Read: John 4:1-26
Love is not rude. It does not embarrass others. It does not shame. In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown devotes an entire chapter to understanding and combating shame. “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging,” writes Brown.
Shame is not the same thing as guilt. Guilt is the right response to moral failure: “I made a mistake. I am sorry.” Shame, on the other hand, “personalizes” that guilt. It’s not “I made a mistake” but “I am a mistake.”
Shame is something we all experience, though men and women experience it in different ways. Most women experience shame as “not enough”—e.g., “I’m not beautiful enough,” “I’m not a good enough mom,” “I’m not home enough,” “I’m not at work enough,” etc. Men, on the other hand, commonly experience shame as failure and weakness. “Shame is failure at work, on the football field, in marriage, with money, with your children,” or “shame is being soft, afraid, ‘the guy you can shove up against the lockers.’”
Two stories of God taking away shame are worth mentioning. The first appears in Genesis 3. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve once enjoyed an unfettered, blissful relationship with God, each other, and the world around them. The way the Bible describes it is that “they were naked and not ashamed” (Gen 2:25). But when they ate of the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Gen. 3:7).
Shame is isolating. When Adam and Eve sinned, guilt and shame drove them into hiding. They hid behind bushes. They hid behind fig-leaf clothing. They weren’t just afraid of punishment. They were afraid of rejection. Sin does that.
It pushes us away from the ones we love and from the ones who love us the most. What God does in this passage is striking. First of all, when we go hiding, God goes seeking: “Where are you?”
Secondly, God kills an animal and makes clothing for them with its skins. Why? Didn’t they have clothes already—clothes of their own making? Yes. But those would never do the job. Our efforts to mask our shame will not work. God alone is the one who can take away our shame.
In John 4, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman by a well. She is collecting water in the heat of the day because she doesn’t want to be seen with anybody else. Shame over her sexual brokenness had driven her into hiding.
But here comes a man named Jesus. He’s not just looking for a drink of water. He is looking for her. “Come see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” she shares with her townsfolk.
For so long, this woman was afraid that her sins made it impossible for anyone to love her truly. But she met someone for whom that wasn’t a deal-breaker. He saw her for who she truly was, and He accepted her.
In closing, here are some questions and suggestions I hope will aid you as you desire to become a more loving disciple:
- Understand what shame is and how shame works.
- Consider what sorts of messages and expectations you put on others. Are they realistic? Attainable? Are you creating a culture in your home environment where shame takes root or is taken away?
- Encourage communication. Shame festers where there is secrecy and silence. Shame withers when we expose it to the light and talk about it.
- Practice empathy. The two most powerful phrases in the fight against shame are “Me too” and “I am with you.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing to experience a love like that? And wouldn’t it be amazing to share a love like that? Jesus is the One you are looking for—better yet, who is looking for you.