“You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself!” Really?   7 comments

Wow, it was great to get 5 responses to my first post!  Thank you guys for commenting!  It feels good to know you are out there reading.  Since this blog site is for reflections, I may keep another site for happenings, perhaps switching my Xanga to Blogspot (advantages anyone?).

My wife and I have been reading together “Tattoos on the Heart” by Gregory Boyle, a wonderful book of grace for the gang members of L.A. among whom he works (warning: rated R for language).  It inspires many self reflections and long conversations between us.  Sunday morning Father Boyle charmed us with descriptions of his young friend who was trying so hard to make good choices in a hellish world.  He deeply loved this boy who is one day murdered senselessly in a drive-by shooting, a random target of a rival neighborhood.  He speaks of the near impossibility of his calling–to give grace to the hardened killer, to love him just as he does the victim.  I had a gut reaction to this suggestion.

“Isn’t shame a good thing to foster in those who need it, those who are hard-hearted?”  Kimberly reminds me of the distinction she makes between shame and guilt, and for her, shame is never something we should promote.  We have had this discussion many times before, and I never quite understood her.  I always thought the difference was that guilt is internally directed (motivating us out of a guilty conscience to reform) and shame was externally directed (motivating us out of fear of others’ judgments to reform), the first based on internal mores (self-criticism) and the second on external mores (others’ criticism).  For Kimberly, guilt is feeling bad for what I have done and shame is feeling bad for who I am.

I realize why I have always been confused by this distinction–for me there is no real difference between what I do and who I am.  If I do bad things it proves I am a bad person.  Kimberly responds, “The world is not made up of good and bad people.  Every individual has both good and bad in them.”  I agree… sort of.  I know in my mind this is true, but don’t we have to make some distinction between criminals and law-abiding citizens, trustworthy and untrustworthy employees?  Doesn’t society need to enforce minimal social norms by motivating wayward members with shame?  Isn’t shame sometimes a good thing?

Then she makes something click for me, “What people need, even those who are jaded… especially those who are jaded… is love and grace.  It is never good to shame others.”  “What about the Pharisees?”  “There is great value in helping others get in touch with the shame they already have and are suppressing, which is very different from imposing shame from outside.  The self-righteous are not free of shame.  In fact, their shame is so intense they have to keep it away at all costs, repressing it by tight behavioral conformity and projecting it by shaming others.”  I stew on that.  It finally makes sense to me.

I still think like a Pharisee in many ways: I feel bad for who I am, a miserable sinner and my behavior proves my character; the only way to escape this shame is to change my conscious thoughts, motivations, and actions to be good; I shame myself and others into this conformity.  But finally the light blinks on.  I am bad, flawed, sinful (like every single person on earth), and I automatically equated this with being worthless or at least worth less.  But my value has nothing to do with my behavior.  God loves me because I am his beloved, and nothing I do can change that.  My worth as a person is completely based on God’s love.  I believe it is legalism to try to establish someone’s worth by excusing or ameliorating their sin, “You really are a good person, and therefore have worth.”

When I returned from being a missionary in Calcutta, I felt like a terrible failure, and because of my legalism, I believed this proved I was unworthy, unacceptable.  But if I exhausted every twitch of energy to be a “success” in God’s eyes, and still failed, then I was without hope of ever getting on God’s good side.  I stumbled off that gerbil wheel, not because I had a better path to follow, but because I was convinced my efforts were useless.  Some folks, hearing I was discouraged, tried to lift my spirit by telling me that I really had been a success in spite of what I thought.  Instead of cheering me up, this darkened my heart even further since their insistence on this point fed my fear that I really did have to be a success to be of worth.  This underlying fear plagues me to this day, though daily I pull further free of its hold as I believe more fully in God’s love.

So, friends, what are your thoughts and experiences around this dialogue?  Feel free to disagree with me or one another, but please do so with as much humility and grace as possible.


Posted June 21, 2011 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

7 responses to ““You Should Be Ashamed of Yourself!” Really?

