The Crushing Burden of Shame

I squeezed my eyes shut, desperately hoping to wake from a nightmare. But a knock at the door jolted me into reality. This was a nightmare of sorts, but one I was very much living. The nurse entered my room, checked to make sure I hadn’t harmed myself, and left as quickly as she came. Staring at the room’s four white walls, it felt as empty as I did. How did I get here? I sighed under my breath.

I was 17. I was hurting and angry as I watched my life crumble before my eyes. Sitting here in the barren room of the adolescent psychiatric ward, I was left with nothing but the pain of what I’d lost and the shame I’d gained.

Why me? After pouring 10 years of my life into the pursuit of college basketball, why did I have to lose it all at the hands of an abusive coach and life-altering injury? Why was I chronically sick while those around me went on with life as normal? And why, on top of all I’d already lost, did I have to experience the shame of sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of my peers?

Hitting Rock Bottom

As I wrestled with my thoughts and questions, a familiar story came to mind. A story that Jesus told in the Bible about a father and his two sons. A day came when the younger son decided he wanted more than what he had under the protection and provision of his father—he wanted the thrill of what might be and the taste of freedom. So he asked his father for his inheritance, and his father obliged.

In the excitement of his newfound freedom, the son set out to experience the pleasures of the world around him. But before long, he faced the sober reality of being alone and penniless as famine spread across the land. In desperation, he took the only job he could find—feeding and living among pigs. Needless to say, he had hit rock bottom.

Shame is not meant to crush us; it’s meant to open our eyes to the true state of our hearts.

I, too, knew what it was like to hit rock bottom. Am I that prodigal child? I wondered. The Bible says that God, my Heavenly Father, created me to know him and live in the protection and provision of being his child. But in my desire for independence and freedom, I’d been searching for happiness, contentment, purpose, and value in anything but following him. Although many of those things satisfied for a time, they eventually led to a familiar sting of disappointment, the ache of emptiness, and a cloud of shame.

Feeling Shame

Whether we recognize it or not, we all know the feeling of shame. We feel it when our imperfections are exposed. We feel it when we know that something is wrong but do it anyway. We feel it when someone violates or takes advantage of us, condemning ourselves for allowing it to happen. But underneath it all, the feeling of shame stems from the realization that we can’t live up to God’s perfect standards.

Shame isn’t meant to crush us; it’s meant to open our eyes to the true state of our hearts, like the foolishness of the younger brother did. We have two choices. We can either sit in our shame (like the son who sat in the filth of pigs), or we can run to the Father, ask for his forgiveness, and be received in the goodness and love of his open arms.

Coming Home

Thankfully, shame wasn’t the end of the story—for me or the younger brother. He eventually saw his foolishness and set off for home. He knew he didn’t deserve anything from his father. But he hoped that if he sought his father’s forgiveness, maybe he’d be received back as a lowly, hired servant.

To the son’s shock, his father was filled with compassion for him. The father ran to his son, threw his arms around him, and yelled for his servants to grab the best robe, ring, and sandals to lavish on his son. Even more, he called for a feast to celebrate the son’s return, saying, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24, CSB).

We can either sit in our shame, or we can run to the Father.

As I read this story, tears began to roll down my face. I was experiencing the pain of my sin, the sin of others, and the suffering that comes from living in a world that’s rejected its Creator. But God wasn’t punishing me or looking at me in anger and disappointment. He was looking at me with the eyes of a compassionate and loving Father, ready to receive me with open arms and rejoice at my return.

Friend, whether you’re weighed down in shame, grieving a loss, or feeling the emptiness and fragility of everything around you, know that you have a heavenly Father who longs to receive you with the joy of a father whose prodigal child has returned. Come to him and you’ll find freedom from your shame, comfort in your grief, and a satisfaction and security that nothing in this world can give. He will rejoice over you, saying, “This son [or daughter] of mine was dead and is alive again; he [or she] was lost and is found.”

W. Walton

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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