Shame is connected to guilt – the two are interrelated. Guilt is something we feel because we do wrong; it has to do with our actions and the consequences of our actions. Shame, on the other hand, has to do with our being, our identity. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one. Shame is what breaks our communion with the Lord. Remember in Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve sinned, it was their shame that caused them to hide from God.
Shame is not only caused by things we do, but also by things that have been done to us, or by our own personal failures and inadequacies. Shame causes us to hide, but it also causes us to create false facades. We keep our sources of shame hidden.
This is where some idols are set up in our lives. We become really good at certain things in an attempt to hide our failures, and they become shame-generated idols behind which we hide in order to keep people from seeing our authentic selves.
Jesus is the only person ever who has never had any reason to feel shame. Not even those who disbelieved him could find any charge against him. Everyone who put him on trial proclaimed, “This man has done nothing wrong!” (Luke 23:13-15) And finally, the centurion at the foot of the cross of Christ proclaimed, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) Yet he endured the cross for our sake.
Our world teaches us that if we have problems or if we feel shame, what we need to do is save ourselves. Our libraries and bookstores are full of “self-help books,” which instruct us to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and save ourselves. But those are really just hiding our shame, not healing it.
The better choice for dealing with shame is acknowledging it before God, bringing it before him. The Collect for Purity puts it perfectly for us:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.Book of Common Prayer
We need to acknowledge them before God and allow him to do his redemptive work in them. He already knows you intimately anyway. Don’t allow your insecurity about yourself or your knowledge of faith keep you from approaching God with humility.
Make a decision not to allow the world’s save-yourself attitude to keep you from approaching Jesus and asking for his mercy. Remember the grace he showed the thief on the cross, who begged for his favor, and Jesus gave it to him freely (Luke 23:39-43). He longs to show you the same mercy and bring you the same freedom from shame. He himself bore it on the cross, and he offers to restore us to his Paradise, not naked like Adam and Eve, but rather clothed in his righteousness. What a glorious Savior!