How our Shame Hinders our Engagement in God’s Mission

Part of my own story includes a lifelong battle with shame.  Ask my Mom and she’ll tell you I came out of the womb fearful.  I was an insecure kid who played it safe for the most part.

Ask a theologian and she’ll tell you that shame is a Garden-grown existential reality.  It’s a part of the Family story.  As the old story goes, Adam and Eve hid from God.  And as Brennan Manning writes, “We all, in one way or another, have used them as role models. Why? Because we do not like what we see. It is uncomfortable—intolerable—to confront our true selves.”

There is much that keeps us from moving out into the lives of others in mission.  Shame may be at the core.  Made for dignity by a God who called us his “image,” our original task was royal ambassadorship of the King.  What a noble call!  For many of us, though, it feels like too much.  God could use me?  Never!

For some of us, even the notion that God has rescued us in Jesus isn’t enough.  We’re still paralyzed by a sense of our depravity, mired in continuing guilt, sucked into an unending cycle of self-doubt, unable to embrace the extraordinary reality that God has taken up residence in us – in you!

Lewis Smedes writes, “Grace overcomes shame, not by uncovering an overlooked cache of excellence in ourselves but simply by accepting us, the whole of us, with no regard to our beauty or our ugliness, our virtue or our vices. We are accepted wholesale. Accepted with no possibility of being rejected. Accepted once and accepted forever.  Accepted at the ultimate depth of our being.”

But we cannot accept ourselves, sometimes.  We sabotage grace, doubting God’s love for us.  And in our shame, we find ways of numbing, coping, dealing.  We drink a little too much, or shop to avoid, or mindlessly surf the internet, or embrace substitute “dramas” (sports, novels, politics), or surgically alter ourselves, or fill ourselves with calories, or look for love in a sexual encounter, or busy ourselves, or feed on moral perfection or theological certainty, or hide behind our titles, or exercise it all away.

Find the most arrogant person you know, and you will find one of the most deeply insecure and ashamed people you know.

Shame.  It’s nurtured, of course, by imperfect parenting and impossible standards of success.  But it’s our birthright as children of Adam and Eve.

Adam and Eve hid from God and we all, in one way or another, have used them as role models.

Do you want to learn to love others?  Do you want to engage more faithfully in the mission of God?  Do you want to live selflessly?

First, you need to embrace a love that is total, an acceptance that is unconditional, a grace that is unmerited.  You enter into the mission of God wholly not out of guilt or from some motivational talk or through a need to justify yourself.  You enter it wholly when you know you’re loved and accepted wholly, believed in, smiled upon, held, known, embraced.

…when you encounter the God who calls you the Beloved…


For more on living the Story God invites you in to, check out:

One thought on “Hiding from God

  1. Personal, intimate and a very honest bit of writing.  Thank-you, you expressed much in a few short 
    paragraphs.  Why is shame so central?  Is it the opposite of the mimetic desire impulse?  

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