God's love is pure.
If you've never experienced safe and secure love - unmanipulative, uncontrolling and unconditional - it's still possible to live in freedom, emotional health and happinesss. Righteousness, peace and joy.
That's what God promised us through Jesus' sacrifice and the gift of Holy Spirit. We have an enduring source of love (and of love's constant revelation) that extends beyond our pain or past experiences.
Knowing this about God's love, what could keep us from running to Him, the good father? In my experience, the greatest barrier between God's love and myself is shame.
What is shame?
We can think of shame as the opposite of grace. Whereas grace covers all sin, shame leaves us feeling exposed. Whereas grace creates a safe refuge for intimacy with God, shame creates a barrier of fear.
People experience shame in multitudinous forms. For me, shame feels like icy water plummeting down my chest. When I have that sensation, I know I'm experiencing shame.
Shame prevents relationship.
There is an idiom that is widely used to differentiate shame from other emotions based on poor decisions, such as guilt. Guilt and embarrassment say, "I did something bad." Shame says, "I am bad."
Guilt and the fear of potential embarrassment are not deeply isolating in the same way that shame and humiliation are. Guilt and embarrassment leave room for grace, growth and connection. Because shame could lead to humiliation, however, it is extremely isolating.
When I experience shame in my relationships, I want to disappear. My mind races. I want to move to another city, find another job, create a new group of friends – all because I'm terrified of being exposed and humiliated. Shame keeps me from running to people or God because I'm so afraid of being rejected or humiliated.
When I experience embarrassment or guilt, however, I can still feel safe in my relationships. I can say, "I did something that I don't like, and I want to make a different choice next time." Guilt can create opportunities for growth inside of a safe community; shame creates a barrier to community, and in this way invites a spirit of performance rather than authenticity.
Shame prevents growth.
Shame prevents growth because it keeps us – and our issues – in the dark. When we bring those issues into the light, however, we can deal with them appropriately.
Because shame keeps us from relationship with God and people, it keeps us outside of their healing wisdom, grace and support. Growth happens in relationship, not in the dark.
Shame off you!
If you have an area in your life that causes you shame, that is the area in which it is imperative to let love in.
Encountering healing love can be as simple as saying, "Father God, I'm afraid," and letting Him minister to you. When we hurt as children, we run to our parents (ideally, at least); if we run to anything other than a source of love, we could very well become stuck in shame.
Everything that comes out of my heart - beliefs, words and actions -is a manifestation of my relationship with God, Holy Spirit and Jesus. A lack of fruitfulness is evidence of a lack of such relationships.
For so long, I thought my pain and shame was something either external and out of my control, or internal but still larger than my ability cope. In truth, my pain was simply an opportunity to encounter a kindness and love with God and people.
To anyone who experiences shame, I have only one suggestion: let love in.
"Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame! Do not be intimidated, for you will not be humiliated! You will forget about the same you experienced in your youth; you will no longer remember the disgrace of your abandonment." (Isaiah Chapter 54 Verse 4, NET Translation)
Grace lives in Redding, California. She is constantly inspired by the beauty around her. She loves to hike, fish, ski, and take long walks. She is passionate about worship and seeing God's love lived out through her community.
Grace Wood's articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/grace-wood.html