Exposing Shame's Darkness to the Light and Love of God

Shame is a feeling everyone knows. It is born out of something deep in our hearts, and we need God if we want to find freedom from it. As we are on this journey of healing and freedom from shame, we need people who point us toward God and pray for us. God calls us to live as a body in active connection with one another and constantly aware of one another’s needs.

Shame is a feeling everyone knows. It is born out of something deep in our hearts, and we need God if we want to find freedom from it. As we are on this journey of healing and freedom from shame, we need people who point us toward God and pray for us. God calls us to live as a body in active connection with one another and constantly aware of one another’s needs.

Bob: Well, Gary we're talking today about a topic that everybody deals with, I guess, at one time or another, and that shame.

Bob: … I was intrigued when you sent me your notes on this topic. That was when you said the opposite of shame is pride. That kind of lit a light bulb, although I think you and I are heading in a different direction. Tell me what you're thinking at this point.

Gary: It sounds terrible, like, "Gary, you're in heresy now," because pride comes before a fall and Satan fell because of pride, but I think there's two types of pride. The one is the arrogant self-sufficiency, "I don't need God. I can do this myself. I'm perfect." You can see using those words and shame, they don't cohabitate. It's like if I'm thinking I'm the cat's meow, and I do everything perfectly, and I don't need any help, then I'm probably not wrestling with shame, I'm probably wrestling with arrogance, a godless self-sufficiency. But if you're wrestling with shame—

So, I started thinking, "Okay, what are the antonyms of shame?" Confidence probably might be a better word, peace, fearless. There are several words you could use, but in a sense, if shame is, "I'm worthless, I'm no good, I can't do anything right," then pride is, "I am worth something, there's value that God has placed in me and I can do things through Christ." There's a sense, again, of peace and of confidence. The pride I'm talking about is the kind of pride that I might have in my children. I'm really proud of them, they did good. "You got a 92, I'm so proud of you," not, "I shame you." That's the type of pride that—

We're comfortable having that for others. I'm really proud of these guys and how hard they work at making this podcast and you, Bob. I'm proud of how you make that, but then I would say, "Well, I'm proud of you guys," but I can't be proud of myself. That would be arrogance that would… all of a sudden I come before a fall. This is razor sharp, an edge here, you can go really in the wrong direction with this and go fall into sin.

Some of the most grievous sin of all is pride, but we can also feel like to bless the whole world, and bless others, and believe in others, and think highly of others, and esteem others, and then when it comes to ourselves, we have to put a heel of our shoe on top of ourselves and crush ourselves, make sure we that perpetual worm. That just leads towards self-hatred which then, when the voice of shame comes, that's why it's so easy to agree with it. You have no sense of self-concept, of "God has done something good in me."

Years ago, there was a song. I think it was maybe by the Vineyard that, "God, you do all things well, just look at my life." I remember the first time our worship pastor sang that song. I stopped. I was like, "I'm not singing that." I thought, "Well why not?" It's like, "Do we not believe--" We only believe in the testimony of the work He does in other people's lives, but when it comes to us, we no longer feel like we're comfortable believing that.

When I use the word "pride", I'm talking about confidence in the work that God has done in your life, and being grateful and thankful for it. I'm proud to be a Christian who has been touched by God, and it has nothing to do with my own abilities or my own competencies. It has to do with being grateful for what He's done in me so that when the voice of the enemy comes in, there's a strength in me. A godly pride, a godly confidence is a strength that can keep those voices-- If you're weak and the arrow comes, it's going to hit you. If there's a strength in you, a godly strength, I think that gives you a greater power to overcome. What do you think about that? When you first heard it, did you feel like, "I don't know what he's trying to talk about here?"

Bob: No, I thought you were really onto something.

Gary: You did?

Bob: I did. I was looking at it slightly differently, because as I thought of my own shame, what would keep me from telling other people would be my pride. I know God forgave me, but I don't want others to know because of how highly I think of myself. I want others to think that way of myself as well.

but I think pride really, as it is in many things, it becomes the source of why the shame has such an impact on us. At least the way I thought.

