“When I feel guilt, I feel that I have made a mistake, and when
I feel shame, I feel that I am a mistake.” John Bradshaw
We’ve all done things which we feel guilty over and regret, but shame is, as Bradshaw said, when “I feel that I am a mistake.” It becomes a part of the way we see ourselves, colouring our self-worth, and our ability to deal with the problems generated. We’re not the ‘us’ we want to be. Instead, we’re a worthless failure.
Shame is associated with feelings of being unlovable, useless, inferior, stupid, dirty, or bad. Shame makes us want to hide the sin, and bury the real ‘me’ out of fear, because the real ‘me’ is worthless as a human being.
If you knew what you had done came with a death sentence, then how much deeper would that shame reach? If you knew someone else had died because of you, how much harder does dealing with your inadequacy then become?
Shame is why David took a year to repent of his sin with BathSheba and for killing her husband, Uriah. It was the burden of shame that made him want to hide what he had done from God, so he did.
Guilt is a different emotional entity. Guilt is easier to admit and makes you want to repent. You want to cry out to the Lord, apologise and make amends to whoever you have wronged. But shame cuts much deeper. It scars you on the inside and undermines your identity. How it affected David is clear in Psalm 38:3-8 (the whole Psalm and Psalm 51 are dedicated to this).
“Because of your anger, my whole body is sick;
my health is broken because of my sins.
My guilt overwhelms me—
it is a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and stink
because of my foolish sins.
I am bent over and racked with pain.
All day long I walk around filled with grief.
A raging fever burns within me,
and my health is broken.
I am exhausted and completely crushed.
My groans come from an anguished heart.”
We all make mistakes, they are an essential part of growing. However, the more intolerable the mistake, the harder it is to admit and seek forgiveness. David made a horrendous series of mistakes, which had tragic, long-term repercussions; yet the same forgiveness that the Lord reaches out to us with, was available to him. “Then David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan replied, “Yes, but the LORD has forgiven you, and you won’t die for this sin.” 2 Samuel 12:13
Forgiveness for the act that lead to shame and healing can come to anybody. One thing that helped David heal was the knowledge that God, who knew him inside and out, loved him and wanted him to retain his position as His servant. David felt the shame, but knew that he wasn’t a mistake as a person, and that pulled him through.
“Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.
Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.
Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.”
We all go through times when we need God’s unconditional acceptance and forgiveness. If you should find yourself in that position, look at the positive side to this part of David’s life. Reflect on how the Lord responded to David and allow the encouragement in God’s Word to become a source of healing for you.
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