Lost & Missing Sung Prayers: What is Shame?
By Josh Lavender
When I think of shame, I think of dropping a tray in a school cafeteria with everyone watching and laughing. Or falling off of a platform while leading worship (it actually happens more than you would think). I once heard a pastor speak on shame and he cleverly illustrated it by showing pictures of dogs who had wreaked havoc on couches and toilet paper. Afraid to look their owners in the eyes, shame was all over their faces.
According to Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston, shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Brené’s work is so unique and interesting that, with over 50 million views, she has one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world called, “The Power of Vulnerability.” In this talk she says that all people experience shame but that no one wants to talk about it.
Shame is often a complex and heavy topic, but biblical writers didn’t shy away from writing about it. Instead, they regularly shared their own experiences of deep shame. In Psalm 32:3-4, David describes the discomfort of keeping his own sin hidden, saying:
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
The next verse reminds us of God’s response when sin is brought into the light of his love:
“I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.” – Psalm 32:5
For songwriters who want to join David and others in writing about shame. Here are some things that would be helpful to remember:
- Shame comes from different places but tells the same lie
Shame could come from a situation where we felt humiliated. It could come from knowing we’ve done something wrong—guilt—and believing that makes us unworthy of love and belonging. Shame might also come from something that someone else has done to us that causes us to think we are unlovable. When writing about shame, remember that people experience shame for different reasons. But whatever reason shame shows its ugly head, it always tells the same lie—that we are unworthy of love, connection, or belonging. This is one of the very lies that Jesus laid down his life to disprove and silence forever.
2. Shame hates vulnerability, transparency, and community
Just like David when his bones were wasting away and his strength was dried up, shame does its best work when we are isolated, silent, and have all our defenses up. Since shame is based on the lie that something makes us unworthy of love or belonging, it loses its power in the presence of loving community.
3. Jesus wants to take away our shame
The cross stands as an everlasting monument that God loves all people and wants every one of us to find belonging in his family. We see the shame-melting love of God in the person of Jesus. Worship begins and ends pointing to Jesus as the answer.