Gary: Yes. I like that. The negative pride keeps you from being vulnerable or open.

Bob: Exactly.

Gary: That's where shame gets rooted. Shame loves the darkness. When it's exposed to light, so when I confess, when you confess something, when you're open about things—And that’s the opposite of that community group I was talking about, that small group that everybody's got this shame, fig leaf covering over them, even if they don't seem like it because of their boisterousness. The opposite of that, what would that look like? A community of people who are not hiding, who are real, who are vulnerable. That’s light, and so you expose your shame to the light, and it flees. That's where shame runs away.

Bob: In fact, Brené Brown, I read one that she said about the very same thing. She said, "If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can't survive." It is the vulnerability. I don't want to be vulnerable because it affects my pride, it makes me look negative.

Gary: Sometimes people around you don't like your vulnerability. It makes them uncomfortable because of their refusal to face their own shame and be vulnerable. A lot of times when I'm preaching, I'll use an example of saying-- I said it in a sermon recently, "When I'm done with the sermon I'm going to be attacked as I am almost every sermon, nine out of ten." At the end of it I'm walking down from the stage, just finished preaching and close my Bible, and I start feeling like, "That wasn't good enough. I should have preached a little better. I shouldn't have said that."

That's the attack. If I ever say that, I always have somebody come up to me and saying like, "I just want to rebuke that in Jesus' name. You don't belong in that." I said, like, "No, I'm just exposing that as a reality." That's part of my healing, not denying it and stuff, but I could see in the person they're very uncomfortable with a leader being vulnerable. That's a whole another topic, corporate cultural shame.

Bob: Yes. I think Satan knows how to attack you to what will do the most damage. You give your story, if you walk off the pulpit, you said you didn’t do that well. Was it Wesley or Moody that said, "I walked off the pulpit and one of the parishioners said that was a great sermon." He said, "Yes, Satan already told me that,” because it affected my pride.

Gary: It's the opposite, yes.

Bob: Exactly. Satan knows how to get to what influences you the most. Well, let's talk about how to get rid of it. You've got some ideas on the demise of shame. What should a person do if they're listening and say, "I'm dealing with that now, it's affecting me, it's affecting my walk with God, it's affecting how I relate with others. What do I do?"

Gary: The first thing I would do, thankfully, is if they're asking that question, that might be the first door that opens up to healing, and that is to realize that it's there, it's in you. Then, how it works. One of the things I advise people to do is to get a little notebook and just as soon as they get a little thought, just write it down, just saying, "Okay, I just heard this voice saying I'm going to fail at that test today I'm taking. I just heard that voice saying, 'You're so stupid, you just told your friend that, and that was bad advice. You're so stupid.'"

Just write that down at the end of the day and then take a look at it. Do that for a week or so, and you'll see how this is no small thing. This is not something trifling little sidebar to our walk with God and our emotional and mental health. This is deeply rooted. As I said earlier, it's the core of facing all the other issues of our life. Realizing what it is and what it looks like for you, because it's attacked in different ways, where it comes. Mine comes from the sermon, or it comes through other things. Find out where it comes from.

Secondly is to realize how it's affected your relationship with God. You have that sense of trust, "How can I pray about this if I feel my prayer is unworthy?" It's affecting God. I feel like there's some shame and embarrassment, and yet I feel ashamed in the presence of God. I'm hiding with God. I'm hiding with Adam and Eve are hiding-- I'm hiding with God. The first one you're taking some notes of how I'm hiding with other people, and then all of a sudden you're presenting this to God, and in God you're saying, "Okay, I come to you and you say there's healing available, but I'm so ashamed to come to you. I'm so afraid to come to you. Do you accept me? Do you love me?"

I would call the second one like a fearless confrontation. It's probably not the right word, but confronting yourself and what's in you in the presence of God, just throwing it into his presence, throwing it into his lap. "This is how I feel. I feel worthless. I feel hopeless. I feel despair," and bringing that to his attention. Thirdly then is, we've already talked about this, that shame is relational. It's not an isolated. I don't know if I have any scientific data on this, but I think if you were to grow up on a desert island alone, you pray wouldn't have much shame, because you wouldn't have voices telling you—

Bob: No one to impress.

