Shame, Jesus, and Me

This month I’m honored to invite my friend and teammate Christian Williams as my guest blogger. I love being in Christian’s company because one minute she’s making me laugh so hard I’m crying and the next she has stopped me in my tracks with a thought-provoking reflection. Christian is a Dallas transplant (Native Arkansan) and DTS student who loves communicating truth and building safe, authentic, purposeful communities. She feels God’s pleasure most when using her imagination, storytelling, teaching, and living in intentional relationships which yield growth and transformation.

Dub: (verb) to give an unofficial name or nickname to (someone or something).

I dub everything. From my period- I call her Bianca, to my car- I call her Betsy, and to my belly when she’s making those ravenous wild animal growling noises- I call her Mufasa.

But there is one thing in my life that desires no name. It prefers to remain nameless. It’s called shame. And shame refrains from names because being nameless allows her to enslave. Calling shame what it is- dark, detrimental, and not of God- isn’t what shame wants. Shame wants to keep you bound with not knowing. Not knowing who you are in Christ, not knowing who God has crafted you to be, and not knowing God fully.

Guilt and shame are often used interchangeably. However, there is a fundamental difference. Guilt is about what you’ve done. Shame is about who you are. Guilt is, “Oh. I’ve done something and it was bad.” Shame is, “Oh. I’ve done something and I am bad.”

I lived in shame for most of my life. There was a lot of guilt for all the bad things I did. The partying, the boys, the lies I told to hide the partying and the boys, and the lies I told myself to make myself feel good about the partying and the boys. But guilt came and went. It was fleeting. Whenever I did something good- went to church, read my bible, did well in a class, helped someone in need-guilt went away. But what was constant, what was consistently rooted in my heart was shame: She Who Shall Not Be Named.

She had me asking friends questions like, “Do I have slut tattooed on my forehead?” And I would smile as I said it, regaling friends about what happened the night before while really I was just screaming for someone to help. She had me thinking I was a bad person because my body was a dangerous distraction, I couldn’t be in healthy godly relationships with men, and that the terrible, horrible things that happened to me were my fault because of the way I looked or the way that I talked or the way that I walked. Shame had me thinking the reason my relationships with my family, with my friends, with significant others, with myself, with God were so messed up was because there was something wrong with me.

I was at fault. And there was nothing I could do to change the fact that I was a faulty, defective person. Shame built upon her little sister Guilt. I tried to perform to pacify Shame but she kept telling me no matter how much I performed I would never be good enough. The only thing I had to cling to was Shame. So what did I do? I perpetuated shameful behavior over and over again until all I was, was Shame. I, myself, my personhood had become lost. I, Christian, was gone. But Shame, she was alive and thriving.

Then something happened. I sat down and intentionally, thoughtfully, read Psalm 139 in its entirety. And when I read it, I realized it was about knowing God and being known by Him. And I was forced to ask myself two questions:

Q: Is there something else about me besides Shame?

A: There has to be. Scripture says that I was formed by God, made in His image, and that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Everything He makes is good. (Psalms 139:13-14, Genesis 2:27, Ephesians 2:10, 1 Timothy 4:4).

Q: What do I do with Shame; whom I am enslaved to?

A: Every day, lay my shame down to God. Seriously, give it to God. If I could tackle shame, I wouldn’t be shackled. And the Lord is the expert at breaking shackles. Because where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17, Galatians 5:1, John 8:36)

Talk about liberation! It was like that scene in Lord of the Rings where Sméagol tells his alter ego Gollum, “We don’t need you anymore. Master looks after us now. Leave now and never come back!” And then he starts jumping around because he’s free. (Yes, this realization of my freedom was cinematically epic.)

However, though these two questions might seem simple, these are two of the three hardest questions I have ever asked myself. The third question, and probably the most difficult, has been, “Do I want to be in a knowing relationship with God?” All human beings have a desire to know themselves and to be known. All human being are also notorious for defining themselves both outside of God and His Gospel and how He has uniquely created every single one of us. All human beings are also notorious for seeking out the intimacy of the knowledge of personhood away from God.

God’s omniscience isn’t just about knowing why the waves only come up so far on the shore or why the earth doesn’t get too close to the sun and burn up or all these grandiose questions about the universe. God’s omniscience is all about knowing His creation, too. He knows not only all the bad things you’ve done and all the bad you’re capable of but He firstly declares that what He makes is good. He knows all the good He has equipped you with to bring Him glory and to show His love in the world. And if you need a cherry on top of that sundae, He knows all of that and He loves you, no holds barred.

When I was bound by shame and haunted by the Gospel and the love of God, I always rejected Him because I was always asking, “Do you know who you’re dealing with? I’m defective. I’ve done too much. I am too far gone. Just let me live or let me die.” But now I’m free, and I live to face Psalm 139 every day. Because when I call shame out for who she is, the first thing I lead with is “Do you know who you’re dealing with? God knows my name. I am redeemed. I am free. I am loved. I am valued. I have worth. And I am defined by a good, good God. He is a force to be reckoned with. And I am a daughter of God. I am not to be trifled with.”

If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. 2 Corinthians 5:17

And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:10

Dr. Michelle Pokorny serves as an Adjunct Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, teaching D.Min classes on Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines, and Soul Care. Michelle developed a passion for women’s ministry during her college years while serving as a counselor at Pine Cove Christian Camps. Her desire to see women thrive in their gifting led her to DTS to gain a solid biblical and theological foundation. After receiving her MACE in Women’s Ministry, Dr. Pokorny began working with East-West Ministries, International, where she served in Human Resources and on the International Women’s Ministries Training Team. Michelle's doctoral work focused on burnout and soul-care among Christian leaders. Michelle is married to Mark and their favorite hobbies include traveling, exercising, and enjoying food and laughter with friends and family. They have one active toddler, Alexander.

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