"Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.
And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God
walking in the garden in the cool of the day
and the man and his wife hid themselves
from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden."
Shame is an interesting emotion to study. This emotion first shows up in the Scripture in the account of the first sin. We are all familiar with the story. God had given Adam and Eve one simple boundary and that was not to eat of the fruit of a specific tree in the midst of the garden. Satan approached Adam and Eve in the form of a beautiful serpent. Oh, how cunning he was as he carefully crafted a plan to tempt them. His plan had several parts to it. The first part was a simple, but poignant question designed to get them to question the goodness of the Creator. The question was followed by a lie and then a half truth. The lie was that they wouldn't die. But hindsight shows us they died spiritually, which led to physical death.
The half truth was that they would become like God and know the difference between evil and good. What Satan didn't tell them, was that the boundary God had given them was a boundary of protection, not deprivation. It was a boundary designed to keep them from death. Neither did Satan tell them the boundary provided them the opportunity of a choice to love God through obedience--a needed choice because there can be no love without choice. What Satan didn't tell them was that disobedience would have painful consequences--consequences like guilt and shame, broken relationships, and generational sin that would literally break their hearts as parents. What Satan didn't tell them was that he was trying to thwart God's loving plans for them. What Satan didn't tell them was that he had a desire to destroy the hearts of those God had so lovingly created.
Satan was successful. He drew Adam and Eve's focus away from their God and the good they had in their relationship with Him. He also drew their focus away from the joy they had as man and wife living openly without shame and guilt. He drew their focus onto the one forbidden fruit. They were so enthralled by the exchange that they didn't even realize that Satan's words were stirring new thoughts in their minds. We all know the thoughts all too well. "I deserve more." "If God really loved me, He would let me have this." "Who is God to keep me from this?"
Little did they recognize that along with those new thoughts came feeling that until now were foreign to their hearts--the feelings we, too, know well--feelings of deprivation as they gazed at the beautiful fruit God had created, the feeling of insatiable hunger as they imagined the taste of the fruit upon their tongues, and the feeling of pride as they desired to be wise.
Oh their human pride grew strong and their thoughts grew loud. The fruit in hand, they took a bite. And while the juice of the fruit was still on their lips, their cloaks of innocence fell, leaving them standing there, naked and exposed. The feeling of exposure gave way to something new--a burning hot sensation we all know as shame. And not just a little shame, lots of it. They worked together to fix the problem of their shame, designing loin coverings out of leaves. But as soon as they sensed the presence of the Lord. they found the leaves inadequate to cover the hot shame now residing in their in their hearts. So they hid from the presence of the Creator.
They hid from Love Himself. But the Lord, full of grace, called out to them, asking them questions of His own. But, His questions were not designed to breed discontentment as the enemy's had been. His questions were designed to bring them back to the truth--the truth of who He is as almighty God, the truth of who they were as His creation, and the truth of the relationship He wanted them to have with Him. But they learned well from their encounter with the Enemy.
Their shame intensified, as it always does in the face of exposure, they tried to quiet its voice instead of letting it do its gracious work of exposing sin. They hid again, but this time they hid behind half truths of their own. Eve spoke honestly as she blamed the Serpent for his deception and Adam spoke honestly when he blamed Eve for sharing and pointed out that God had been the one to create Eve. But neither of them spoke the truth about the choices they made that fateful day. Neither of them spoke about the thoughts and the feelings that had been stirred up by the Evil One and his smooth talk. Nor did they confess the doubts that they had about God's goodness and His one boundary of protection. Nor did they speak about the deep shame that had been birthed in their hearts even though their actions made it presence known.
The shame that was birthed in Adam and Eve's hearts that day did not stop with them. It has taken root in every human heart since then. And when the shame isn't dealt with, it gets covered over with lies, denial, hiding and blaming, and it becomes toxic. The longer it stays the deeper it goes until a person has a core of shame. That core of shame plays out in our lives in all sorts of ways. It is the root of the beliefs that we are too much and not enough at the same time. It is the root of all of strongholds that cause us to believe that we are unlovable, unforgiveable, and invisible even to God. It is the root of our judgmental hearts that constantly compare and find fault with another or with ourselves. It is at the root of our hiding behind masks of the perfectly happy, struggle-free lives of faith.
When we don't deal with our shame and we marry, we are prone to developing a marriage that is shame based as well. You know, the marriage in which both parties hide their trues selves from one another because of the fear of rejection. These are marriages in which the pasts of the mates were never divulged, mistakes are continuously kept hidden, and lies are frequently told because neither feels safe enough to tell the truth. These are the marriages where deep intimacy is secretly longed for, but neither is willing to express the truth that they really don't feel loved. And the truth is, they can't be loved because they are afraid of truly being known. Sadly a marriage relationship cloaked in shame fails to reflect what God designed it to reflect--the love that Jesus has for His church.
As a shamed based couple grows into a family, the shame permeates as the parents pass their shame down to their kids. They do this through shaming messages, lack of grace, masks of perfection, fake happiness, hidden family secrets, and family rules of don't see, don't hear, don't talk, don't feel, and don't ever rock the boat by pointing out the truth. And then the kids grow up and marry and pass the shame on to their kids and their kids pass it on to their kids. And the lies, the hiding, and the blaming continues and continues and continues.
Shame that was originally designed to point us to the need of our Savior becomes a toxic strong hold when we keep it hidden. Shame can run so deep that we carry the shame into the churches we attend and their it grows turning churches into something they were never meant to be--shame based churches. These are churches where most people wear masks and pretend to be something their not because of the fear of being found out, because of the fear of not measuring up, because of the fear of rejection, and because of the fear of exposure. These are the churches that are filled with sin that no one calls sin. They are also the churches that are so seeped in legalism that what isn't sin is called sin and judgments run rampant and are harsh to the core instilling and deepening shame instead guiding us out of it. Sometimes they are churches being lead by leaders who themselves are so filled with shame and who are perpetually hiding sinful strongholds. They either avoid preaching on certain topics or may camp on those topics believing that if they continually preach on it no one would ever guess that is their secret struggle. These are also churches where people control others with judgments, manipulation, and intimidation so that people live in fear--fear of not measuring up, fear of rejection, fear of losing salvation, fear of criticism, and fear not doing enough. These are also churches in which sin is hidden to protect it reputation instead of being places in which sin is safely confessed and lovingly dealt with. These are places were confession is met with condemnation rather than love and grace.
Next week I will share with you what I believe is the way out of shame. But today I want to leave you with a few questions to ask yourself:
- Is shame an occasional emotion or a toxic form you feel like you are drowning in?
- Do you believe you might be struggling with a core of shame?
- Is your marriage based on truth and honest sharing of both the past and present? Is it a safe place to be yourself and your spouse to be his or herself?
- Is your church balanced in its teaching? Is it safe to ask questions or express concerns? Do you feel safe being real in your church or are you hiding behind a mask? If so, what is behind the fear? Is it something inside you that needs to be dealt with, a misunderstanding of the Word, or a shame issue your church needs to recon with?