There is no shame in feeling shame; it’s just another human emotion, like anger or happiness. Shame is a warning flag that something needs dealing with. This is post 2 in a series on shame.
In fifth grade I had one pair of pants.
I wish they had been blue. Even brown or tan. A basic color to re-wear again and again. Like a favorite pair of jeans, you can wear all week because they just blend in.
But my pants didn’t blend in.
They were bright red pull-on pants with an elastic waistband. Made out of a polyester type fabric.
Not the kind you could wear every day and have no one notice.
So, I wore a lot of dresses that year. And wore my red pants once or twice a week.
Shame breeds silence and causes hiding.
One Friday during recces, my best friend looked down at my bright leg wear and asked if I had any other pants.
Sure, I lied.
I don’t think so, she countered.
I could feel sweat rushing to exit my pores. These are just my favorite pants, I told her.
She tossed her hair, like girls do, and said, “Prove it. On Monday wear one of your other pairs of pants.”
“I will,” I flounced back.
I felt shame that day. Shame from not having. Shame of lack. Shame that my best friend had noticed I only had one pair of pants and had called me out on it. Shame that I was different than others. Shame that my parents had put me in this situation.
All day I worried about what I would do. All weekend I worried.
You may be wondering why I didn’t just tell my mom or ask for new pants. We didn’t buy new clothes. We mostly wore used clothes, except shoes and underwear. And even at that age, I knew mom and dad had more important things to spend their money on.
The other reason I didn’t tell my mom was because she would have said something like, “At least you have other clothes to wear. Nothing wrong with your dresses.” Or maybe she would have questioned me about lying.
But I had lied because I wanted to hide the truth.
I had lied because the truth would have been to shameful.
So I kept silent. Feeling all alone. Dreading Monday. And imagined different scenarios, and what I would tell my best friend. (Who didn’t feel like a best friend anymore and who I wasn’t sure would be my best friend come Monday.)
There I was with a big worry, feeling all alone, and like something was wrong with me. All because I had one only pair of red pants.
How shame entered the world.
We can feel shame for many different things.
And shame can be felt on a sliding scale. Say 1 to 10.
Sometimes we are just embarrassed enough we wish we were somewhere else. We feel some shame, but it passes quickly, or we process it and release it.
And other times it rocks our core and we feel defective. Worthless. And we may carry it for years. With it resurfacing with triggers similar to what caused it.
Either way, we are not meant to live in shame.
In the Garden of Eden, there was no shame. Adam and Eve were comfortable with God and each other. They had nothing to hide. Nothing to silence them.
And then they sinned.
God finds them hiding in the bushes. Hiding from the truth by blaming each other. Hiding from each other through their answers. Hiding from what they now saw in each other and themselves.
Shame had entered the world.
And it is still here.
Causing us to hide from each other. From ourselves. From God.
Silencing our true voices and actions and making us worry about what others think. Causing us to compare ourselves to see if we are as good as others. Causing us to focus on ourselves instead of others and God.
Shame downright complicates our lives.
But God doesn’t leave us in shame. Or want us to walk in shame.
He provides a way out. Just like he had pity on Adam and Eve and loved them so much he started a plan to redeem the world, he takes pity on us and shoulders our shame. Tells us we have nothing to be shameful for. And never uses shame when dealing with us.
Shame is a normal human emotion.
We may think we are the only one who has felt shame. Or the kind of shame we feel.
But shame is a universal feeling. And everyone alive has felt it.
Dying by crucifixion was meant to be shameful. The Romans designed it that way. You don’t have people flogging you in front of others, spitting on you, mocking you, or nailing you naked to wood and not feel shame. I imagine Jesus feeling shame as he hung there. And along with all our sins, I imagine he felt and took on all our shame.
Remember this when you feel shame and think no one understands, Jesus has felt shame and does understand.
Also know that shame is not a bad or sinful thing to feel. It is a human emotion. Just like love, anger, anxiety, or fear. It is an emotion that is telling us something. Causing us to feel a certain way.
Shame is not a bad emotion. We label it a bad emotion and try not to feel it. But it is not bad or wrong to feel shame. What gets us in trouble is what we do with our shame. How we process the emotion. What we do with the shame we feel. That is where the trouble comes.
No one can get through life without experiencing shame. But we don’t have to carry that shame around and internalize it and let it define us.
