"First, we experience an intensely painful event. Second, we believe the lie that our pain and failure is who we are — not just something we’ve done, or had done to us — and we experience shame. And finally, our feelings of shame trap us into thinking that we can never recover — that, in fact, we don’t even deserve to." (Groeschel 2018)
Shame is a dangerous thing that can infiltrate our lives and our relationships, especially the relationship we have with God. But the beauty of God's forgiveness is that it forgives the shame and guilt that we feel over the sins we've committed. That is, once we repent and ask for forgiveness, He heals the pains of the sin too.
We can't allow ourselves to believe that we are our sins, nor can we allow ourselves to fall into an addiction to shame and guilt. When shame rules us, we aren't really believing in the power of God's forgiveness. We might think we "believe" in Jesus Christ, His life, and His sacrifice, but we aren't giving full credit to the power of that sacrifice. When we hold onto the pains of our sin, we aren't truly letting God work on our hearts, nor trusting that He can fully save us from our fallen parts.
The past is unchangeable. We can't go back and we shouldn't play a "what if" game. We have to accept that we made decisions, had experiences, and sinned. But God can change our present and our future.
How to Let Go of Shame
In the past, one thing I really struggled with was accepting the fact that I was forgivable. Many of us were raised in an environment where one or both parents struggled with guilt and shame. Having guilt and shame constantly around us, we start to identify with it. It either becomes all too familiar and "normal," or we try to dispel it by denying that there's anything wrong with the choices we've made. Neither way of dealing with shame and guilt is healthy or proactive.
Guilt is often let go of when we have accepted that we've been forgiven, by either God or the person we've wronged (or in some cases, both). But shame can linger and cling to us and bring up old, broken parts of our past that lead us to feel guilty again.
So how do we truly get rid of shame?
Step 1: Acknowledge God's Sacrifice
The first step is to acknowledge that God did indeed make a powerful sacrifice for us. One that wipes clean our sins and that includes all sins. Many people, even Christians, struggle with the idea of such a sacrifice coming from God when the world keeps telling us that there are long term consequences and "baggage" for our wrongdoings, or that certain ones are far worse than others. However, our spirit is wiped clean by God and our salvation is secured through Jesus Christ - no sin that we could commit disqualifies us from that gift when we repent.
"When facing guilt and shame, we are surrounded by lies–the lies of the enemy. And, on the surface, those lies make sense because we know what we did was wrong. We want to run and to escape and to be free, but the lies keep us pinned down." (Michele 2017)
If you're unsure that you're saved from the particular sin or wrongdoing you've committed, take a look at these verses.
"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9)
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Step 2: Tell Somebody
Confession is a huge part of letting go of something we are ashamed of. When we ignore our convictions and bottle them up deep inside, we aren't truly addressing them, nor the pain that they carry. By telling somebody, whether it be our parents, a mentor/pastor, or perhaps a close friend or support group, we are releasing ourselves from the weight of not only bearing the shame but also the secrecy of that pain.
Part of how shame works too is when we commit wrongdoing and don't immediately address it, repent and let it go, once we commit the same or similar wrongdoing, they start to pile up and begin to weigh us down. Psychologists have studied how heavy amounts of shame can affect an individual.
"When faced with shame, the brain reacts as if it were facing physical danger, and activates the sympathetic nervous system generating the flight/fight/freeze response. Prolonged shame states early in life can result in permanently dysregulated autonomic functioning and a heightened sense of vulnerability to others. Their lives are marked by chronic anxiety, exhaustion, depression, and a losing struggle to achieve perfection." (Davis)
Often times the things God teaches us about in life, whether it be His order of things, things He demands us to let go of, or the consequences of sin, are in fact scientifically, emotionally, relationally, and/or psychologically bad for us, meaning they have some kind of proven negative impact on us. With shame it's no different; shame is a natural reaction to our convictions and after we've done something sinful, however, shame isn't meant to dwell for long periods of time. Thankfully, God offers an opportunity for us to let go and move forward so that don't have to be enslaved to our past pain and wrongdoings.