Everyone experiences shaming situations in life because we live in an imperfect world. The worst kind of shame is when it is associated with our own personal worth and accomplishments. The shaming experience makes us feel we are not worth nearly as much as we thought we were because of the obvious rejection we feel. Then once shame takes hold, it can hijack control of our lives.
Here is an example of what I am talking about from the life of General U. S. Grant. After graduating from West Point with the rank of Second Lieutenant, he was feeling pretty good. He was eager to wear his new tailored uniform so old schoolmates and particularly the girls could be impressed. But that is not how things turned out. When Grant rode into Cincinnati in his new uniform with his sword dangling at his side, he expected to be admired. Instead, he was made fun of. The shame sent a powerful message to Grant’s psyche that he didn’t matter. Throughout the remainder of his career, he would go to great lengths to avoid wearing full service dress, and he never wore a sword unless ordered.
I still remember the day I opened my first bank account with “Reverend” in front of the name. The woman across the desk asked, “This must be a mistake?” Her words were spoken in an incredulous tone because I was so young. However, the incident caused me never to use the word Reverend again with my name.
We all have these kinds of experiences that shape our lives and in some cases actually hijack our future and the quality of our interaction with people. Our self-esteem plummets, and we withdraw, giving in to the message that we are so much less than we ever thought we were.
The best antidote for such appalling experiences is in the healing presence of our God. Isaiah the prophet said that we are saved through repentance and then we quietly learn to trust God. When we do, we slowly get strong enough to overcome such devastating experiences. Though we may have been shamed and the hurt still lingers, God longs to show us grace and compassion (Isaiah 30:15-18). As destructive as shame is, it is never beyond the reach of God’s grace.