(Part 1 of a Series)
Now, if you know the difference between embarrassment and shame, you'll remind me that I shouldn't feel shame at all about something like that. Shame is the feeling of painful awareness of sin (whether you call it by that name or not). For non-moral failures, I might understandably feel embarrassed, but I don't deserve to feel shame.
I do feel it, though. I feel it whenever anyone says anything negative about me or my efforts (especially my writing). I feel it even when the criticism is constructive, unless its offered very gently and obliquely. It's still hard for me to separate failure (or poor performance) in a task from failure as a whole person.
At this point, the world would be telling me that I need more self-esteem. But is that what God says I need?
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends (2Co 10:18).
That verse tells me that it doesn't matter what I think of myself. It matters what the Lord thinks of me. Want a few more? Just listen to the "healthy self-esteem" in these verses...and what God thinks about it.
So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Jesus, in Rev 3:16-17).
"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Jesus, in Luke 18:10-14)
For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin (Ps. 36:2 NIV)
In other words, we can have tons of "high self-esteem," and have ourselves completely, tragically fooled.
"But wait!" you may protest. "You can't mean to tell me that God would ever want us to feel ashamed!"
Don't take my word for it. What does God say?
Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD. (Jer 6:15)
"But what about in the Psalms?" you point out. "David says, 'Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed.'" (Ps. 25:3) True, he says similar things throughout the Psalms. But read the whole verse here.
Indeed, let no one who waits on You be ashamed; Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause. (Psa 25:3)
David never says that people who are embracing sin should go shame-free. He says quite the opposite. There is such a thing as godly shame, and as the verse in Jeremiah tells us above, it's a dreadful thing to fail to be ashamed when we ought to be.
If we pursue self-esteem, we run the very grave risk of glossing over our own sin, failing to see where we need to repent, and being numbered among the proud whom God resists (James 4:6).
So then, what? Should I continue to feel the kind of shame that plagues me when I see my own shortcomings? Absolutely not! But what am I to do about it, if not pursuing self-esteem?
I think this is a good place to stop. Take some time to think and pray about what has been said already. I promise, I'll come back with the two steps that I believe I need to follow to finally be free of inappropriate shame in a way that will delight my Heavenly Father. But if ending this way leaves you feeling uncomfortable or upset, I beg of you to search the Scriptures for what they actually say about this subject, ignoring the smooth talk of modern-day flatterers in whitewashed tombstone pulpits. It is far better to feel godly shame and experience the true repentance that follows, than to attempt to face judgment day with swaggering bravado that will melt before Him like a moth in a volcano.
For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted (2Co 7:10)
(Photo from Stock.xchng by Vivre)