The Curse of Our Shame
We’ve all been there. It was 7 a.m., and we were out of milk. I threw on some sweats, tied my hair in a knot, and swished some water in my mouth before running to the store. No need to fuss with makeup, or even fresh breath, I’d only be gone for five minutes.
I inevitably ran into someone I knew—which is what always seems to happen when you leave the house looking like the crypt keeper. It took her a moment to recognize me without makeup on (another win for my self-esteem), so I squeaked out a greeting and evacuated the conversation, but not before apologizing for not wearing makeup…as if my actual face is offensive to people.
Before and since, I’ve had plenty of embarrassing and humbling interactions like the one in the store: the time an unexpected visitor glimpsed the true state of my house; the time my child bit another child at daycare; the many times I have stuck my foot in my mouth. I have also endured more serious humiliations, like getting dumped by a boyfriend, or being rejected by friends when I needed them most.
In every instance, I always feel compelled to hide, to manage, or to apologize. I want to assure people this isn’t me: This isn’t how my child normally acts. This isn’t how I normally dress. This isn’t how my house normally looks. I respond this way because it’s painful when my weaknesses are exposed.
However, I’ve started to see those experiences very differently.
On Good Friday, Christians remember a whole gauntlet of suffering. We remember Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for us, how “he endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). Christians are called to follow his example, but the truth is few of us will be asked to choose between faith and death. That is why our commitment to Christ is revealed less often by a hypothetical willingness to die for him, but by our willingness to bear small humiliations, to lean into our shame the way Jesus leaned into his.
That said, the American narrative for shame and insecurity doesn’t always resemble the Good Friday kind. In the current shame culture, we tend to outright reject shame as an enemy, or an obstacle sent by Satan. It is something to turn from and pray away. Surely, we reason, humiliation isn’t God’s plan for us. But Good Friday is a major challenge to that perspective. Rather than viewing shame and humiliation as obstacles to the path, Good Friday reminds us that sometimes, shame and humiliation are the path.
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