When I was around 10 years of age, my brother and I were climbing a tree. We scooted out over a long, horizontal branch and had to climb around another one that was sticking straight up from the middle of the one we were on. It was easy enough going forward but coming back was more difficult. My brother was nimble and had enough courage to get around it, but I was stuck. Every time I made the effort to try and back around the limb, I felt like I was going to fall and because I couldn’t see where I was going, I aborted several attempts.
So, I asked my brother to go and get my mother to see if she could be of help. When she returned, she had several neighbor kids in tow and instead of coaching me down, she proceeded to laugh at me and encouraged the other kids to do so as well. She had used shame to try to catalyze courage. I did make it around the limb, but not because I felt courage; rather it was due to shame and humiliation.
Now, I don’t blame or hold this against my mother, but I use it to illustrate that as parents, leaders, coaches, etc., shame is an inappropriate way to motivate others. The reason is that shame is connected to our identity. Shame says, “I am a mistake, I am a failure, I am wrong, I am defective, I am not enough, I am inadequate, etc.”. Shame ultimately does not empower; it disempowers because the best of who we are can only arise from a secure identity. Shame also causes us to want to hide and disconnect because “when we believe we are flawed we also believe that we are unworthy of love or belonging” (author Brené Brown).
This is what happened in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat freely from any tree in the Garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. However, because of the serpent’s deception, they chose to eat from this tree. Immediately they became aware of their nakedness, sewed fig leaves to cover themselves and hid from God. Shame had entered the world and we have been hiding from God, and others, ever since.
The good news is that Jesus rectified the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. His death on the cross, one of the most shaming instruments of death, paid the penalty for that original sin. In the Bible it says that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). In essence, Jesus shamed shame. Faith in him and what he accomplished on the cross frees us from the power of shame. And this freedom makes it possible to hear God say, “you are a dearly loved son/daughter who belongs in my family”. We are worthy and no longer need to hide.
Jim Kubiak is an associate pastor at Harvest Valley Worship Center, a refuge for healing and a launchpad for transformation. He can be reached at hvwc.com.