Shame is an assault on the core of who we are. It assassinates our character, minimizes our worth, and dashes our hope. Like Adam and Eve, we often hide shame, but hiding never heals it. Left unattended, shame can develop into a crippling reality that paralyzes us. Like an infectious disease, shame impacts everyone . . . but not all shame is bad.
Shame can either be an oppressive and powerful tool of worldly condemnation or a source of conviction that God uses to bring his people back to himself. Having the discernment to know the difference and recognize shame in its many forms can change the course of one’s life.
In a transparently honest style, Pass shares of her experience dealing with shame after learning that her former husband was a sexual offender. Having lived through the aftermath, she leads you into God’s Word where you will see for yourself that God is bigger than your pain, shame, mistakes, and limitations.
Shame Off You shares how freedom can be found in choosing to break the cycle of shame by learning from the past, developing healthy thinking patterns, silencing lies, and overcoming the traps of vanity and other people's opinions.
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Shame Is Born
A Story of a Girl Who Shrunk Her Shame
Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don't be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood. — Isaiah 54:4
But healing hurts. To get to the source of our pain, we have to clean the wound, it turns out, with lots of tears — salty ones that sting but begin the cure for our souls when they are offered to our great God and counted by our Lord. — Denise
Pulling my stringy, thinning hair to hide my face, I tried to conceal the fact that I was weeping profusely. Heaving and trying to silence my sobs, I was keenly aware of the gaze of onlookers. Hardly anyone knew me there. I'd felt safe to let down my guard, but to be so broken in front of strangers was not how I wanted my first Sunday at the new church to go. How did I get here? My life felt like a dream, or rather like a nightmare. I tried to remain composed, though my world was completely turned upside down and I just could not hide it anymore. And there I was, like a dam breached, unable to control the emotions I had held in for so long. I was rocking and weeping uncontrollably, and the more I tried to suppress it, the worse it got.
I had purposed in my heart that my children and I would show up full of joy, our shattered lives disguised. But there it was. Shame. It followed me everywhere I went and filled my being and my soul. I couldn't escape it. I couldn't hide it. Imprisoned by its grip, I felt boxed in by the opinions and curious stares of others, real or imagined. Why was I in church with five kids and no husband? Why did our vehicle look like it had been pulled from a scrap yard? Why was I weeping ... in public?
Many Rivers to Cross, Many Tears to Shed
For two years, I'd been carrying a burden of shame, ever since the night my (then) husband, when confronted, admitted to having sexually abused one of our children, though he did not give it that name. The shock of this revelation consumed my children and me — it did not seem possible. I felt that the elders at the church we attended then wanted me to keep silent and hide the event, to reconcile with my estranged husband in spite of the explicit danger to our beautiful children. What was explained as being one event we would later find out was not. Every Sunday I answered the altar call, weeping, while the church elders seemed to sweep our greatest sorrow underneath the carpet. It was too much to bear: the shame, the awkward stares of pity and judgment, the constant pressure to reconcile, and the deafening silence that spoke volumes.
The night of the offense, I had woken up in the middle of the night to write a song. The Lord would often inspire songs in my heart in the wee hours of the morning, so this was a somewhat normal occurrence. But that night was different. As I wrote the song, "Draw Me Near," I felt a presence of evil enveloping our home. With fear, I penned lyrics of someone's sorrows and their need to draw near to God. Sometimes when I wrote songs, they were prayers for people I did not know. I thought this must be the case this time, too. Only this time, this song, which spoke of someone's life being turned upside down, was about to become my story. Two hours later, after I finished writing the song, I went to bed.
The next morning, the sun came through the window and a whisper awoke my soul. "Tell your husband that God says you have something to tell me." My husband was in the shower, but I felt a pressing need to go ask this question the Lord had placed upon my heart. I walked into the bathroom and said, "The Lord says you have something to tell me." Silence.
"I'll tell you later. I'm not going to tell you now." My heart was heavy. Instinctively I knew something was wrong, but I did not know what. The day of the beginning of the revelation of sexual abuse in our home, the children and I had to bring a bug to the gastroenterologist. (Only my life!) One of my daughters had been ill for most of her life with celiac disease and now we suspected a parasite as well. I had found this massive creature in our washing machine and the doctor told me to bring it in. Next on the agenda that day was to sing at a nursing home with my home educational coop. The children were to present the gospel through skits and song. But as I was driving to the doctor's office, the Lord was preparing my heart. Something was wrong. This day would be a defining moment for our family that I could never have imagined. But I guess that is how such times occur. We can be lulled into a sense of thinking we are above crises. It always happens to someone else, right? Wrong. So wrong.
As we drove to the nursing home, the Lord whispered to my heart again. "Ask her how she slept last night." Oh God, no. No. Please no. Not in my family. Choking back the pressure mounting in the back of my throat, I asked one of my daughters, "How did you sleep last night?"
"Not so well. In the middle of the night, Daddy came into my bed and hugged me for a couple of hours."
Silence. All of the children were in the car. Lord, please help me. I can't breathe. What has happened? In as normal a voice as I could muster with a van load of children, I said, "That's strange. We will talk about this later, OK? Are you OK, honey?"
