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When humans feel deeply ashamed, their instinctive response is to separate and isolate themselves from all others. Often physical isolation isn’t practical. You have to go to work to pay the bills. You have a spouse and kids living in your home. But though you feel forced to physically be around other people, you can still emotionally isolate yourself by refusing to engage. Your wife asks what’s wrong and you give her that indifferent shrug. When she presses you, you stonewall her with, “I’m fine,” or “I don’t want to talk about it.” And for the person drowning in shame, talking about their misery does seem pointless. After all, words can’t change the past. No, they can’t, but they can save your present and future, and that is far more important.
Shame is a byproduct of you not knowing how to process your own past actions. You did something that you feel really bad about and now you’re obsessing over it. You’re also clinging to several erroneous conclusions about who you are and who you can be because of what has happened in the past. You’re not forming those conclusions entirely on your own—you’re getting a lot of help. Other people and demons are very useful tools in keeping you locked in a stranglehold of shame. But the good news is that you have Someone on your side who is infinitely more powerful than people and demons. You have God. Now of course you don’t count God as an Ally right now because you’ve already decided that He thinks you’re a despicable worm and that He wants nothing to do with you. Well, you’re wrong.
Imagine someone tying you to a chair with five lengths of chain. With the first chain, they tie your right ankle to one leg of the chair. With the second chain, they tie your left ankle to another leg of the chair. They use a third chain to bind your torso to the back of the chair, and then they use the last two chains to tie down each of your arms. By the time they’re done, you are hopelessly stuck to that chair. Now think about whatever it is you’ve done that you’re so ashamed of: that’s the chair. Consider how restricted your movements have become because you’re tied to this anchor. Is this the set up for a happy, healthy life? Not hardly. With all of your limbs pinned down, how are you going to take care of your basic needs? How are you going to eat or sleep or keep yourself clean? If you stay stuck in this position, you’re going to end up sore, sick, and injured. This is what shame does to you: it cripples you. It robs your life of joy, it destroys relationships, and it causes you to become increasingly wounded until you just want to die of it. Intense shame is a popular reason why humans attempt suicide—they feel like being permanently chained to that chair is driving them insane. The chains that are binding them down feel impossible to break free of, so where is the hope? There is actually great hope, because the chains holding you down have a strange weakness. They aren’t made of metal, they are made of lies. These are conceptual chains, not physical ones. This means that you don’t have to be physically strong to break free of them, you just have to be open to changing your beliefs.
As powerful and overwhelming as shame can feel, it has one intrinsic weakness: it depends on deception for fuel. You see, you can’t end up pinned down in shame until you agree to accept certain fundamental deceptions. And once you’re pinned down in shame, you can successfully break out of it by deciding to start rejecting those same key deceptions. With each deception you unlearn, another chain will snap loose and fall off of you until you are able to stand up and walk away from that nasty chair.
In this post, we are going to teach you five essential truths that can break you free of the shame you’re currently stuck in. But these things won’t do you any good until you decide that you want to be free of that chair. Unfortunately, some souls decide that they don’t want to break free—they’d rather stay chained down the rest of their lives. These souls refuse to believe that they have the option to help themselves because they don’t want to be held accountable for rejecting the help they were offered. But pretending we have no options doesn’t get us off the hook with God. At the end of your life, God is going to hold you accountable for how you used the resources He provided for you.
All Christians get stuck multiple times in their journeys. But whenever we get stuck, it’s only a matter of time before God shows us how to get unstuck. As a soul who is currently stuck in shame, the challenge for you is to realize that you do have options. You do not have to just resign yourself to staying forever bound in the past. You can realize that shame is fueled by an embracing of wrong beliefs, and that beliefs can be changed. You can then ask God to help you unlearn the deceptions that are keeping you stuck in the past and to help you embrace the truths that will break you out of this shame. This is what God wants you to do: to ask Him to help you get unstuck. Are you willing to do that? Are you ready to stop mentally sustaining these chains that are keeping you bound to the past? If so, then it’s not even a question of if you’ll ever be able to experience joy in life again, it’s simply a matter of when. Once you decide that you’re fed up with being oppressed by shame, you have taken your first step towards recovery, and that recovery can happen much faster than you think.
Now then, shame is fueled by lies. Even though your specific set of circumstances feels unique to you, the deceptions you’re embracing are extremely common. We’re now going to discuss five key lies that shame is built on and teach you the countering truths you need to reject each one.
LIE #1: I’M UNFORGIVABLE.
If you really thought that everyone who mattered was so totally over your past actions or current flaws, there would be no justification for shame. Shame can only survive if you are willing to believe that there is some fact about you which is utterly unforgivable by those whose approval you need to be able to feel worth something.
The first step in draining the power out of this deception is to correctly identify whose forgiveness is essential and whose is not. If your shame focuses on past actions you’ve done, then obtaining forgiveness from the people you’ve hurt often feels essential. There’s also a popular belief that your ability to forgive yourself is critical to breaking free of shame, and this often feels impossible to do. Then there are the people you respect—your spouse, your parents, your friends, etc.. Maybe you believe that your wife would leave if she knew you were a pedophile. Maybe you killed someone and their family members are holding an eternal grudge. Whether your shame is focused on something you’ve done, or something you are, viewing the forgiveness of other humans as critical is an obstacle to recovery that needs to be removed.
As convenient as it is to have other people forgive and accept us, we need to get real about the import of human opinion. It wasn’t humans who created you. It isn’t humans who are sustaining you or anything around you. You are a creation of three all-powerful Gods: Yahweh, Jesus, and the magnificent Holy Spirit. As the Makers and Sustainers of all things, They are the only Ones whose opinion truly matters.
What defines how much an opinion matters in this world? If you think a murderer should be executed, and the jury who is charged with passing a verdict at the murderer’s trial thinks he should be executed, whose opinion is going to matter the most to the murderer? Your personal hatred isn’t going to change how the murderer is treated by the government, but the jury’s opinion towards him will have an enormous effect on his future. Even if you were someone the murderer knew very well, the way the law is set up, the opinions of twelve strangers will end up mattering far more than yours. It’s ironic that total strangers can have more power over a man’s life than the people he personally knows, but this is how it works in many earthly situations. Your coworkers can think you’re great, but that won’t get you the promotion. The big boss has to think you’re great, and often he’s someone who hardly knows you. In this world, it is someone’s social rank that defines how much their opinion matters. In American courts, we frequently see judges pass a law that they feel is right only to then have that law later overturned by another judge who outranks them.
The guy with the most power gets his way. There are rulers with partial power and rulers who are given absolute authority over their governments. How much power a person is assigned defines how much their opinion matters. You might have a very high view of yourself, but if you live in a country where the king has absolute power, then with one word, the king can have your head chopped off, and then what will your good opinion be worth? In this world, your personal opinion of yourself doesn’t outrank the opinion of those who have greater power than you. Maybe you think your performance isn’t worth the gold medal, but the judge disagrees so you end up getting the prize because the judge outranks you. You think you deserved to get into office more than that other guy, but the voters liked the other guy more and their opinions outranked yours, so now you’re stuck.
So what does all of this have to do with your current situation? Well, souls who are stuck in shame are often operating under false assumptions about whose opinion matters most. You ran over little Tommy in the street five years ago and his mother Jane hates you to this day. Well, so what? Jane is not at the top of the power structure. She is infinitely outranked by Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, and those Three say that you are forgivable.
Or maybe you got caught molesting kids and now your wife won’t speak to you. Well, she’s not at the top of the power structure, either. Your three Creators don’t consider molestation to be an unforgivable sin, and if They are willing to forgive you, then Their opinion trumps everyone else’s.
If you’re stuck in shame, you clearly don’t know your Gods very well. If you did know Them, then you’d know better than to believe that They consider you to be unforgivable. So what does this mean? Are you a hopeless case because you know so little about the Ones who made you? No. In the world today, there are a ton of Christians who are stuck in the muck of shame. It doesn’t mean they’re not saved, but it does mean that they have a very poor understanding of who Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are. Knowing that Jesus is God is a far cry from understanding His Character. To break free of shame, you need to gain a better understanding of who your Gods are, starting with the basic fact that They infinitely outrank all created beings. It is because the real Gods have ultimate power that Their judgments trump all others. And since the real Gods say that you are forgivable despite what you’ve done and how messed up you currently are, you simply cannot defend this claim that you are unforgivable. You might personally consider yourself to be unforgivable, yet you are outranked by Them, therefore your opinion becomes irrelevant.
