The other day I was tucked on my porch in the muted sunshine, paging through the Psalms, when that five-letter word, shame, leapt at me. It made me wonder. What am I ashamed of?
I was a little amazed at how fast answers pounced on my mind. Shame carries tremendous power to sear itself on the memory, some incidences occurring twenty-five years ago–already forgiven and dealt with, but not forgotten: that cruel response when I was in fifth grade to that kid hurting from family strife . Those seasons when I felt socially just not enough. Lately, it’s the way I continually overreact with my kids.
And strangely related–I find myself wondering about the place of shame in parenting. Watching other parents use shame in discipline has the power to crumple me like tinfoil inside. I want to say, grace. Grace! Oh, teach them grace!
But in my own parenting–particularly in my moments of anger–I think, Wait. There is appropriate shame to be had here. Have you no shame that you just left your sibling like that? That those words just hurled from your own mouth?
Shame, I think, articulates that gap between who we wish we were (appropriately or not) and who we have powerfully demonstrated ourselves lacking to be. It’s a fear of being found out, naked in all we truly are.
I find the contrast remarkable between legitimate shame–a form of grief, really–and illegitimate shame in these verses:
9 …I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 2 Corinthians 7:9-11
I’d propose there are universally two forms of shame in us: the legitimate guilt, its hard edges carved out by the realization of the pain an destruction we have wrought from our own scorched-earth, hellbent march to the sea. To tell the truth, I want my children to sense this shame; that grieving that births humble change.
And there’s of course illegitimate guilt, perhaps by someone else’s shame projected on us. Or sometimes it’s our own inability to forgive what others already have atoned, our own standards being “higher” and untouchable by the kindness of grace: You don’t know me. You don’t know what I deserve. And of course, sometimes shame is cast upon us, simply because we’re within range of someone else’s: the wife whose husband chose the affair. The terrified, abused child.
It may take a long time, but I hope my kids and I can eventually identify this impostor brand of shame that deforms nearly all of us, curling us in its heat, hardening us to a twisted shape only slightly reminiscent of what it once was. I long for us to plunge deeply together into that warm, unexpected pool found where there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I hope we come to settle there, engulfed by favor we did not and could never earn; in forgiveness and utter acceptance that was earned for us, not by us.
So I wonder if perhaps good parenting lies somewhere not in casting and heaping shame from that I would have expected more from you sort of lofty perch–which I, too, often find myself inhabiting–and perhaps more probing, humble questions to acknowledge our mutual need for Jesus, the Shame Eraser.