"Yes, mom. Just tired."
As we arrived at the nursing home, I felt as if I was not there. Numb. How was I going to pull myself together to do this presentation with the children? What was my daughter feeling and going through in that moment? I have never had an out-of-body experience, but this day would have been as close as I have ever been to one. It was as if I was watching myself and I somehow was functioning, going through the motions. Looking at my daughter across the room, I saw myself at a similar age. I had made myself a promise that what I encountered when I was twelve would not happen to her. I had been sexually abused, and I wanted to do everything I could to prevent the same thing from happening to my daughters. I surveyed the room and wondered if I was really awake — if this was really happening. Like the puzzle the little girl at my feet was trying to put together, my heart was broken into pieces on the floor. I struggled to breathe and wondered how the pieces of our lives would ever fit back together again. Fighting back tears, I tried to hold on to hope that maybe, just maybe, what my daughter said was different from what my heart was telling me.
Heading back home, I went straight to my husband's office. He worked from home and I home educated, so we were both home a lot. "You need to tell me what you did," I said. "God is revealing things to me. What did you do?"
"I will tell you later" was the response. He had work to do and told me he could not talk.
We had a life group (small group) we had been involved with, though we were supposed to try out a new life group that night. I called the wife of our former small group and told her that I believed my husband had done something wrong but that he wouldn't talk with me about it. "Your husband has already called my husband and they are supposed to meet tonight," she said.
Then there was my sweet girl. I needed to talk with her in a way that would not upset her. As she and I spoke, shame silenced her. "What happened last night, honey?" She awkwardly tried to describe what happened. She knew something was wrong but did not know how to talk about it. Later she would tell me that she did not want to tell me for fear that it would break our family apart. I hugged her and told her that everything was going to be all right. God was going to help us.
That day was a busy one — one event after another — and it was just beginning. Arriving at the home of our new small group, I could not hide my tears. The heaviness in my heart sucked any possibility of a smile. I would go back and forth to the bathroom, splash water on my face, and come back out. When my husband arrived, he was his normal gregarious self. I could not fake it — I've never had a good poker face, and surely not that day. Suddenly everyone left the room and it was just the two of us on the couch. I looked over at him and said, "I know what you did, and I know you are going to our old small group to talk with the leader tonight." Stunned silence. "The Lord is revealing it to me. Just tell me what you did."
"I will tell you when I get in the car," he said. I was trying to put the pieces of this horrific puzzle together, but he was avoiding me. I had already made plans to stay with a friend that night.
"The children and I are not going home tonight. We are not coming home until you tell me everything you have done," I said, then burst into tears. We never allowed the children to go on sleepovers out of a desire to protect them. The irony that the danger was in my own home was too painful to consider. As we left the home of the new small group, I called him. "OK. You are now in your car. Tell me what you have done."
He laughed. "I'm not going to tell you now." There are few moments in my life where I have felt the way I did that night. When all you thought you knew, you realize you didn't. The agony of the revelation that you have been living a lie is too painful to put into words. But that night I knew everything was going to be different. Several hours later, the phone rang. "I need to talk with you. Can you meet?"
"No, I will not meet with you until I know what you have done," I answered. "You can tell me on the phone." The words that came out of his mouth pierced my soul and were too much for me to take in. I cannot even write them here. Nonsensical and offensive rationalization of what he had done. I never would have imagined words like that coming from someone who had vowed to love and protect me. Never could I have thought such words could come from a father. But they did. And the pain was too much to bear. My girl, my precious sweet daughter, who already had too much to bear with celiac disease, was now burdened with this. Oh, God, why?
She was thirteen years old, and in the midst of other agonizing revelations that would follow, the events of that horrific night would be minimized, adding further trauma. Her father had assumed that she did not understand what was happening or that she was asleep when he came into her bedroom. This heaped further shame on us. And my precious girl? She wasn't asleep. She pretended to be. She just waited what seemed like an eternity for him to leave. That's what shame did that night — it silenced a victim who was filled with confusion that someone who claimed to love her would ever do something to harm her. Not her daddy.
The church had counseled my husband to contact social services the next morning to confess. He then left our home. Nothing could have prepared me for the horrors we would encounter in the revelation of sexual abuse, the debilitating recovery from the abuse, the walk through an agonizing divorce, and the family and criminal court processes that would drag out over the next five years. Nothing. Overwhelmed with a sudden flurry of court dates and meetings, I did the best I could to try and comprehend all that was happening. Fear and worry enveloped me. But as my children and I looked to a Christmas alone, for the first time in a long time, oddly, we felt free.
My husband had been very controlling, and after living in that environment for a long time, we were surprised and even felt a little guilty that there was relief mingled with our intense grief. The excruciating heaviness in our hearts could not be lifted, but there with the biggest sorrow of our lives was this thing we did not expect — freedom. My husband had never allowed us to have a dog. "Let's go buy a puppy," I told the kids. They were thrilled. In that moment, we felt a little joy. There was this sweet little puppy. Who was not housebroken. What was I thinking?