In our previous discussion of a jury of strangers having the power to execute a murderer, we made the point that having personal knowledge of someone does not define how much power they have over you. This is a critical point to grasp, for as humans, we often view those closest to us as having the greatest power over us simply because we are emotionally bonded to them. While Jesus is a virtual Stranger to you, you feel desperate for your father’s approval, therefore it seems like a showstopper when your father withholds forgiveness from you. Here is where you need to realize that your personal knowledge of someone and the intensity of your emotional bond to him does not define his power over you. Jesus infinitely outranks your father, so what Jesus says about you trumps anything your father says.
Or perhaps you know your army buddies much better than you do the Holy Spirit, so when they are holding some eternal grudge for the way you behaved on the battlefield, it feels like their opinion has supreme power. But no, it doesn’t, because your army buddies are just created specks who can’t even sustain their own existence. When it comes to declaring whether your battlefield actions are forgivable or not, the Holy Spirit’s judgment trumps all others and He says you are forgivable. See how it works? You have three virtual Strangers making judgments about you, and Their judgments trump all others because They are the only Ones with absolute power. So there’s no justification for the claim that you are unforgivable. You can’t claim to be anything unless your Gods sign off on it and They simply don’t view your actions the way that you do. But how do you know that They don’t? How can your terrible deeds or major flaws really be such non-issues to the Ones who created you? What happened to God being horrified by sin and disgusted by all those who fail to be perfect? It’s time to move on to a second deception.
LIE #2: I HAVE FALLEN SHORT OF GOD’S EXPECTATIONS.
If you had some jerk of a father who always placed the bar impossibly high over your head and then beat on you for not reaching it, you’re a prime candidate for shame. The deceptions that fuel shame also reinforce each other, and what fuels the lie that God will not forgive you is the belief that you have miserably failed His expectations. You should have done better in the past. You should be better today. If you can’t picture God’s face without seeing Him glaring down at you in disgust, then you’ve bought into the lie that God’s expectations are as unreasonable as your own, and this is another deception that you need to unlearn.
As a human, you are a merciless little thing. Often it’s other people who you are swift to condemn, but in the world of shame, it’s yourself who you’ve turned against with a vengeance. You’ve decided that you could have and should have done things differently in the past and you just won’t give it a rest. You’re essentially holding a grudge against yourself, and you feel justified in doing so because you have so bitterly failed to meet your own expectations.
While our three Creators dearly love us and find great delight in constantly caring for us, we humans look at ourselves and find that we leave much to be desired. The reality is that we’re extremely frail, fearful little creatures who are utterly self-serving and extremely depraved. We’re totally impotent—unable to even breathe without the assistance of our Makers. And since this is all so terribly embarrassing to our pride, we put enormous energy into not facing who we really are. Instead, we come up with fantasies of who we wish we could be and then we run with those fantasies for as long as we can. Maybe you fantasized that you were the kind of guy who would always take the high road no matter what. But in real life, when something you really wanted was dangling in front of you, you compromised everything to get it. Now you look in the mirror and see a flaming hypocrite who you can’t respect, and you figure that God sees the same. But He doesn’t, because unlike you, God hasn’t been living in a fantasy land all this time about who you really are.
While it seems to you that you are just the result of mysterious biological processes that kicked into gear when sperm met egg, that’s not how your Creators view you at all. They view you as an intricate work of art which They personally assembled with great care and purpose. Your chromosomes don’t define you—your Gods do. You didn’t get your hair color from your grandmother—you got it from your Gods who decided that that’s the hair color They wanted you to have. As humans we like to talk as if we’re just a conglomeration of inherited traits, and we get ridiculously obsessed over trying to find patterns. But at the end of the day, all the patterns we think we see are irrelevant. You are who your Gods designed you to be. Every trait, every preference, every instinct was hardwired into you by Them. Certainly you make choices, but only among a limited set of options which They define.