We can deal with shame in a healthy manner. Or an unhealthy manner. Just like we can do the same with fear and anger.
When we deal with it in an unhealthy manner it hurts us. Cripples us. And can even cause us to sin.
But shame, the emotion, is not a sin. Shame can be tied to sin we have committed, or it can be tied to many things that are not sins. Like shame because of lack, abuse, not fitting in, being called out in front of others. Things we did not ask for and cannot control.
Jesus took the burden of shame so we don’t have to feel the hideous long term effects of shame and not being enough or loveable.
We don’t have to run from shame, but can run to him.
We don’t have to hide from him, he already loves us and knows us.
We don’t have to be silent with him, he already knows all our thoughts and deeds.
We don’t have to worry about the opinion of others, but can walk in freedom pleasing only him.
We don’t have to feel defective, because God makes us whole.
So what did I wear on Monday?
Well I fretted and debated. I decided to wear a dress and when my friend said something, I was going to pretend I forgot to wear my other pants.
Feigning forgetfulness was the best solution I could come up with.
My other option was to wear one of my other two pair of pants.
I know I said I had no other pants. Technically I did, but I couldn’t wear them.
My grandmother had taken some of that thick small checked polyester fabric and sewn herself a couple of pair of pants. You know, the old, old lady kind with the sewn permanent crease down the center front. The kind that only ladies over 80 wore when I was a little girl.
Well, she had sewn me two pairs. They were twins of her pants. Sewn creases and all. Small brown and gold checked patterned. The other small blue and green checked.
I know she meant well. And was trying to help. And I love her for that. But I put those two pairs in my top drawer under all my other clothes and never could bring myself to wear them. Not even over to her house.
I knew that wearing them would be worse than wearing my dresses.
I showed up Monday in my dress and was so nervous I thought I would be sick.
My friend never came to school. She was absent all day.
On Tuesday I was worried again and decided that if she asked, I would tell her I had worn my pants on Monday. Too bad she hadn’t been there to see them.
But she never did ask about my pants. Never said another word. It was like the conversation never happened.
Time, perspective, and experience and its effects on shame.
I look back at that year of my red pants and feel no shame. Not now so many years later. (Having lots of pants may also help.)
I also know intellectually that we were poor. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t something to shameful of. We wore used clothing, but I also know my parents were doing the best they could.
But at the time, it was terrifying. A big deal. I felt fear of being found out. Fear of being different in my dress. Fear of lacking. Fear was fueling my shame.
Sometimes the kind of shame we feel is erased by time, experience, and perspective. And that was one of those shames.
What seemed huge at the time now seems small all these years later.
In fact, I have told that story a number of times. I’ve turned it into a funny story where people and I laugh at it. (Laughter can kill shame. So can talking about it with others.)
But not all shame is erased with time and perspective. Or experience.
Some shame lingers and hovers looking for an opportunity to strike.
We don’t want to live with shame that is accusing us. Defeating us. Keeping us from reaching our goals. Telling us we are not enough. Rewriting our core-beliefs.
God wants you shame free, walking in freedom.
And that is what I want for you.
So the conversation on shame will continue. We will be talking about how to reduce and release shame in further posts on this series about shame.
Until then, remember that shame is just a normal human emotion. Sure it doesn’t make us feel good, but we get to choose how we will react to this emotion. The choice is ours. We can act in healthy ways to heal our shame, or unhealthy ways that compound our shame.
Thanks for stopping by. Keep remembering what’s important.
Download a free guided exercise to help you heal from shame
Download a free PDF freebie, “What to Do When You Are Feeling Shame: A Guided Exercise.” It will walk you through some practical exercises to deal with shame. Ending with how to avoid feeling shame in the future. My passion is to see you living shame-free; in glorious freedom. “What to Do When You Are Feeling Shame: A Guided Exercise” can help you step towards that freedom by breaking the lies of shame you believe and replacing those lies with the truth.
Join the conversation: How has time, experience, or perspective erased or eased something that was once shameful for you?
Other posts within this series, From Shame to Grace: How to Erase Shame From our Identities
May link up at Kelly Balarie (#purposeful faitht), Crystal Storms (#HeartEncouragement), Maree Dee (#Grace & Truth), Anita Ojeda (#inspirememonday), The Daily Grace Co. (#IELInkup) and Mary Geison (#tellhisstory).
This post was featured on Candidly Christian: