When shame is deserved, it’s a good thing. It can cause us to renounce that which we should be ashamed of and make better choices in the future. But too often it is unjustified, and that’s when it becomes a destructive force. We can be free from deserved shame by the cleansing that is available to us when we turn away from our sin and to the lordship of Jesus. He paid the price for us and took our shame.
Sometimes it’s the undeserved shame that is harder to purge. Because I know people who struggle with it, I’ll specifically address that which many feel related to their disability. I can because I’ve been there. For me it came because I believed that I was supposed to be healed. For others it may be because of the way they see disability or the way they imagine (not always without foundation) that others see them.
Shame is completely inappropriate when its basis is something you cannot change. It makes no more sense to be ashamed of disability than it does to be ashamed of, say, being of average height. I’ll ad, since I am not, that being ashamed of below average height is no more reasonable. On some level we probably all know that, but knowing it doesn’t help much. We still feel ashamed.
I wish I had a secret formula that I could share with the world to eliminate needless shame, but I don’t. In my own life it took decades, and when I get into awkward situations, it still shows up. What I do hope I can provide is a little incentive for anyone struggling with it to find ways to overcome it.
My wife and I have set out to minister specifically to the needs of people facing disability. We want to give from what we have been given. All of my life I have been affirmed and encouraged. I was never allowed to develop an attitude of disability or entitlement. This has allowed me to succeed in the working world. The more important parts of my life took a little longer to mature and I’m still growing.
The key for me was and is learning to trust in God. We repeat that until it becomes little more than a Christian cliché, but we shouldn’t lose the truth of it. When I finally realized how little depended on me and how faithful God is to complete what He started despite my failures, I began to experience true freedom. I wrote that Jesus took our shame. He did this through His sacrifice on the cross. I was thinking of deserved shame that comes from guilt, but it is more than that. Jesus takes all of our shame. It is not through our own effort that this happens.
When we realize how much depends on God and how little on us, we realize that we have nothing to be ashamed of. At the root of unmerited shame is pride. When we are focused on ourselves, we think about what we can and cannot do. When we turn our focus to Jesus, we know that there is nothing He cannot do. His power is perfected in our weakness (2 co 12:9,) and we can do anything He requires of us by His strength (Php 4:13.)
We all have a purpose. God has a mission for you, whether or not you are facing a physical disability. It may be that God wants you to share what He has given you with someone else facing the same or similar challenge. Often the best people to lead us through are those who have been there. But if you carry shame, you will not be very effective. It will cover you like a soiled garment, and it is all others will be able to see. Shame changes our behavior. We may retreat into ourselves. We may become anxious, defensive and unpleasant to be around. Why would anyone want to follow that? Throw away the worthless shame that hinders you from being all that God intended. Let Him take it from you. Live in the freedom and purpose that comes from being in harmony with Yahweh.