercy

woman sitting on wooden planks
Photo by Keenan Constance on Pexels.com

Lord, have mercy, because I am in misery.
    My eyes are weak from so much crying,
    and my whole being is tired from grief.
My life is ending in sadness,
    and my years are spent in crying.
My troubles are using up my strength,
    and my bones are getting weaker.
Because of all my troubles, my enemies hate me,
    and even my neighbors look down on me.
When my friends see me,
    they are afraid and run.
I am like a piece of a broken pot.
    I am forgotten as if I were dead.
I have heard many insults.
    Terror is all around me.
They make plans against me
    and want to kill me. 

Lord, I trust you.
    I have said, “You are my God.”
My life is in your hands.
    Save me from my enemies
    and from those who are chasing me.
Show your kindness to me, your servant.
    Save me because of your love. (NCV) 

None of us signed-up for suffering.  Yet, not a one of us can avoid it.  Pain comes in all kinds of forms – and perhaps the worst kind of wound is the one inflicted from others looking down at you when you’re already experiencing trouble and damaged emotions.  Whether it is a group of people, such as Asians facing ridicule and anger because of COVID-19, or COVID-19 patients themselves who sometimes become a pariah, the physical effects of pain can oftentimes be secondary to the primary hurt experienced within the spirit. 

David of old knew first-hand about suffering through hard circumstances.  There were times when he felt completely overwhelmed by wicked people trying to take his life.  If we could put ourselves in David’s sandals, we can understand why he was worn-out to the point of not sleeping, not eating well, even with a hint of paranoia.  David entrusted himself to God, and truly believed he was in the Lord’s hands – and that fact was his go-to truth. 

Jesus uttered his last words on the cruel cross from this very psalm: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).  The cross was obviously a place of extreme bodily pain.  That pain, however, was dwarfed by the great spiritual pain of holding the entire world’s hurts, their curse of separation.  The stress of both body and soul must have been crushing for Jesus.  Yet, there was a strength of assurance smack in the middle of that pain – the confidence of knowing he was in good hands, just like David’s confidence a millennium before. 

There are times when we all struggle with why afflictions happen to us, whatever form they might take in us.  It is in such times of being forgotten by others that we are most remembered by God; it is in the situations of trouble that God is the expert in deliverance; it is when people revile us, say terrible things about us, and talk behind our backs that God comes alongside and whispers his grace and steadfast love to us.  It is when life is downright hard that we see a soft-hearted God standing to help us and hold us. 

While we are feeling our suffering, God is carefully crafting within us resilience through the rejection, empathy in our loneliness, purpose because of the trauma, forgiveness out of the shame, courage from having been failed, and self-awareness in the wake of emotional devastation. 

The biblical psalms are the consummate place to run to when we are most in need.  They provide the means to lift heartfelt prayers when our own words fail us.  The psalms give us structure and meaning when the world around us makes no sense.  The psalms do not always give us answers to our most vexing questions; they do, however, point us to the God who is attentive to the least, the lost, and the lonely.   

Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy.  Lord, have mercy on us and grant us your peace.  Amen. 

Click It Is Well with My Soul sung by Anthem Lights and be reminded that we neither bear our sufferings alone, nor needlessly.