A Proven Path to Move from Shame to Healing
If you persistently feel you don't measure up, you are feeling shame—that vague, undefined heaviness that presses on our spirit, dampens our gratitude for the goodness of life, and diminishes our joy. The good news is that shame can be healed. With warmth and wit, Lewis B. Smedes examines why and how we feel shame, and presents a profound, spiritual plan for healing. Step by step, Smedes outlines the road to well-being and the peace that comes from knowing we are accepted by the grace of One whose acceptance of us matters most.
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About the Author
Lewis B. Smedes (1921-2002) was a renowned author, ethicist, and theologian. He was a professor of theology and ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, for twenty-five years. He is the award-winning author of fifteen books, including Forgive and Forget.
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Shame and Grace
Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve
A Very Heavy Feeling
A pervasive sense of shame is the ongoing premise that one is
fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or
not fully valid as a human being.
I felt vaguely guilty, but I could not think of anything in particular to feel guilty about. My friend Neil Warren had my number. He set his eyes in the shape of a smile when I told him this, ten or so years ago now, and said to me, "I don't think you feel guilty at all, Lew; I think that what you feel is shame."
What he said sounded like wisdom, but it took me a while to understand it. I had never had the gumption to do much bold sinning, so I was not hexed much by ghosts of former sins. But I lugged around inside of me a dead weight of not-good-enoughness. This, I sensed, was what Neil Warren meant when he said that my trouble was not guilt but shame.
About the same time, back in Muskegon, Michigan, my mother gave me my second lesson in shame. I was visiting with her at the hospital one afternoon. She was going to die in a few weeks, though only she knew it. The winter sun was setting, she was bone-tired we had talked too long-her eyes closed now, moist at the comers, and she heaved, "Oh, Lewis, I'm so glad that the Lord forgives me all of my sins; I've been a great sinner, you know."
Great-sinner? As far back as I could remember, she was on her knees scrubbing people's kitchen floors most days, up to her neck in the frets of five fussing children every evening, and, when late night fell, there she was on her knees again, in her own kitchen this time,asking the Lord for strength to do it again for one more day. When did she have time and where did she get the energy to do any great sinning?
What she was feeling about herself in those last weeks was what she had been feeling most of her life, that she was just not good enough, not a good enough mother, or a good enough Christian, or a good enough anything she could think of. But not being good enough felt to her the same as being very bad. And "great sinner" was the only way she could think of to describe the heaviness she felt.
I kept my mouth shut, but I did remember what Neil Warren had said to me, and I thought, "Mother, what makes you feel so bad about yourself is not sin but shame." That's right; my mother had a classic case of unhealthy shame. A lifelong affair with chronic not-good-enoughness. I learned my shame from her.
It saddens me still that such a triumph of a woman should have to die feeling like a wretch. Her shame was totally out of touch with her reality. She did not deserve to be stuck with so much shame.
But hold on. My mother was, no doubt about it, burdened with a shame she did not deserve, and yet in her dying and much of her living, she was wondrously serene. She was given a grace to turn her shame into peace with a life tougher than she deserved. Life with her was fall of the ambiguities of shame; shame is a bad thing to experience, and yet, and yet, and yet ...
Forget about ambiguity for a moment and let me tell you about a person with a clear case of well-deserved shame. He was a likable man; some found him charming, a successful person by manner and reputation. I'm going to call him Richard Malum. He was a master of charming evil I mean that he knew how to get people to say yes before he asked them the question. He charmed every woman he met, charmed them while he fed them, charmed them while he used them, and charmed them when he threw them away like broken dolls.
Richard Malum charmed his customers and made them feel good about themselves while he cheated them. He gave money to strategic charities in amounts his accountant recommended, saw to it that everyone heard about his generosity, and then publicly insisted that his charity was a private matter. He climbed to the executive suite over the backs of people he stabbed to get there; getting hurt, he thought, was the price weak persons paid for competing with the strong. All the while he was doing these things, he was almost sure that he incarnated the best virtues of free enterprise. Almost sure, but not quite.
"I believed in my lies most of the time," he admitted,
but once in a while, at about 2:00 A.M., a faint signal of the truth came over me: I was a fraud. Worse, a monster. Still, by the time I was working on my first victim of the day, I had convinced myself that I was only doing what every successful person had to do to keep ahead of the pack.
I am sometimes disgusted with myself. And yet, the strange thing is that
I could go back to it all tomorrow.
I was angry that this evil man should be feeling the same kind of heavy feeling about himself that my mother had felt about herself. This man's shame, I thought, is the only healthy thing left in him.
So here we are, right off the bat, with our fingers wrapped around the opposite poles of shame. It may be an unhealthy feeling that we don't deserve my mother's feelings, for instance. It may be the only healthy feeling we have Richard Malum's shame, for instance.Shame and Grace
Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve. Copyright (c) by Lewis B. Smedes . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.