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Discovering Shame

posted Apr 6, 2010, 8:08 PM by Edward Jue   [ updated Apr 6, 2010, 10:29 PM ]
March 2010

In one of the section of the book, Anderson discusses the importance of having the capacity to feel shame. He points out that there is healthy shame which set up the boundaries and guidelines to prevent us from committing wrongs.[1] However, there is also another kind of shame which is a type of self-abuse that cripples one from doing good.[2]

I found this analysis very intriguing because I have never given too much thought on the different types of shame. I agree with Anderson that the capacity to feel shame in itself is a blessing from God. It is not much different in concept as the capacity to feel pain. The reason when we feel pain when we burn our hands is because God uses such feeling as warning sign to prevent us from harming our own body. Without the capacity to feel pain, we would be hurting ourselves without being aware of it. Many people with leprosy who no longer can feel pain often lose their fingers or toes because their bodies cannot sense the warning signs. Similarly, I concur with Anderson that the capacity to feel shame helps one to know what is wrong and produce discouragement for the person to repeat the same mistake.

For me, the capacity to feel shame had produced in me during my childhood the motivation to do well in school. After my father passed away and my mother left, I felt that as the oldest, I have to be the role model for my younger siblings. I did not want to be looked down by neighbors. I felt shame if I fail to perform well in school and in taking care of my younger siblings. This capacity of feeling shame helped me to thrive in school and provided for my younger siblings. The same capacity to feel shame fuels my continuation to love and provide for my siblings and my biological mother even to this day. If I did not have this healthy dose of shame, I would have abandoned my siblings and mother after I moved to the United States since there is really no need for me to show them my love.

Contrary to this healthy shame, I had also experienced shame in a self-abuse way during my high school and college years. Although I was a good student, never skipping class, I did not do well in school at all. I felt extremely shameful for my poor performance. As a result, I considered myself useless, incapable and simply stupid. This negative self-image continued to follow me when I took many years before finishing my college degree and was not able to find a good paying job while my friends were making substantial salary and driving nice cars.

Yet, God slowly removed the self-abuse shame in me, so that I was completely transformed from within. Just as Anderson mentioned that recovery from shame was discovery, I was able to release the self-abuse shame as I slowly discover my identity in Christ.[3] As I realized I was made in the image of God and thus have God’s character embedded in me.[4] I felt enabled, empowered and free from the value others placed on me. Instead of feeling useless, I felt not only useful, but also proud that I have the detachment from the worldly and temporal things. I might not have a good educational background, a nice car or a good paying job, but I do not feel shameful. Even though many people, even Christian believers, think I am being a fool and have no ambition for working in church, I do not feel ashamed. I am not depending on these worldly values to survive. Rather than investing my time and energy for this world, I think I am a brilliant investor by investing my tangible and fleeting resources for the intangible and eternal Kingdom of God. I do everything for God’s delight, not for the world’s pleasure. This is the purpose Jesus has purchased my life with His blood – to live my life for Him.

After reading Anderson’s investigation of shame helped me to identify the different types of shame I have felt in my life and differential the positive and negative impact of shame. This understanding will not only allow me to recognize the type of shame I feel in my own life, but will help me to identify it in the people I serve. I believe the capacity to feel shame is a blessing from God when we use it as the boundaries of our rightful actions and thoughts. I hope that I can assist others, whom are in my fellowship and whom I’ll be serving in the future, in discovering the blessedness of healthy shame so that we can recognize sin, able to repent and be ultimately closer to God.

[1] Ray S. Anderson, Self Care, (Pasadena, CA: Fuller Seminary Press, 2000), 147
[2] Ibid., 154
[3] Ibid., 161
[4] Genesis 1:26-27 (New International Version) “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
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