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I agree also with the issue of guilt and shame…to me shame leaves me without any hope – if I am a worthless human being I can do nothing to change that… whereas guilt about what I have done gives the only hope and that is that Jesus will pay the cost. To me there is also a difference between unhealthy guilt which is all about me and the bad thing I have done and healthy guilt (remorse) which is all about the other person and what I can do to make restitution for the past or change the process for the future. BTW, where do you read the comments from other readers…I would like to learn from them as well.

  2. Thanks for responding, Elisabeth! and for subscribing! You are the first to comment on this post (so there were none others to read), but I think you just have to click on “Comments” to read everyone’s comments. I’m totally new to this wordpress blog site, so there is a lot I don’t know.
    I find that (with Kimberly’s definitions), guilt and shame have always been very closely tied together in my mind… the first is the cause of the second. That is, doing something bad proves what a bad person I am, and if I am a bad person, I am undeserving of love and acceptance. Because of my long held mindset, I can easily take what you call healthy guilt and use it in very unhealthy ways. I will be driven to “fix” the injury I have caused in order to feel acceptable once again. Instead of finding myself fully loved and accepted even when I fall, and then responding out of that fullness with compassion towards others, I “should” and shame myself into rectifying the harm or figuring out ways to prevent it in the future. I will be in a great deal of psychological turmoil until I can find a remedy, and once I have figured out the resolution, there will be sudden relief. But the relief comes not from a sense of complete forgiveness and acceptance while I am still under (self)condemnation, but from an underlying idea that if I can correct what I screwed up, I will be worthy of the grace of acceptance. Of course this is not a conscious thought process… it takes some consideration on my part to figure out what is going on “behind the scenes.”.

  3. It is very “American” of you to have linked success with your worth regarding your work in India. I am not a missionary, a preacher or an individual who is “doing God’s work”, and I have struggled with this during my pathetic attempt at this life. Those doing God’s work have a badge of honor doing said work in my book. What badge do I carry? What is my honor? I am a mere ant in God’s vast time machine. What is my worth as I fail daily in man’s and in God’s eyes. These are my haunting questions.

    I think God and man look at the choices that we make. Success or failure is a mere result. Choosing is the action. God wants us to choose him. That is all. Nothing more. Choose God and you win. Is that not what the whole convoluted story of the Old Testament is about? Love God? Love each other as you love yourself? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you? I suck at that sometimes. Sometimes I champion those challenges. It is my choice. “You can have a good day or a bad day; it is your decision.”

    I do not think on these things as deeply and as long as some do. I fight my own demons of self worth daily. I will continue reading this blog to gain insight into my own heart.

    Thank you my old friend.

  4. Wow, Greg, thanks so much for your honesty! Ever since returning from India, I have tried for 10 years to find my ministry ‘niche,’ and every door I have pushed on has been a dead end path. Only in the last few months I feel that I am finally okay about having no ministry at all (especially occupationally). I, like you, feel I have only a very bit part to play in God’s big production. I have had to fight against the nagging suspicion that this means God is disappointed with me. I am learning to be at rest, to stop chasing hopeful possibilities, and to wait for God to open any doors he wants me to walk through. To be honest, the pushing (without my realizing it) was my desperate effort to win my worth by doing great things for God. I think God knows that until I find my worth from him independent of what I do for him, I will continue to create more problems for myself and others. The only way he can firmly ground me in his love is to keep me from doing ‘ministry’ so that I will not lean on that for my worth. I think God wants me to learn to revel in his love, even if it means making choices that feel ‘selfish’ to me. Thanks again for sharing, friend.

  5. Interesting how words can have so many different “flavors” to different people – how you and Kimberly have different meanings for the words “shame” and “guilt”. I think that both shame and guilt, by whatever definition, and whether internal or externally applied, are problematic. I think that internally a feeling of remorse (neither shame nor guilt) can be the catalyst we need to motivate us to watch our words and actions and not do hurtful things the next time. I feel bad about having hurt someone, but I don’t connect that in any way to who I “am”. I screw up. And I feel bad about it. And that bad feeling isn’t about me being a “bad” person, it’s about feeling bad that I caused someone else pain or discomfort or aggravation. I don’t feel bad at all unless it’s caused someone else pain. And I just internalize that bad feeling only to make me remember to try and do it differently next time.

