I’m sure as we reflect on our lives, we look back and say, Why did I do that? I have a sense of regret and shame for what I did. Yes, I remember one day as a young boy hitting another youngster who had been teasing me. I’m not proud of what I did.
I guess you can recall events like that. It’s feeling guilty for something you did or said. That’s guilt. But shame—that is worse. Shame is feeling really bad about it. It can be a destructive emotion that stays with us for ever. Guilt is focussed on the ‘what of what’ whereas shame is focused on the ‘who’. It’s not so much, I did something bad—it’s more like, I am something bad.
Sadly there are a lot of people who feel ashamed and talk themselves into saying, I’m a bad person. They feel everything is their fault—the sense of a bad self is so deeply ingrained that it can be difficult to conceive of another way of feeling. And that is an unfortunate way to live, being burdened down with shame and sense of total failure. You don’t have to punish yourself or engage in self-destructive behaviour as a cover up.
Some people’s shame comes from a traumatic event from the past, something over which they had no control—a disability, weakness or infertility. Shame is saying,
- I am damaged, broken.
- I am dirty and ugly.
- I am a disgusting person—worthless and unwanted.
And sometimes these feelings were pushed onto you by parents, teachers or a boss. But shame has a devastating effect on people. We think we have to be perfect as a means of covering up the shame. If I work really hard maybe I’m an alright person. But these people are very harsh on themselves. They nurse a deep dislike of who they are—even loathing themselves—and find it hard to get along with others too. They tell themselves, You are the worst and deserve the worst.
The Woman with the Shameful Disease
In the New Testament we read a story in Luke (see Luke 8:40-53) of a dying girl and her father named Jairus, a highly respected ruler of the synagogue. He knelt down in front of Jesus and begged for the life of his only daughter aged 12 years. He implored Jesus to come to his house—he was desperate. But at the same time, with a crowd thronging around, a sick woman who had had a discharge of blood for 12 years walked behind Jesus. She had a disease of shame and had hidden away for 12 years. Imagine the pain she carried, as she was not allowed to go to the synagogue or come in contact with anyone. She was an outcast—lonely, in pain, unable to have children and according to Jewish law ceremonially unclean. It was an incurable disease and she had spent all her money looking for a cure. She was invisible—no name—and had a terrible disease she never asked for. And people living with shame hide themselves—they don’t want to be exposed or humiliated—whereas everyone knew who Jairus was. He needed Jesus too.
The unknown woman probably felt a heavy shame—but on that memorable day, she had nothing to lose and came to Jesus. She touched the fringe of his garment. A very brave act because she should not have been there, in public, as part of the crowd. No doubt she was told to go away. She grabbed his clothing in utter desperation. And the Bible says that “immediately her discharge of blood stopped”. And Jesus said, “Who is it that touched me?” He knew of course, but he is wanting her to identify herself, because he had more to give her. Lots of people would have touched him that moment—a jostling crowd with lots of noise—but this was a touch of faith, and Jesus knew it. Like Jairus she came and knelt at his feet—trembling, terrified of being exposed again by a famous Rabbi. Was she going to be humiliated and rejected again in front of everyone?
But notice what happens. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you are now well because of your faith. May God give you peace’ (Luke 8:48). Not only was her disease healed, her shame was healed as well by the loving and accepting way Jesus treated her. Jesus was on his way to the cross and he took her sickness on himself. He was wounded and bruised for us—he carried our shame on the cross.
Today if you carry a sense of shame, do something positive about it. Come to Jesus and ask for his touch and divine healing. He can heal inner emotional wounds. He offers cleansing through his death on the cross. This poor woman went home in great joy and peace. Because Jesus saves broken people. And this woman could mix with people and return to her church, her head held high because of her healing of shame.