The Edmond Sun

April 8, 2013

THE POWER TO PERSUADE: Letting go of shame brings us closer to God

Don Heath
Special to The Sun

EDMOND — Sin is a strange word for us today. The word has lost much of its power. We do not use the word sin in ordinary conversation. It sounds moralistic and judgmental. I do not think of people as sinners.

One of the primary meanings of sin in the Bible is something that separates us from God. We turn away from God and turn toward other things instead. A word that we use more often than sin that means something similar is shame. Shame separates us from God and from other people.

When we are ashamed, we believe that we are not good enough. We do not fit in. We may even stop loving ourselves because of shame. Children may be ashamed because their teeth are not straight, or because they are not good at spelling or multiplication, or because they are not a good athlete.

Girls too often get it in their heads that they are not pretty enough or thin enough. Society tells girls that they can be smart, but they should be careful not to be assertive. Boys are told that they should be aggressive and strong and athletic and decisive. Boys are ashamed when they are weak. Girls and boys feel shame because society has unrealistic expectations of them. It forces us into a mold that is one size fits all.

As we get older, we get ashamed by other things. Young adults are ashamed if they do not make enough money or if they are single and not dating someone who is good-looking and smart. Some people are ashamed when they realize they are gay; they worry that straight people will think they are disgusting.

Middle-aged people may be ashamed if they have been divorced (some of us have been divorced more than once). It makes you feel like a failure. You are ashamed if you have a lot of debt. It makes you think you are irresponsible with money. You get so busy that you do not have time to exercise and you feel ashamed about being overweight. Some people drink too much or take drugs. They are medicating themselves with alcohol and drugs because they are ashamed of something about themselves.

Seniors may be ashamed that their bodies are falling apart. You cannot do the things you used to do. You do not work anymore and you do not feel useful. Your mind starts to slip and you forget things. You may even be ashamed of your children. You tried hard to be a good parent but your children did not turn out well.

Shame is like a wall that separates us from other people. We tell ourselves that we are no good and that people will not like us if they knew about the things we are ashamed of.

Being baptized gets us out of jail free. We can let our shame go. God knows everything about us and God accepts us, just as we are. You do not have to be perfect; you can just be you.

Paul Tillich was one of the great theologians of the past hundred years. His greatest sermon was called, “You Are Accepted.” Tillich said that the moment when we no longer feel separated from God is like a wave of light breaking into our darkness. It is as though a voice is saying, “You are accepted.” We are overwhelmed because we are accepted by something that is greater than us. Do not ask why. Maybe you will understand later. Do not do anything now. Maybe later you will do much. Do not seek. Do not do. Do not intend. Simply accept that you are accepted. That is the moment of your salvation. That frees you to be yourself. You can love yourself instead of hating yourself. It frees you to be part of the group and to be confident that you will fit in.

It does not give us permission to lie and cheat and steal. Those are things we do that we can and should feel guilty about. Guilt is different from shame; guilt can be a good thing. Guilt means we feel sorry when we have messed up. Shame is different. Shame, at least in the sense that I am referring to, is about things that we cannot change about ourselves. God made each of us; God is pleased with us just as we are. God still expects us to respect God and do righteous things.

Righteousness in the Gospel of Luke usually takes the form of alms-giving and praying. Helping the poor shows that you accept other people who are less fortunate than you. Praying is about telling God what is bothering us. Just naming our problems and telling someone else about them lifts a great burden off us.

The Psalms are prayers to God from ancient Israel. The Psalms are full of laments. The Hebrew people cried out to God about what was bothering them. The lament makes new creation possible. It exposes the wound that is festering inside us and cleans it with sunlight. We offer up our shame to God and let it go.

DON HEATH is pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church. He may be reached at