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Basic Christian life skills 4: Dealing with shame


Reading: Genesis 3:6-10

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?”

10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Reading: Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24

1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you. 23 Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Sermon Transcript

Shame and guilt are not the same thing. Of the two, shame can be the most harmful.

  • Guilt is about something I have done.
  • Shame is about who I am.

Guilt can sometimes lead to shame if it is not resolved.
There are two kinds of shame:

  • Healthy shame is a good thing. It shows that I am in touch with my true self and that I am uncomfortable with anything less as a standard for my conduct. It leads me to a determination to live according to my true self. It should be welcomed and acted upon.
  • Unhealthy shame is a bad thing. It takes no account of my true self. I am convinced by others that I am of no account, that I am unlovable, unacceptable. Unhealthy shame does untold damage. It should be dealt with severely.

Psalm 139 points us in the direction of dealing with unhealthy shame in healthy ways – especially in verses 13 and 14, where full recognition is taken of the fact that I am God’s wonderful creation. This gives me the confidence to approach God, even though I am aware of the fact that I am a sinner, in need of God’s guidance (verses 23-24).

Discussion questions:
  1. Which insights into the way shame works were new to you?
  2. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve covering themselves with fig leaves is a powerful image for what shame does to us. What effects of shame does it symbolize?
  3. In Psalm 139:13-14 the poet expresses astonishment at God’s creative work in himself. What effect does it have on you to think of yourself as a masterpiece in God’s creation?
  4. In Psalm 139:23-24 David asks God to search his thoughts. Why does he do this?
  5. What damage have you seen shame do in others?
  6. How can we help someone suffering from shame?