As everyone settled into their rooms the other night, not likely asleep but content to read until they were, it was finally my turn to relax. It had been a long day (when is it not in parenting?) and I was tired. I read for a bit, turned the lights out, and settled into sleep.
Tip-toe, tip-toe, tip-toe. Oh, the familiar sound…
“What do you need, beautiful?”
“Mom,” she said through a quavering voice, “I feel guilty over the bad things I’ve done. I’ve prayed and asked God to forgive me, but it doesn’t go away.” Hearing her pain breaks my heart every time.
But here’s the thing: I know my daughter. I know her love for Jesus. I know that she sees her sin for what it is and is quick to confess (both to God and to me).
So why was she hurting in that moment? It wasn’t guilt that my daughter was feeling. It was shame.
We frequently use those words interchangeably, although I would argue that doing so is to our detriment. When we cannot differentiate between the two, we cannot begin to face either well.
Guilt is experiencing the weight of our wrongdoing. Guilt can be beneficial in bringing our brokenness to light.
It is what draws followers of Christ to repentance as we realize that God is the only Perfect One. With guilt, we are made aware of our faults and called to turn in repentance.
Not so with shame.
Shame comes from the inability to rid ourselves of the guilt that we feel. It is the internal loathing that comes when we feel so stuck in our guilt, so unworthy of forgiveness, so deeply buried by our sin.
Shame is a lie Satan tells in hopes that we will question God’s forgiveness, His promises, His character, and His ability to do what He says He will do.
When we are trying to teach our children how to work through shame, or even work to face it in our own lives, we must begin by asking ourselves, “Do I faithfully trust that God is true to His word? Do I firmly believe that His promises are the same today as they were when He spoke them into being?
Do I trust Him when He promises to forgive our sins and purify us from unrighteousness; we only need to confess to Him (1 John 1:9)? Or when He promises His presence among His followers (Matthew 28:20), freedom to all believers (John 8:36), and peace that cannot come from this world (John 14:27)?”
I’ve seen within my own life and the lives of my loved ones that we can fully believe these promises and still struggle with shame.
This is because our enemy comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and he has found that shame is a powerfully effective tool in accomplishing his evil intentions. He will continue to use shame against God’s people until God banishes him to hell for eternity.
So how do we combat shame while we continue to live in this fallen and broken world?
In our house, we fight by speaking truth over lies. Not just speaking truth, but speaking truth over the lies. [This comes from the understanding that our emotions are deceptive (Jeremiah 17:9) but the promises of God never change.]
Let me give a few real-life examples:
I feel worthless but I know God made me and God doesn’t make mistakes.
I feel unforgivable but I know that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord WILL be saved.
I feel unlovable, but I know that nothing in all of creation can separate me from the love of God.
And the one we spoke that night, not long ago, to battle the shame my daughter felt: I feel ashamed by my sin but I know God promised to send my sins away from me, as far as the east is from the west. It isn’t with me anymore.
Does it instantly make the hurt, shame, and pain go away? No. But does it take the power away from those feelings and rightfully place it back where it belongs, in God’s hands? Yes.
That night, it only took 3 times through before my daughter was able to fully embrace her status of “forgiven.” Sometimes it takes countless more repetitions before we can finally break through the lies.
But in the end, no matter how long it takes, if it’s time spent focusing on God’s promises, it is time well spent.