Gary: Yes, no one to impress and no one to shame you, so you start believing the things you're saying about you. Shame has history. When you feel ashamed now about something-- I walked off the pulpit and I started hearing this voice, "You're not good enough." There's probably a history to that of other things where I have not felt good about myself, there's that sense. Taking that-- Shame is birthed relationally, so therefore it's not healed in isolation.

The pride we're talking about, the pride is a crippler of the healing of shame because we say to ourselves, "I can deal with this myself. I listened to this podcast, I read this book, and now I understand shame and I'm just going to study a little bit more and I might look at a concordance and read all the scriptures about shame, and then I'm going to go to the Lord and tell Him I'm sorry that I allowed shame in there, and heal me, and forgive me, and cleanse me, and okay, good, shame is gone." It doesn't work.

I know that sounds terrible to say. Please don't hear me saying God doesn't work or the Bible doesn't work, but it works by obedience, and part of healing the shame is bringing it to light. To have somebody in your life that you talk to-- You'll hate this. There's so many men who are-- I can't remember that, I think we talked about it once before, maybe you remember the statistics of how many men are wrestling with pornography.

Bob: Yes, it was high.

Gary: It was high, like 60% maybe or something like that. Even in the churches, 6 out of 10 men are wrestling with pornography. They are ashamed. They're ashamed of that sin and they're trying to get out of it. Then they're ashamed they can't get out of it. Then they're ashamed they repented and they can't get out of it. Then they're ashamed that they had an accountability partner, thinking that exposing it to the light would be enough, but their accountability partner wasn't enough because all of they were dealing with was, "Did you look at something today," not, "How do you feel about that, what's in your heart?"

It started in a relational problem and it has to be healed through that. That's why James says, "Confess your faults to one another that you might be healed." Not, "Go into your secret closet and pray that you might be healed." You go in your secret closet and ask the Lord for requests. You go to the Lord and say like, "I have shame, can you help me deal with this?" Yes. Go confess it to somebody. Not just the sin, but also the thing that is driving that sin. The shame oftentimes drives the sin.

Again, there's a difference between a man who confesses to an accountability partner, "I'm dealing with pornography," and they just try to cut off the sin at the fruit and not the root of saying, "Well, why? What's happening in your heart? What's happening in your emotions? What do you feel about yourself?" If our Christian communities could go a little bit deeper and have some faithful men and women—

I don't want to change subjects here, but I advocate for true elders in the church, and I mean men and women. I don't mean the official role of board of directors type thing, but somebody who's a little bit ahead of you, and mature, and is digging deep. Bob, if you were to come to me, or some of these younger guys here would come to us and say, "I'm dealing with this particular sin, but I also feel like there's some shame underneath it." We wouldn't go like, "Cast all your cares on Him for he just cares for you."

Bob: Run. [laughs]

Gary: Yes. We'd actually be able to listen to them, and talk, and ask about 25 questions, and spend two hours with them and say, "We're not leaving until we understand what's going on in your heart.  We need to meet next week." That person feels heard. What breaks shame, part of it is the exposing it to the light, but what kind of light? If it's light that's hidden under a bushel of the person you're talking to has their own shame, "Pornography, how dare you? I rebuke you in Jesus' name." What's that going to do? It's going to cause more shame.

Going to a person who has dealt with the issues themselves. I still struggle with a lot of things, but I honestly could say, if somebody could come to me with sin and shame and need of healing, they're going to have somebody who's really dealt with themselves. I have dug into this, I've prayed and I've met with my brothers in Christ. I shared everything with my wife. I can't think of a sin in my life that my wife doesn't know about. There's not going to be an article in Charisma Magazine about something I've done wrong, and my wife's going to go like, "I can't believe you did that." She's going to be like, "They found out."


Gary: I'm not doing anything that's going to merit an article in Charisma, but I'm doing things. I'm lying, I'm lusting, I'm angry, I'm frustrated, I'm doubtful, but people around me know that, and so it…. The last thing then would be to try to build through healthy elders who have dealt with issues themselves and dug deep into the heart, into the emotions, into their relationship with God, and now they are creating healthy communities. Because so many churches and Christian ministries are not healthy. People feel very uncomfortable sharing things of brokenness and woundedness and shame in their own heart.