It is because your Gods created you from nothing and chose every detail about you that They are never surprised by anything you do. You simply can’t disgust Them with your cowardice, because They know far better than you do how deep that cowardice runs within you. You can’t shock Them with your depravity, because They put it in you. You aren’t greedy because of the Fall, you’re greedy because that’s how They made you. No one had to teach you how to lust or envy or get in a huff when you don’t get your own way. Your Creators put all of those things into you and They simply aren’t surprised when you express them. Now does this mean that our Gods don’t care if we sin? Of course They care, but not in the same way that we think They do.
The common Christian view that God is horrified and disgusted by our sin is utterly absurd. The reality is that God wants you to sin countless times in your life, which is why you will find it impossible to do otherwise. Sin isn’t some flaw that Satan forced upon God’s once perfect Creation. Sin has always been an option for humans, and one that God has designed us to find most tantalizing. Ever wonder why doing the wrong thing is often so much more appealing than doing the right thing? God set it up this way on purpose, and the sooner you realize this, the sooner you can understand that God has no desire for you to live a sinless life. You might decide to make being sinless your top priority in life, but God will intentionally sabotage your efforts and you’ll end up never leaving the cesspool of carnality that we’re all stuck in.
You see, to God, sin is a fabulous teaching tool. Having you grapple with sin your whole life is part of how He matures you and strengthens your personal bond with Him. To benefit from your own struggle with sin and from the sins you’ve committed in the past which you’re currently ashamed of, you need to change goals. Trying to never sin is the wrong goal. Growing closer to God through your experiences with sin is the right goal, and this is the goal you need to align with. Sometimes God will empower you to overcome temptation, sometimes He’ll shove you headlong into it. Sometimes He’ll give what you need to overcome sin, and you’ll blow Him off and do it anyway. Often in matters of shame, souls believe that they could have and should have done differently than they did. Often this assumption is simply not correct. But even when it is—even when you know that you were an absolute rebel—there are still many positive lessons to be gleaned, and those positive lessons are what God wants to focus on with you. This constant beating yourself down about what you should have done differently is an epic waste of time. God doesn’t give you the option of doing certain portions of your life over again, and you need to accept this. God puts limits on you, and those are limits which He finds pleasing. Aligning with God means submitting to His will and goals for us. You’ll never be able to go back and change what you did, but you can decide to change your focus today onto something more productive. Here’s a useful prayer:
God, I feel so bad about what I did, and I really wish I could go back and do things differently. But I realize that this just isn’t an option that You’re willing to give me, so help me to accept that and get my priorities in alignment with Yours. I realize that You have positive lessons You want to teach me using my negative past choices. Help me to get my focus off of regretting the past and onto the present. I recognize that You have plans for me, and that You want to keep maturing me and drawing me closer to Yourself. Help me to let go of my misplaced priorities and embrace Your goals for my life.
When you pray like this, you are practicing submission, and submitting to God is always going to a beneficial exercise for your soul. Praying like this is far more productive than wallowing in endless “what if” scenarios. God will always urge you to turn your focus off of the past and onto the present and future. God is a very positive Guy who can bring good out of any situation. But He wants submission from you, and that means you deciding that you are going to yield to His preferences even though you don’t like them.
Okay, let’s see where we’re at so far. As your Creator, God knows you inside and out and He simply isn’t shocked by what you did or by your current struggles or character flaws. Unreasonable expectations are a product of ignorance—it was because you didn’t have an accurate view of yourself that you thought you would behave differently than you did in the past. But God is omniscient, which means He knows everything about everything, and because of this, He never sets His expectations too high. God saw your whole life before He even brought you into existence, so the idea that you have disappointed Him is utterly absurd.
Disappointment, surprise, shock—these things are only possible for beings with limited knowledge. You don’t begin to have a comprehensive understanding of who you are, and this is why it is very easy for you to shock, disappoint, and disgust yourself with your own behaviors and desires. But God knows you inside and out, so He simply doesn’t struggle with these things. God knows who you really are, and that is who He has always loved. You only know who you wish you could be, and the death of that person is what you are currently mourning. It’s time to realize that the person you thought you were has never been real. And while who you actually are is bitterly disappointing to you in some ways, you are not at all disappointing to God, and His opinion trumps all others. How do you overcome your current disgust with yourself? By focusing less on yourself and more on God. It’s time for more praying.