    I don’t think there are any bad people or any good people. There are only people trying to live their lives in the best way they know how. Criminals are just people who using methods that are not socially approved. People can be mean, spiteful, angry, cruel. That does not mean they are mean, spiteful, angry, cruel people. They are just people. And they may never behave any better for many reasons. But they are also just trying to do the best they can with what they know. And people who are not criminals can be horrid to live around and may make laws that criminalize others – so they’re certainly not good people! And people who are kind and thoughtful and generous and magnanimous and cheerful – are still not good people. They just have had the blessing of a personality, environment, mind, and perspective (all of which were given to them by God) which provides the resources to live that kind of life. Put them in a different body, environment, circumstance and they might not behave as well.

    OK so those are some thoughts. But once I get thinking about something I can go on indefinitely!

    • Someone posted on FB, “Remember that all Hitler did was legal,” so there is a definite difference between legal and good. Mardi, you sound a lot like Kimberly. She is inclined to think that everyone is doing the best they can. I am inclined to think no one is doing the best they can (including me… or even especially me). For the same reason, she focuses on acceptance and I focus on growth. We are greatly benefited by one another’s perspective and emphasis. We both realize that the other one has something important that needs to shape our thinking and relationships, and we work on cultivating that in our hearts. We both agree that no human can discern accurately whether or not someone is doing their best (though the closer we are to them, the better we can guess) and that giving folks the benefit of the doubt is a strong support to a gracious perspective. Oddly, I think grace works the other way as well. If we say that someone has no responsibility for the direction their life has taken (that given their environment and genes, they could only be where they are now), it seems to me we disempower them, Some see growth as an obligation or means of evaluation, but if we see it as enabling folks to be the most fulfilled they can be, it can be understood as a gift as well as a goal. I realize that is totally from my own perspective. I do listen and benefit from those like you and Kimberly who have a different focus.

  6. I think we are all “bad” people – we’re sinners. God chooses to love bad people and what Jesus has done redeems us. Nothing we can do good or bad changes how God feels about us – that’s grace. I might be disappointed in my child’s disobedience, but that doesn’t change my deep love for her, nor does it change her value given to her by God. We are so valuable that God gave the ultimate gift so He could dwell with us. Shame and guilt are totally different. Guilt is recognition of my sin – “I have broken God’s laws and deserve punishment”. Shame is a lie from Satan, “I am worthless because of my guilt”.

    About certain occupations being more honorable, I understand where that belief (or feelings) comes from, but I would have to disagree. Romans 9 clearly declares God’s sovereignty to use each vessel as He deems fit (believers and unbelievers). He has chosen the doors or opportunities to place in our lives. He only wants us to be obedient to His leading. Where we serve Him or what people we serve is irrelevant as long as we have obeyed the leading of the Spirit… it’s merely His choice and just as valuable in the eyes of God as any other work. If it were true that some work is more honorable than others, that would mean that a woman’s work of keeping a home and caring for children is less honorable than what God has called her man to do or less honorable than a career. Esther was placed in a harem, queen to a king who hadn’t wanted to see her for over 30 days, yet she was placed there to fulfill God’s purpose for His people. What devine purpose did Isaac or Jacob fulfill… simply have children and teach them about God and the convenant. My obedience to Jesus in the exact place He has put me is valuable to Him and sometimes all He wants from me is that I seek His face.

    Who am I to decide what my purpose is? Only the Creator has the right to decide my purpose. These are things I have wrestled with… and these are the conclusions I’ve come to. Sometimes it takes the heart a long time to get there and be at peace. He knows that I am just dust and He is more patient with my journey than I am… for that matter, He plotted the course I am to take.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: