Have you ever listened to a talk and felt every other body in the room evaporate into thin air or melt into their chairs, all the while wishing it were you evaporating or melting? All of a sudden it’s as if the speaker’s eyes are boring holes into your soul. “This talk was written for me. “ That happens to me often and lately God has been speaking to my soul using various vehicles and what seems like magnified surround sound regarding shame. When I heard that shame and guilt were the topics of the CCEF conference this year, naturally, I was intrigued. My sometimes overly eager spirit of adventure committed to going almost immediately, without regard to the eight -hour drive or the distinct lack of company. I’ve had my moments of wishing someone were here to process with me but I’ve also duly noted that it’s probably good for me to be forced to be alone. I don’t do alone if I can help it but the truth is that the times when I’m quiet and alone are the times when I’m forced to get real about what’s really going on in my heart. Not to mention, God has been so gracious to provide sweet time with precious college friends in my free time. J
Shame BEFORE Jesus.
So, Friday morning, Ed Welch, who is one of my literary and counseling heroes spoke about shame before Jesus. He examined what the Old Testament says about shame. Shame is the very first feature of the Fall. It is the human dilemma yet it is so rarely a part of our ecclesiastical conversation. Ed pointed out, as he made his way through the Old Testament, that God has a unique affection for people who struggle with shame. When he said that, what felt like hope leapt in my heart and my head lifted from staring at my notes. I gazed toward the stage for a second as if to ask, “really? Could that really be true?” I’ve never thought about that before. It made my heart glad to hear him speak from lots of the verses that I’ve been fighting to claim over my life this past few months. I call them “my shame verses.” The beginning of Isaiah 54 where God talks about being the husband of the desolate woman, promising that she will not suffer shame or be humiliated have quickly become my life verses. This quote resonated in the deep places of my heart: “When your Maker is your Husband, you will never cease to be pursued.” I’m in awe of how beautifully and completely God meets our deepest needs and longings. Ed spoke directly to the difference between shame and guilt. Both include a deep need for rescue and salvation but shame adds a need for covering, inclusion, and cleansing. He went on to explain that these things can only be secured in Jesus. “You touch the Holy One and he touches you back.” We belong to him. There is nothing more profound than that for someone who struggles with shame. If you struggle with shame, then you are just the kind of person for whom God is searching. As I was listening to Ed speak, I realized something significant about my story. I absolutely love Ed’s book Depression, A Stubborn Darkness. So much so that I loaned it to someone who still hasn’t given it back and I ordered a second copy just in case. I’ve wondered for months why this book stands out among all of the spiritual “Jesus books” I’ve read as one that profoundly helps me. The root of it is shame. I’ve struggled with Major Depressive Disorder for most of my life but have felt, for the majority of my 26 years, too much shame to admit that I need help beyond what I can do to help myself. I've jumped back and forth between desperation and self-righteousness, medication and counseling, all the while drowning in shame and fear. When I read the 1st sentence of the 2nd chapter in Ed’s book called "How Depression Feels," I felt inclusion for the first time in the area of depression. I felt like he understood what I was feeling and I realized for the first time that other people that God used in mighty and powerful ways for His kingdom, shared my struggle. Shame is one of the largest threads in my story, second only to the thread of the gospel that rescues me from it. I’ve lived most of my life with a sense of failure, feeling that somehow I just don’t measure up. I struggle with feeling like a fraud when I experience success or a compliment of any kind because I deeply feel that I don’t deserve success. I just never feel like I quite belong, like there’s always something that’s just enough wrong with me that I don’t fit. But as Ed pointed out in his talk, God’s story is the story of the naked covered, the outcast accepted, the unclean thoroughly washed, and of honor, glory, holiness, and beauty being bestowed upon his prized possession, ME. Even that sentence is hard for me to write. My very nature resists that kind of love and honor even though I know that it’s been bought with the precious blood of my Savior. However, regardless of my resistance, reality is that I BELONG to him, he is pursuing me. He breaks off my humiliation and I take on his reputation. In his kingdom, there is NO way that shame has a permanent place. At the end of his talk, Ed asked a question, “Do you feel dirty? Like you don’t belong?” If the answer is yes then all of scripture is about you. He will chase you and love you until you give up, lay it all down and say, “Ok, I trust you.” We take on the name and reputation of the most honorable person who ever lived, Jesus himself. To be blessed is to be shown favor. God doesn’t turn away from us in disgust, He turns His face toward us. He has a choice and he chooses to place his name on us and call us HIS people.