Do You Live in a Grace-Filled or Shame Based Environment?
“Shame on you!”
The words ricocheted through her heart, the tears falling fast. She had heard these words spoken many times in her childhood, but was unprepared to hear them again as a grown woman. But maturity had taught her a few things and this time, she didn’t hear the words in the same way.
As she prayed about her response, she realized a few things. In this situation, she was not sinning. She had merely shared a struggle that was met with this harsh response. Her desire was to show love and kindness, but she had been hurt and misunderstood. When she expressed her need for more time to work through this struggle, it was met with these harsh words. Prayer reminded her of the love the Father had lavished on her. It reminded her of her purpose- to bring glory to God alone, not to strive to live up to man’s ever shifting standards.
“You’re such a jerk! Why can’t you be like the other girls?”
Reminiscing about these words spoken by a teacher three years ago, brings tears to her eyes. These were unfair and unkind words spoken to a child who was struggling by an adult charged with helping her students grow in maturity. But the words have seeped deep into her soul. Maybe she is a jerk. Maybe there is something wrong with her, because she does think differently and she can’t quite seem to fit into the boxes that others want her to fit into.
Several years ago, I began studying the concept of grace, because I had come to realize that while I understood grace on an intellectual level, there was a discrepancy between this knowledge and my experience. Grace was great of course, but was it really amazing? I wasn’t sure.
And so, I began to read and to contemplate and to pray and as I did so, I discovered that grace IS truly amazing, but it is only understood when one recognizes and believes the truth about their own sinful state and their desperate need for Christ. Without this understanding, grace is just a nice little blessing that we recognize on occasion rather than an overwhelming sense of gratitude for how deep and vast the love of God is and how He has poured that love out on us and IS pouring it out from a well that never runs dry.
All of the “shame on yous” could never truly teach me to see the depths of my own sin, but seeing the lengths that God was willing to go to in order to draw me into relationship with Himself has changed everything for me. I didn’t deserve it (this was the crucial piece of this puzzle that I had to wrestle with and truly accept!). There was no merit of my own, no goodness on my part that could make me right with God. If there was, why would Jesus have come to this world, humbling himself and becoming obedient to death on a cross? Isn’t that utter foolishness if I could save myself?
I had dipped my toe into the pool of grace and now I wanted to dive in. Grace was beginning to wash over me and I wanted more.
Shame had been a motivation in my life for as long as I could remember. Figure out what people want and try to make them happy was an unspoken mantra. Don’t admit your inadequacies. Be who people want you to be and all will be well. But cracks were beginning to develop as I experienced more conflict with others when I pushed back on the inconsistencies I saw. The truth was that it was impossible to please everyone no matter how hard I tried.
A friend posed this question to me in one of our conversations- “Do we live in a grace-filled or shame based environment?” And perhaps a better question, which environment should we be living in?
This question has been resonating in my heart ever since. When I am tempted to say “what’s wrong with you?!!” to one of my children, I am learning to bite my tongue. Because while I am legitimately frustrated with their behavior in the moment, I desire lasting change in their hearts, not a momentary shaming that will result in a desired behavior change. Instead, I want to seek the grace-filled response. This takes time. It takes a willingness to listen to their hearts, to truly understand the motives behind their behavior. It involves leading them to the throne of grace where they are invited to come boldly in order to obtain mercy and find grace to help in times of need (Hebrews 4:16, KJV).
I have learned that shame condemns, but grace convicts.
Shame leaves us feeling miserable. Once again, we have failed others and we need to try harder the next time.
But grace leaves us feeling free. It shows us that we’re not supposed to trust in our own faulty strength, but instead, we get to run to the throne room and trust in Jesus to be our strength.
Shame emphasizes our inadequacies; grace magnifies Christ’s sufficiency.
Shame focuses on our own guilt; grace focuses on complete forgiveness.
Shame points fingers; grace points to Christ.
I have found that when we are focused on being grace-filled, shame based environments or attitudes stick out like a sore thumb. Shaming others is manipulative. It is an attempt to exert control over others. As a parent, it can be a response to embarrassment (and when you have outside-the-box kinds of kids, there is ample opportunity for this!). When you are surrounded by shaming behavior, it is defeating rather than life giving.
But when others are seeking grace as well, there is a beautiful communion of spirit. There is a like-mindedness that draws hearts towards truth. There is a freedom to fail, because there is no condemnation. Admittance of sin is celebrated, because it means that forgiveness can be sought and true heart change can occur. There is a desire for all things to be brought into the light, for a quickness to admit fault in order to seek peace and righteousness.
If you have never considered what kind of environment you live in, might I encourage you to do so?
Here are some passages that encourage grace-filled living:
1 John 1, Romans 8:1-11, 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Hebrews 4:14-16