They come into church. "How are you doing?" "I'm fine. Everything's good." Meet in a small group and it was like, "Here's my testimony, what God did for me." Or if there's a prayer request, it's usually second-hand. "Pray for my uncle. He has cancer." We're not dealing with our own brokenness very well. That's because there's a lot of fear of being shamed, of being the topic of-- You talk to the pastor and you're the topic of their sermon next week in an accusational way, there's judgment.

You see this in Luke where Jesus heals the blind man in the synagogue, and the Pharisees, that's a shame toxic culture. The Pharisees come to him and say, "Who did this to you? You're a sinner." Shame. "This shouldn't have been done." Then that's not enough, they have to go to his parents and try to draw his parents into like, "Now, you know this guy's a sinner, right? Tell us he wasn't blind." They're creating a whole culture of judgmentalism, of fear of being kicked out, you don't belong. Instead of breaking the power of shame, they're increasing the power of shame.

Sadly, a lot of our churches and Christians organizations actually build a culture where shame becomes cyclical and the shame storm, as some people call it, things get worse because you have to hide now. Or if you expose your heart to things-- I had a friend who confessed to his pastor, he was an associate pastor, and he confessed that he had failed and looked at some pornography. He'd really overcome it, but just slipped up. The pastor fired him, took his severance pay, just cut him off. He has children and stuff.

That's sin and he needs to deal with it, but the shame of that-- Is that guy going to be more likely to look for help? Probably not. We need cultures of openness, of vulnerability, of acceptance, of being honest about sin and calling sin “sin” and not excusing it, not building a theology where sin is not sin anymore, but dealing with it through the lens of grace and understanding.

Bob: I'm sure there are a lot of people who, for the reasons you've just described, are uneasy about going to their pastor, going to their church, going to someone in their church about the issues, the shame they're dealing with. We have a prayer ministry here at World Challenge. Is that someplace you would recommend people call asking for prayer and help with this?

Gary: Absolutely, yes, because sometimes, number one, just somebody listens to you without accusing you, without being judgmental, without giving you a list of to-dos. You know what I mean by that? You're struggling with anxiety, do this and do that, and here's why you're doing it wrong. Just without all that, but just listening and then praying, that's what our team is called to.

Bob: The website is pray.worldchallenge.org and you can put your prayer request in there. Also, take some prayer requests if you like. We should talk about that on some program. You’ll also find a phone number there where you'll get right to our prayer warriors that we have here at World Challenge that could talk directly to you if that's what you'd like to do. We’ll have that information is in the show notes, and also you'll see it on the screen here if you'd like to contact them.

Gary: Yes. I would go so far as to say, I hope you guys are okay with this. Normally, time-wise I'm not able to do this, but on this particular podcast and this issue of shame, if you're dealing with this and if you'll email-- Email, is that the best way to get a hold of us? If I wanted to read something, they could email us at World Challenge, then I will read their email and minister to them. I'll talk with them through email one-on-one and just speak to them about the issues of shame and results of that, what's happening in their heart and their life. I can't do that over an extended period, but one time I'll offer that.

Bob: We'll put that email address on the screen as well and in our show notes, so that they can know where to write. That's awfully generous of you to offer that to the listeners and viewers.

Gary: It's important. It is an area that's hard to deal with, again, because it's a commodity that's unknown and unspoken of a lot of the times in the church. I think, now that it's brought to the light, you don't want to just tuck it away. It's like, "Go for it now." If you're dealing with this and you feel it, and you're getting this critical voice of accusation, then now's the time. The Holy Spirit never introduces a topic to us without it being the right time, because he's ready to ready to minister in that realm. I think he's ready to bring healing to people.