God, I am so ashamed of who I am and I just can’t forgive myself. But I realize that You say that You love me just as I am and that You saw this day coming a long time ago. Nothing I do shocks You, and You say that Your salvation is irrevocable. So help me to gain a better understanding of Your love and acceptance for me. Help me to really connect with the fact that Your opinion totally trumps mine and that Your judgment of me is the only one that matters. Help me to gain an accurate understanding of Your view of me and accept it even if it seems too good to be true.
Once again, you are practicing submission by asking God to help you adjust to Him instead of expecting Him to adjust to you. The perpetual pity party you sink into when you’re caught in shame is partly fueled by an insistence that God align with your view of the universe. Instead of acknowledging that God makes up His own mind independently of you, you decide for Him how He must view you and then you refuse to listen when He voices a countering opinion.
Submission is a soul attitude which is foundational to your relationship with God, and whenever you find yourself feeling stressed, practicing submission to God is going to be an efficient way to find peace. Prayer is a fabulous way to practice submission, but the key is in proper wording. In the main Church, you are taught to practice domination through your prayers. Check out the wording of Christian prayers on the internet or listen to how Christians pray around you and you’ll hear a constant theme of humans asking God to conform to their agenda. We frequently ask God to stop doing what He’s doing simply because we don’t like it. We rarely acknowledge that God has positive reasons for doing things we disapprove of. We spend far more time trying to correct Him than we do asking Him to correct us. When you pray for God to do things your way, that’s practicing domination. When you pray for God to have His way in your life, that’s submission. As a Christian, you need to be practicing submission as much as possible (see Practicing Submission in the Way that We Pray).
LIE #3: I WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO FORGIVE MYSELF.
Hating yourself makes for a pretty miserable internal environment. It also destroys relationships because other humans can only endure so much of your self-defeating attitude. The key to beating this lie is to first get to the point where you accept that you do qualify for forgiveness because God says so, and God outranks you. Once forgiveness becomes an option on the table, you learn to embrace it by focusing on pleasing God.
A common obstacle to self-forgiveness is the assumption that you must first become okay with what you did before you can forgive it. Well, no, you can actually go around yourself by focusing on a more important goal. Pleasing God is what matters in life, and God demands submission from us. Once God grants you salvation, He changes His attitude towards you, and He declares that you are eternally accepted by Him. He will not take back that acceptance regardless of what you do—this is His choice, not yours. Now because God freely chooses to have this accepting attitude towards you, you please Him by choosing to embrace His view of you. You may inwardly think that God is being far too gracious with you, just as many believe He is far too harsh to throw souls into Hell. But you don’t have to agree with God in order to accept what He is saying. If He says you are forgivable, then that’s how it is. If He says your past choices do not define your current worth today, then that’s how it is.
We don’t submit to God because we think He’s right about everything. We submit to Him because He is the Absolute Authority over all things. This is His Creation. He controls the rules of the game. Submission is driven by respect, not personal agreement, and because of this, you can learn to accept God’s view on all kinds of things that you personally disagree with. While this often seems difficult when dealing with your own shameful issues, you actually have more practice with this than you realize. If you have a friend who thinks elephants are fantastic, you might not personally agree with her, but you respect her tastes and you enjoy buying her elephant paraphernalia because you can see she gets such a kick out of it. In the same way, God says that you are His dearly loved creature. He says He delights in pouring mercy down on your undeserving head. He says He loves the idea of spending forever with you in Heaven. Does it make sense? No. It sounds ludicrous when you’re feeling like some total loser or some depraved piece of yuck. But God’s views are still His views, and it is out of respect for Him that you choose to accept them.
The fact that submission is such a big deal to God opens the way for you to greatly please God without being able to personally resonate with what He says. Accepting something is different than agreeing with it, and God only requires acceptance from you. As a human, you don’t agree that it is fair for your loved one to be eternally tortured for not submitting to God on earth. That’s your opinion, and God does not expect you to honestly agree with or even be able to understand many of His views. But He does demand that you submit to them, and that is a matter of acceptance. So when it comes to God throwing someone you love into Hell, the proper response is, “It seems like overkill to me, God, but You’re the Boss. So if that’s what You want, then that’s the way it should be. My loyalty is with You.” The rebellious response is, “No way, God, You can’t be serious! That’s totally unfair and I won’t accept it! I’m going to keep pestering You to have mercy on my dead loved ones because my loyalty is with them, not You.” That second option is very popular in certain branches of the Church, but it is very displeasing to God because it is a refusal to submit to God’s Supreme Authority.