Then there was my oldest boy. He had always wanted to play sports, but my husband disapproved — said it was too much like the pursuit of the American dream, too worldly. We needed to stay home. Well, not anymore. I signed my boy up for baseball and myself for the gym. We went to our first movie. We went on field trips together. We got cable in our home. We. Had. Fun. Yes, I probably went off the deep end. OK, I did. But sometimes part of the healing process is exploring new boundaries, and we can go to extremes while we adjust to our new normal. The moments of fun we enjoyed together became a respite and a source of hope in the midst of the most agonizing moments of our lives, but it was temporary. Our new normal was not easy. We were "that" home. You know, the people already on the fringe with home education now had an additional stigma to bear: the father of the home was gone. Rumors about the cause were everywhere in our tight-knit homeschool and church communities. Was he unfaithful? Was I? Had he harmed the children? Were we getting divorced? Our pursuit of finding joy was also admittedly an escape from the constant shame that surrounded us. People would talk with my estranged husband and then be against me. Wherever we went there were reminders. Events. Places. People. All wondering what had happened to our family. And then there was the pervasive court process and the reality that my husband did not recognize the gravity of what he had done. We were supposed to just forgive and move on, but my heart and my children's hearts were devastated. I was cast in a negative light for keeping the children from their father. I felt blame for protecting my children. Shame on me. The court had imposed supervised visitation. The children did not want to be forced to see their father, and some in the community thought my children's wishes didn't matter.
My children felt the shame deeply. And the original traumatic episode was only the tip of the iceberg. More painful revelations to come would pierce all of our hearts. Shame threatened to stifle our existence. Shame that such sin was in our camp. Christians. There in the midst of our struggle with shame was constant pressure from many different places.
A people pleaser by nature, I felt like such a sinner when I went against the counsel of church leaders. In our multiple meetings, I felt as though I was being instructed about how I should handle our predicament. I was told that I would be in sin to get a divorce since what my husband did was not "adultery" because it was not with an adult. Really? "What about Matthew 5:32?" I asked. "'But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery' [ESV]. The word for sexual immorality is pornea. That is any and all sexual immorality." They still encouraged me to let my estranged husband come to church with us. Church. The one place we could come and worship God became a place of pressure, too. Oh, and shame, too.
On another occasion, a well-meaning leader pointedly asked me if I thought I could hear God above the leaders hearing from God for me. You betcha. Never had I been more grateful to know the truth in God's word than when shamed for thinking for myself. Already in the pit of shame, I was at an all-time low. Evidently, I was not even a good Christian now. Shame on me. Who was it that got us into all this mess? My husband. The one who the leaders met with weekly, who the leaders were going to allow to live on the church campus in an RV while he waited for me to reconcile with him. But what about the victims? Did they have a say? Or were they going to be shamed until they acquiesced? What about the sheer terror we felt, knowing that just because someone was caught did not mean we were safe. Did we matter? By the grace of God alone, the Lord strengthened me and enabled me to get out of that church and to make a new life for my children and me. But, even still, I had to struggle through self-righteous pleas trying to shame and condemn us (control us). No words can adequately express the pain of having the tables flipped on you when you are barely making it as a mom experiencing the greatest grief of your life. The pain I felt for my children would serve as strength to fight for them — even if I was blamed and shamed. Proverbs 31:8 pushed me on: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed."
I had been building a career as a songwriter and worship leader, so when I received an offer to serve on a worship team from another church, I loaded up my broken children and left my former church. A month after we left, I received a phone call from one of the leaders of the church we had left. "We want you to know that you are not in sin to get a divorce." While I was grateful for that call, I knew God had already released me through His Word from the shame I felt from that church, but the scars were deep. Stepping away from what we knew into a new situation was not easy, but for my children and me, it was once again freedom. The legal drama would continue to inflict damage for several years, but for now, I thought we were safe. I thought we would heal. But healing hurts. To get to the source of our pain, we have to clean the wound, it turns out, with lots of tears — salty ones that sting but begin the cure for our souls when they are offered to our great God and counted by our Lord.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Shame Off You"
Copyright © 2018 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 Shame's Foundation
1 Shame Is Born 3
Devotional: Disposing of the Shame Arising from Trauma 20
2 Shame's Condemnation 22
Devotional: Overcoming Shame's Condemnation 44
3 Shames Roots 46
Devotional: Shame Off Rejection 61
4 Shame's Cycles 62
Devotional: Shame Off Our Worldview 78
5 Shame's Reach 79
Devotional: Shades of Shame 101
Part 2 Shame's Impact
6 Shame's Faces and Places 105
Devotional: Overcoming Borrowed Shame 121
7 Shame's Cost 122
Devotional: Shame Off Our Lack 137
8 Shame's Past 138
Devotional: Shame Off Our Past 151
9 Shames Mind 152
Devotional: Shame Off Anxiety 168
Part 3 Overcoming Shame
10 Confronting Shame 171
Devotional: Shame Off Our Performance 189
11 Defeating Shame 191
Devotional: Living the Shame-Off-You Life 201
Scriptures to Remove Shame Off You: A Reference Guide 203
About the Author 230