The result of that will be-- Lastly, the good news is what happens in your life once that shame has gone? Is this, we called it pride, maybe want to call it confidence, a godly pride and the goodness of God in your life, comes a freedom to be who you are. Adam and Eve hid. Now the hiding is gone and I am creative again in the way-- I don't mean just artistically, creativity could be a mathematician, it could be an accountant, but being free to actually enjoy the work of your hands, to enjoy the relationships that you have, to enjoy where you are in life without it being fretting of not being enough. "I don't have enough money, my house is not big enough, my car's not new enough." All that is shame-based.

Can you imagine the freedom of that shame being gone, how much you wake up in the morning, just like, "I'm grateful, I'm breathing again this morning, and my wife is next to me, and I have kids and grandkids, and I have a job that pays me some money." Just so thankful and grateful. Now I want to just move into the world with a sense of confidence that I'm not just hiding and cowering and afraid of the world. Now I'm moving into the world and tending the garden of the world, cultivating it. That was the mission that they had, that they hid from.

Lastly, enjoying God's presence as well. God is not an ogre, He's not a monster, He's not a wicked stepfather. He is somebody to be really enjoyed and to love His presence, to love to walk with him in the cool of the garden. Then, also, to realize that He feels that same way about us. The nail in the coffin of shame is when you have God come to you, and you just realize how much He's enjoying you, and you believe His words about you.

When He says to you, "Well done, good and faithful servant," you don't go like, "I didn't really do very well. I'm so sorry." You go like, "Thank you. I can't believe you're saying that, but I'll take it. I like compliments and to be able to do that." Then, it makes our faith attractive.

Bob: I guess a good way to close this is with a word of scripture that may speak to this topic that we've been discussing here today. You've got one from Romans actually.

Gary: Yes, I think it's probably the hardest hitting. It's like a punch in the face to shame and it's Romans 5:1-5. You can read the whole thing, but the crux of it is, "Hope does not put to shame." It sounds like the antidote to shame is hope. You're hoping for something and then it says “because”-- Now, you've got to pay attention. Hope doesn't put to shame because there's a reason why hope keeps you from living in shame, and it's so precious. It's because God's love has been poured out in our heart, and so if we can receive that love of God—

If you work backwards, God's poured out His love in my heart. Therefore, I have hope, and that hope puts shame to flight, and so it reverses it, but if you're living in shame, you don't have hope. If you don't have hope, when God says He loves you, then you can't receive it. Start each day from the center of, "I am loved by God. I am accepted by God." He doesn't look at me and say, "You got a 92. You missed 8%." He looks at you and says, "100% of me loves 100% of you. There's no part of you-- Some of it, I'm fixing. Some of it, I'm changing. Some of it, I'm transforming. Some of it, I call to repentance, but I love all of you. I don't love you just when you're performing well. I don't love you when you're perfect."

You can always put perfection in there with shame, and this is an antidote to that, is that I'm loved just as I am, even when I'm not perfect, and therefore hope puts shame to flight.

Key Questions from the Podcast

  • Is pride the opposite of shame?
  • How can we heal from shame?

Notable Quotes from the Podcast

Shame loves the darkness. What breaks shame? Part of it is the exposing it to the light, but what kind of light? What would that look like? A community of people who are not hiding, who are real, who are vulnerable. That’s light, and so you expose your shame to the light, and it flees. That's where shame runs away. – Gary Wilkerson

Shame is birthed relationally, so therefore it's not healed in isolation. – Gary Wilkerson

Sadly, a lot of our churches and Christians organizations actually build a culture where shame becomes cyclical and the shame storm, as some people call it, things get worse because you have to hide now. – Gary Wilkerson

The nail in the coffin of shame is when you have God come to you, and you just realize how much He's enjoying you, and you believe His words about you when He says to you, "Well done, good and faithful servant." – Gary Wilkerson

Resources Mentioned in the Podcast 

About Gary Wilkerson

Gary Wilkerson is the President of World Challenge, an international mission organization that was founded by his father, David Wilkerson. He is also the Founding Pastor of The Springs Church, which he launched in 2009 with a handful of people. He has traveled nationally and internationally at conferences and conducted mission ventures such as church planting, starting orphanages, clinics, feeding programs among the poorest of the poor and the most unreached people of the earth. Gary and his wife Kelly have four children and live in Colorado Springs, CO.

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