As a Christian, you want to please God, and that means accepting His great mercy and love for you even though you personally don’t think you deserve them. By accepting that God’s views trump your own, you are honoring Him with your submission and greatly pleasing Him. This is a thrilling fact about God: He is extremely easy to succeed with. Even when we’re down in the muck of despair and self-loathing, we can still succeed with God by choosing to embrace a soul attitude of submission.
LIE #4: MY PAST MISTAKES DEFINE WHO I AM TODAY.
In the past, you acted like a sleaze. Does that mean you can’t be an honorable man today? Not at all. God says it is your current choices, not your past mistakes that define how pleasing you are in His sight right now. It is because God focuses on the present with you that you end up having endless fresh starts. Maybe you went ballistic on your girlfriend yesterday and assaulted her. It doesn’t mean you can’t get right with God today. Maybe you just aborted your baby and now you feel just sick about it. It doesn’t mean you can’t get into a good place with God right now. God makes His pleasure perpetually available to us. He judges us by our soul choices, not our actions, and this makes reconciliation with Him an instant process. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to complete certain actions before you can obtain God’s approval. When our wrong deeds can be reversed, we often think God will hold a grudge until we physically undo the damage by returning that item we stole or by completing the sentence we were given by human judges. Yet God judges you by your soul attitude, not your external behaviors. Pleasing God today is simply a matter of sincerely wanting to please Him—of desiring for Him to have His way in your life (see What it Means to be Aligned with God). When God sees that your soul is wanting to please Him, He is pleased—it’s that simple.
LIE #5: GOD DOESN’T WANT TO TALK TO ME.
God always wants to talk to you. As a Christian, you’ll never see the day that God tells you to shut up and go away. When they feel bogged down with shame, one of the first things Christians do is shut down on God. If they pray at all, it’s never about the things that are weighing most heavily on their minds. But the longer you avoid talking about the difficult issues with God, the more phony you are with Him. God hates hypocrisy and He loves total honesty. Now is the time to take an inventory of tough topics in your mind—all of those subjects which you find too embarrassing, awkward, and shameful to discuss with other humans. You need to be talking about everything with God, and the harder something is to pray about, the more urgently you need to do it.
Even if you’re not a Christian, God still wants to talk to you. There are a lot of souls in this world who have been labeled “unforgivable” by other humans, therefore they are too afraid to approach God. If this is you, then you need to remember that God is not a human, and He doesn’t act like one. While humans are misers of mercy, God delights in being merciful. While humans love to focus on your past sins and current flaws, God focuses on your soul attitude towards Him. As your Creator, God has designed you with great potential to flourish and succeed with Him. As a non-Christian, the first step in you getting out from under shame is to start talking to God and to realize that obtaining salvation from Him has nothing to do with you earning His favor through good works.
There’s only one reason that you exist in this moment. The reason is that there are three Gods who want you to be. They initially brought you into existence for the purpose of having a personal relationship with Them. Life is not about pleasing people or striving to be a good person. Life is about pursuing an ever deepening relationship with the three non-human Beings who created you. Their personal interest in you is what defines your worth, not your rap sheet. Their judgment of you is going to determine where you end up in eternity. Their current view of you determines how much of a success you are right now.
Before we can get anywhere in life, we have to realize what the purpose of life is. And once we set our sights on pleasing and knowing our three glorious Creators, great peace and hope come from realizing that They are so very easy to succeed with. Because our Creators are such kind and merciful Beings, we do not have to settle for a life of shame. We do not have to keep dragging our past around like an anchor and let it rob us of any joy in the future. Once your Gods say that you are forgiven, that’s what you are. And since They are so willing to move on from the past, you need to decide to join Them and be receptive to the freeing truths that They want to teach you. We get bound up in shame by embracing lies. We soar free by submitting to our Gods and embracing the positive truths that They teach us. Decide today that you are going to choose freedom.
Understanding How Easy it is to Succeed with God
Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy
What To Do When People Won’t Forgive You
Identifying False Conviction: Three Easy Tests
Overcoming Survivor Guilt
Learning from Yahweh: What It Means To Be Holy