In 1945, Spade Cooley and the Western Swing Dance Gang played Shame on You, the first in a series of six top ten singles for the group. The song tells the story of a fellow confronting his girlfriend who is running around with other guys. The song’s lyrics, especially the final lyrics, tell us all we need to know about how shame affects us and how we interact with others because of it.
The lyrics unapologetically describe the effects of shame, including not being able to hold one’s head up high, and being unable to look others in the eye. The song is a powerful reminder of what shame can do to us.
A Natural Emotion
Shame is a natural emotion we experience when we have done something wrong or embarrassing. As opposed to guilt which pertains to what we have done, shame refers to a painful and distressing internal feeling. When we feel shame, we think less of ourselves, prompting us to want to hide and not face others, literally and emotionally. Our whole demeanor changes. It’s as though a weight is bearing down on us.
There is a more powerful voice than shame.
In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate fruit from the Tree of Knowledge despite God’s command not to do so. They disobeyed and disappointed the only friend in the world they had, their creator. They immediately had their eyes opened and became aware of their nakedness. They were exposed. They sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. When they heard God walking in the garden, they hid among the trees in the garden. They couldn’t look their friend, their creator, in the eyes. They had shame.
How We Feel and Act
This biblical account illustrates how we feel after doing something wrong or embarrassing, and how destructive shame can be. Can you imagine how they felt inside? Can you fathom the depths of their shame after disobeying their only friend in the world, with whom they had walked daily?
Shame has a voice. It tells us we’re no good, inferior, and unworthy of respect. When we listen to it, we start down the proverbial rabbit’s hole. If we continue to listen, our feelings can run the gamut of anger, despair, and even depression.
A More Powerful Voice
There is a more powerful voice, the voice of the Lord our God, the same voice that confronted, cursed, and banished Adam and Eve. However, while still capable of judgement, that voice now speaks to us with mercy and forgiveness.
Once we face and expose what has caused us shame, confess our sins, and accept his forgiveness, shame is neutralized. Even if our actions are not sins, but embarrassing actions we regret, the Lord is there to help us recognize our imperfection and move on with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Shame Has a Role
Shame can play a role in convicting us of ways we fall short of our expectations, those of others, and God’s.
Most importantly, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and being in God’s Word to claim his promises and his truth, we can face feelings telling us we are unworthy of God’s love and friendship of those around us.
Listen to God's Words
Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. (Isaiah 54:4)
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians)
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John 2:1)
Also read: Micah 7:19, Psalm 40:11-12, Romans 3:23
In the Words of Others
“Shame arises from the fear of men, conscience from the fear of God.” Samuel Johnson
“Shame is a soul-eating emotion.” C. J. Jung
“God never leads the soul through guilt, shame, or fear, but attracts the soul through love.” Richard Rohr
Think About It
Recall a time when you felt shame or shamed by others. What feelings did you experience at the time?
In what ways did the feelings impact your life? In what ways did your reactions to shame impact others?
Has the Lord been involved in your experience of shame? If he was, describe your feelings at the time?