This phrase is often said when someone does something they shouldn’t have. Like when a child deliberately goes against their parents’ wishes bringing embarrassment or shame.
But the shame we want to talk about involves the marriage relationship. Oftentimes shame is brought into the marriage by one spouse who has chosen to keep a secret about past sins or experiences. It can be debilitating to say the least.
Shame causes one to hide. Shame causes one to fear being known. Shame goes against everything the marriage covenant is intended to provide–open and honest relationship in the safety of a life-long relationship. Shame divides.
Shame first came on the scene when Eve disobeyed God’s command in the Garden. Immediately she knew what she had done was wrong, and shame caused her to hide from the only One who truly loved her.
In marriage our shame can cause us to hide from the only one on this earth who has committed to love us–our spouse. Ed Welch has an excellent article titled, The Many Faces of Shame. He described why it is important to identify its presence:
I think if we drag it out of the shadows and define it, then we might – we will – be able to speak to it. And once we start speaking about it, we won’t stop, because shame is everywhere (and God’s words to it are everywhere in Scripture).
Shame is, indeed, less black and white than guilt. It can plague you because of what you did, what you didn’t do, what others did to you, or what others didn’t do to you. Just for starters.
How can we determine if shame is hiding in our hearts? I think anyone who is reading this will find the words jumping off the page to them, and their heart beating harder as a result. If we’re a born-again believer in Christ’s work on the Cross, the Holy Spirit lives within us; He is committed to help us be free from the grip of sin. And He won’t stop until we take our last breath. Shame is no different. Although it may not be shame for a sin we’ve committed, it could be shame for something we didn’t do.
Assume you have it. Some of us have it in such a way that it touches everything everyday. Others receive frequent visits from shame though it doesn’t live with them.
Shame has to do with your standing before God and your standing in the community. You think you should be unaffected by the opinions and words of other people? Not so. We were created to live in community, and anything that jeopardizes our inclusion goes against who we really are.
Worthlessness is an easy place to begin defining shame. Have you ever felt worthless? I am guessing that I am not alone in this one. I feel worthless when I notice student indifference after a lecture, when I preach and know that I was less than helpful, when I become alert to my weaknesses as a counselor and wonder why I am inflicting myself on people, and, of course, I could go on.
Worthlessness evokes images of value. It means that your standing with others has gone way down. You know you are a failure, so does everyone else. Our despair over our worthlessness could reflect our pride. That is, “I feel so bad because I want to be great.” And, no doubt, there is pride mixed in with worthlessness. But Jesus doesn’t go to lepers and talk about their pride. Instead, he touches them as a way to show his fellowship and acceptance, and he restores them to his community, though acceptance into the community of mortals like us is not guaranteed.
Shame. You feel worthless, rejected, dirty and exposed. Sometimes you feel it because of what you have done, in which case your badness must exceed community standards. For example, there are some things that Christians confess in public – a little bit of lust, anxieties about money, not listening to a spouse, erratic quiet times. These are the sins that, when you confess them, everyone is nodding in agreement. But there are other acts that leave everyone else in silence because these sins are less common and less acceptable. Shame attaches itself to these sins.
We have merely scratched the surface of how shame affects marriage. For more study on this topic, Winston Smith has written some excellent articles which are sure to help you:
- Christ’s Glory Lifts The Shamed
- How Do You Respond To People Who Feel Shamed? – This article is a MUST READ if your spouse struggles with shame, and you don’t know how to help.
The most important thing is to make sure there is no shame hiding in your relationship. Let there be no shame on you or your spouse. Christ came to set us free from all sin, including the effects of another’s sin against us.