It's a sad man who's living in his own skin and can't stand the company.
~Bruce Springsteen, "Better Days"
Shame and guilt are two different things. Guilt says, 'I have done wrong' where shame says, 'I am wrong.' Shame often keeps us bound up, especially with regards to our sexuality.
Michael Cusick in Surfing for God says this about shame, "Shame is a feeling (which quickly becomes a belief) that we are defective, flawed, bad, or worthless. The lens of shame always focuses not on what a person has done but on who the person is. It focuses on one's self. The heaviness and torment of shame are unbearable. And the verdict is always the same--that at our core we are inferior, inadequate, or unacceptable.
Michael tells the story of Adam and Eve being naked and unashamed until original sin came into the world and they began to hide behind fig leaves. He says we aren't any different,
...we invent modern-day fig leaves to hid our fundamental shame. Some men hide behind four-thousand-dollar watches and half-million dollar sports cars. Others hide behind their theological knowledge, ministries, or positions of spiritual authority. Still others hide behind masks of superficiality, deadness, or intellectual dullness. I'm well aquainted with fig leaves too. For most of my life, humor and being a know-it-all have been my foliage of choice. Whatever fig leaves we choose, hiding our true selves goes against God's design for us. It's not natural, and it never leads to life.
I have an image of running towards God. I'm in a cave, vulnerable, naked and running towards God. Full of shame I'm running to him believing that I'm going to burn up in flames as I get closer. I take a leep towards him, anticipating my doom, but he catches me, looks into my eyes and smiles.
Michael goes on to make sure we all know that God doesn't shame us,
Neverthless God pursues us, even in the face of our disobedience and broken trust. And He doesn't stop there. When Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves, God made them garments of animal skin (Gen. 3:21). A living creature shed its blood and gave its life--foreshadowing the cross, where Jesus would shed His blood to cover our shame and wash away our guilt, thus making us comfortable again in God's presence. It's as if God said, "If you think fig leaves will take away your shame, you'd better think twice. Only I can take away your shame."
He reveals more about God's character in being for us.
And that's exaclty what he does. The liberating truth of the gospel is that through the blood of Jesus, we are forgiven and made clean. Even more, we belong to a God who does not shame us. He did not shame Adam and Eve. He may have asked for them to give an account of their actions (3:11, 13), but He did not shame them, and He does not shame your or me.
Such a key point in the gospel. We belong and He didn't shame you or me.
Too often we remain hidden. We fear being exposed for who we really are. Shame runs amok in this internal darkness. Our own fig leaves get in the way of our healing and being healed by God. So we try to perform for love because we believe that God would never freely offer it to someone like us. Michael says there are three problems with this performance approach,
First, performance is a treadmill that never stops running. How can we know when at last we are good enough?...It exhausts the soul and prevents him from receiving all the good things that God offers.
Second, the performance approach is rooted in pride--which is another word for self sufficiency. The few who somehow meet their own performance standards see no need for the gospel.
Finally, the performance approach leads to development of a false self. Each of us creates a persona in hopes of convincing others that this is who we really are. It's our game face. Our best foot forward. Who we want to be in others' eyes.
...But, of course, all this hiding and performing and pretending prevents us from receiving what our hearts long for. A false self cannot be loved. A fake self does not exist; it is only illusion. You and I can only be loved for our true selves, as unlovable as we think we might be.
Michael goes on to site four lies, according to Patrick Carnes, that men believe about themselves: I am basically a bad/unworthy person, nobody would love me as I am, I can't get my needs met depending on others, and sex is my most important need.
So how do we overcome our shame. We have to pull off our fig leaves with some trusted friends and reveal who we really are.
In our battle against shame we also have to,
...counter its voices with the voice of Love--the voice of God, revealed in the person of Jesus...One of the Enemy's most cunning forms of deception is to coax us into beating ourselves up, making ourselves pay, rejecting our true identities--in effect, hating ourselves. Henri Nouwen knew from personal experience that self-loathing is a barrier to breaking free from shame: "Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the 'Beloved.' Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence."
It takes courage and humility to encounter and receive the voice of Love. What shame messages do you struggle with? What messages from God do you long to believe?