“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV)
There is a monster living in the corner of our seven year old daughter’s room. How do I know? Because she has been telling me about it for years!
It generally makes it home in shadowy corner just under her window, but if you get too close, it isn’t beneath slipping into her closet, just out of reach and out of sight. It has some very specific conditions for coming out, too- it has to be dark, and she has to be alone. Apparently, it gets pretty skittish around even small crowds- and it absolutely hates light of any kind. So while it is admittedly a pretty pesky, persistent little guy- he has been paying regular nighttime visits for several years now- if you have the right tools at your disposal, he’s incredibly beatable.
Let’s be real here- Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher, older sibling, or anyone else who deals with kids on a regular basis, you’ve probably played out something very similar to the scenario I’ve described above. And if you’re anything like me- and on this point, I’m guessing you probably are- you’ve likely played along graciously in an effort to calm young minds, while at the same time thinking to yourself, “This is pretty ridiculous.” After all, it is the fear of the unseen, the unknown, and the unchallenged that gives such “monsters” their power. It is in darkness that such fear thrives, and in the light that it finally dies.
Now it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve been seven years old, but what I’ve recently realized is that as we grow older, the “monster” never really goes away; it just change residences, moving from the dark corners of our bedrooms to the dark corners of our hearts. Eventually it gets a name too- shame. With every mistake we make in life, every struggle we face in relationships, every failure we experience on our journey, the monster grows more and more powerful. It feeds on our anxieties and insecurities. And the bigger it grows, the more feverishly we work to keep it tucked away in the shadows, and the more fearful we are to shine a light in its direction and face it.
The “shame monster,” as I call it, comes in near countless variations. A few common ones…
- Shame over a checkered moral past that continues to follow you
- Shame over unwise financial decisions and their continuing effects
- Shame over failed or close-to-failing relationships
- Shame over unspoken doubts and questions about God and faith
- Shame over long term, seemingly impossible-to-shake sin struggles
I don’t know which of these resonate most with you, but here’s what I know for certain- Just like the live-in “monster” in our daughter’s room, every unique version of the “shame monster” has two things in common…
- It thrives in the dark.
- It dies in the light.
One of shame’s greatest effects on us is its relentless power to paralyze. It deceives us into believing the lie that our sin is too ugly to own, too scary to reveal, and too grievous to forgive. So we keep it tight under wraps, and do our best to pretend that it isn’t there, that it isn’t impacting us all the time. Some of us are better at pretending than others, but no matter how skilled we are at putting on a “happy face” for others, as long as we’re lying about what’s really happening in our hearts, shame wins.
So what’s the alternative? To bring the “shame monster” kicking and screaming into the light of the Gospel of Jesus, believing it and applying it to our specific situation. Here’s how we do that practically…
- Own your sin, the ultimate source of our shame. Own it before God to find forgiveness, and own it before others to experience healing.
- Consider the Cross, the reality that all your sin and shame were nailed to it with Jesus Christ, our perfect substitute sacrifice. Because Jesus took your place, bearing God’s wrath on your behalf, sin and shame no longer have to hold you captive. Recognize that the Cross is not just an objective fact, it is a personal
- Live in the light. Be open about your struggles and failures, and about the truth that they no longer have to define you, because Jesus has given you a brand new identity in Him! This will not only help you to remember and hold on to this, but it will also send the message to others that they too can experience the same forgiveness and freedom.
- Fight the temptation to isolate. Remember- shame thrives in the darkness, and disconnection drives us into that darkness like nothing else. This is why the local church, and the opportunities that she provides us to build relationships, is such a critical, non-negotiable part of our thriving in Jesus Christ. We weren’t made to live independently, but interdependently.
Back to where we started, I have a suspicion that in years to come, we’re going to see less and less of the “monster” in the corner of the house’s back bedroom. That battle will soon be over- but a much deeper one will continue to rage, in the hearts of every member of our family- and in the hearts of every member of yours too. I’m committed to fighting that fight with the piercing light of the Gospel, because I know more and more that that’s our only shot at winning. Wherever you find yourself today, I pray that you would take up that same weapon and find victory and freedom too.