Recently I was asked to share on the topic of shame. This was fitting, as shame is my constant companion. Many times when we speak of shame within the Church, it’s so often associated with our former lives apart from Christ, or perhaps within the area of sexuality. However, I’d venture to say that for some, shame will be an adversary we will wrestle with long past the day we surrendered our lives to Jesus, and that shame will present itself in various forms and come from various sources.
So much of my own shame is rooted in the desire to be good enough and to be seen by others as being good enough. The drive for perfection in me can be, at times, debilitating. In fact, full disclosure, I tried writing this very article yesterday, and I couldn’t get it done because I desperately needed it to be perfect. I became frustrated and dejected as I began to feel overwhelmed due to my own intense internal pressure. In the end, I felt that I wasn’t even good enough to share.
What irony! In trying to write about the feelings of shame and worthlessness within the Christian life, I ultimately felt shame from my inability to achieve perfection which, of course, made me feel unworthy.
Pressure to Produce Perfection
In my own experience, there’s a lot of pressure within the Christian community to attain and project a pristine image. Naturally, we all know that only Jesus is perfect, but there can be underlying, unspoken standards and expectations that we have of ourselves and others that have nothing to do with sin or righteousness. Instead, those standards and expectations have everything to do with how well someone appears to have their life together. We silently rate and position ourselves within the Church based on how neatly our lives can be packaged and presented to the outside perspective.
The source of so much of my own shame is the fact that no matter how much I strive, I can’t reach that elevated state of togetherness that others seem to have perfected. Truthfully, sometimes I feel that the world can be more understanding towards struggle and show more grace in this area than the Church.
Indeed, I’m terribly incapable of building and managing an immaculate, Instagrammable life. My heart, my parenting, my marriage, my budget, my walk with Jesus, my love and service to others … In all these areas and a thousand more, I’m desperately and hopelessly in need. Within the Church, we have the fundamental head knowledge that we need Jesus, but the practice of real transparency about our needs and our failings makes us feel extremely vulnerable. Sometimes it’s even risky talking about them since we fear being judged. That fear is valid because, at times, we are.
Escaping the Shame Spiral
But even if our church communities became ideal overnight, I’d still struggle with shame from the internal pressure I feel to be perfect. It’s a daily battle for me. Though, what I’ve found that draws me out of the shame spiral is the practice of coming back to this truth: Jesus desires for me to acknowledge my neediness, not for me to overcome it.
When Paul pleads with God to take away the thorn in his life, the one which Paul describes as being given to him to prevent him from exalting himself, God’s response is this, “… My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 CSB).
The point of this walk with Christ isn’t to become super Christians climbing the social hierarchy of the Church with each flaw we successfully hide behind a well polished smile. Rather, isn’t it our duty and our joy to point to a God who is good beyond measure and declare the grace He has shown us daily, despite our inabilities and shortcomings?
Replacing Focus on Self with Focus on Jesus
Following verse nine of chapter 12 in 2 Corinthians, Paul states, “Therefore I will gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” When imperfection causes me to feel shame, it takes me to a place of self-focus, self-condemnation, and obsession to make my SELF a better version of me. However, when I pause the inward struggle and look at Jesus, when, in that moment, I simply admit my need for Him, my weakness brings me into the Throne Room of Grace.
What I’m slowly learning, and what my little “Enneagram one” self is starting to grasp, is that the shortcomings and imperfections that I so despise can actually be the very catalysts that compel me to be at the feet of Jesus. It’s simply a matter of where I choose to place my focus. Now, to say that the choice is simple, isn’t to say that the choice is easy. But it’s the worthy choice. It’s the choice that brings freedom.