Updated: Shame and Guilt: Why Do We Put Ourselves Through It


Update: I realized later that I don’t think that I answered the question, and I read another bloggers post on grace that I want to share.  The update is after the 7th paragraph.

I do a lot of thinking. Probably too much, but it has its advantages. I’ve become quite adept at picking up on patterns. After 10+ years in youth ministry, if I get a good chance to get to know a kid, I can usually tell when they are beginning to get unfocused. The problem I run into is that I have to confront them about what I observe. I have a hard time doing that. If the kids are into something that they shouldn’t be, it usually comes out sometime down the line. However, it’s that intervening time that always amazes me. The fact that they will get themselves into something, and when they want to get out, they can’t say it. Something stops them. Usually, it is shame or guilt of the thing that they are doing.

About 5 years ago, we had a group of kids in the ministry that were highly dramatic. One evening, one of them left the praise and worship time during the service, with at least one or two friends in tow. When I asked them what was going on, the one that left originally said that I would get mad if she told me. I reassured her that I wouldn’t, but she wouldn’t tell me. Later, I found out much later that she had been cutting herself. Shame or guilt prevented her from coming forward and speaking the thing that had her in bondage, and taking the freedom from guilt through grace.

As I think about it, this is part of the justifying grace that we talk about in church. Just as if I’d not sinned, as we like to say in Emmaus. The thing that I try to get kids to do is take that step. When I’m aware of something that is holding them back, I try to get them to speak it, as is says in James 5:16. However, sometimes that is only the beginning. Usually, the guilt or shame has to do with the feeling that they have let everyone down. Like they aren’t the good kids their parents tell them that they are. Typically, they are still good kids and the things that they have done, while not what we would want them to do, doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person.

If the guilt or shame hasn’t been dealt with in the past, it becomes a wound in the spirit that continues to require attention. It keeps bringing the wounded person back to the fact that they feel unworthy of the good things that God has given them. I know of few people that don’t have to admit their guilt in some way. Experience has taught me that one of two things happens, they find some way to numb the pain from the wound, or they admit it, get help and comfort and move on. The latter is what God wants for us. I find that with youth, they may tell their youth pastor or some adult that they trust, which may partially heal the wound, but they never tell the person that they feel won’t understand the most, their parents. Then go onto the next relationship, or drug, or drink, or what have you, to medicate the part of the pain that is still around. That pain comes around intermittently driving us into a dark place, leaving us feeling helpless.

A youth worker conference I once attended had a speaker (I don’t remember who) related a story that he had counseled a girl who became sexually active with a boyfriend who she ended up breaking up with eventually. Somewhere in the course of their escapades, she had a pregnancy scare. If I remember his story right it was after they had broken up. She wouldn’t go to her parents for comfort, but rather to her friends. She got some comfort, but was always reminded by something that she wasn’t a “good kid,” because she wouldn’t admit what had happened to her parents. He lost touch with her after she met this really great guy, and went off to college. So he doesn’t know if her pain was resolved. The one thing he said was that even though her parents would have been disappointed,  they  would have done anything for her, and walked with her through this pain. Instead, she probably still gets reminded about it. Hopefully, she won’t keep running from that pain, and has spoken about the pain.

The idea is that God wants us to be whole healthy people, not walking wounded. In Celebrate Recovery, we go through the 12 steps, one of which is realizing that we eventually have to make amends for the things we have done to others. Making amends usually helps to heal the old wound so that they can go on living their life without the pain recurring later. Something that usually gets numbed by something else.

There are times when I wish I knew how to coax the kids in the youth group into living a more transparent life. However, we adults aren’t much different. We succumb to shame and guilt to hide what we have done, only to tell people that it isn’t any of their business, when they try to help. That’s why one of my most despised phrases is, “but you don’t understand.” It’s just an excuse to throw up a wall and keep the shame and guilt in. However, pain is pain. The experiences are different, and through shared experiences we are healed and can move on. That’s what God wants. We are to be hands and feet, helping to heal and continue our short journeys, in this life.


Update:  I realized that I didn’t answer the question about why do we put ourselves through it. The simple answer is pride. We think we can do this by ourselves. We think that if we screw up, that it doesn’t really affect anybody, but ourselves. We think that we are beyond fixing. We are too bad for God to use us.  We feel that we don’t deserve the love from family, friends, and God.

So what can counter this? Adam Mclane had a great post today on grace.

Failure is a part of our walk with Christ. Some would say it is the beginning of our walk with Jesus. It’s part of being a leader. It’s part of maturing. It’s part of learning.

You simply cannot walk with Jesus in a state of false perception of yourself, your mess, and your unique ability to do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

(Read the whole thing.) We need to embrace the fact that we are all imperfect and that walking with Christ means we have to accept our mess and that He does as well. From there, He will work to fix you.

So give yourself some grace and everyone else. God already has.

Updated: Shame and Guilt: Why Do We Put Ourselves Through It

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