If you’ve been around country music in Australia for any length of time you’d be familiar with Slim Dusty. His career as a country music entertainer spanned nearly seven decades. One of his early songs went like this:
And the biggest disappointment in the family was me
The only twisted branch upon our good old family tree
I just couldn’t be the person they expected me to be
And the biggest disappointment in the world was me
Why do people think like that? Why would we tell ourselves that we’re a disappointment to our loved ones? Why would we listen to the little voice in our heads that says we’re inadequate, we’re not good enough, we’re a failure?
It’s something called shame.
Brene Brown did a great TED Talk on the subject of shame, and she called it the swampland of the soul. I think we all get affected by shame at some stage, but for some people shame has led to addictions, violence and even suicide. Shame is that voice inside our heads that says, you’re not good enough, and it eats away at you and leaves you feeling worthless.
Some people will tell you the way to overcome shame is to improve your self-esteem, but I want to suggest something else. You see, one of the big issues with shame is around identity. People need to find some sense of identity and it’s usually shame that holds them back. They begin to believe the voice that says they’re no good – and that becomes their identity.
In an earlier post I quoted veteran biker John Smith’s book, Busting the Myth of Self Esteem, in which he argued that the western approach to self esteem has led to us thinking that the purpose of life is to find ourselves, but that there is actually something more: the search for meaning and purpose beyond ourselves.
There’s a guy we read about in the Bible called Paul who was an accessory to murder and was known as a violent person. He had a radical conversion to Christianity and over time wrote some significant letters that make up a large part of the New Testament in the Bible.
If anyone should have experienced shame it’s Paul because of his past experiences, but he said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone. But he also said this: For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. Now that sounds like a statement of shame, but then he goes on: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.
That was a pretty significant statement of identity: By the grace of God I am what I am. Here was a man who overcame shame and discovered his identity in Jesus Christ.
But he also had this to say: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. That’s a pretty significant statement too. Why would we condemn ourselves when the creator of the universe has promised us that he loves us so much he sent his son Jesus to die for us, in order to bring us into a right relationship with himself.
In those moments when you doubt yourself, or worse, you actually tell yourself that you’re no good, remember Paul, an accessory to murder, who learnt that his identity was rock solid when he allowed Jesus to change his life.
You can download or hear my message to Maida Vale Baptist Church on shame here.