I remember the first time I experienced shame as an adult. Three years ago, before all of the things that happened to make me the cynic I am today, I was a good little Baptist girl. And I was about to go to Argentina as a missionary and was attending two months of training with other missionaries before my term.
One morning all the lady-missionaries were all standing in line for the bathroom and a woman I had never spoken to approached me, smile plastered across her face as she looked me up and down. “Let me ask you something.” She said, interrupting the chatter I was having with the group of ladies as we waited. “Do you think what you’re wearing in appropriate?”
I looked down at my shirt-dress, leggings, and boots. I honestly hadn’t really thought about it.
[Pause for Disclaimer] This is not a post about leggings. It’s not a post about body image. It’s not a post about female modesty. (Thank God.) The internet doesn’t need any more blog posts about those topics. We’re talking about shame here.
You see, this lady whose name I still don’t know didn’t know the back story. She didn’t know about my recent triple digit weight loss, the fact that I didn’t have any freaking pants that fit, the fact that I hated my body and had never in my 22 years of life thought of myself as much of a temptress. She knew none of this. Me? Too sexy? Did she have the right person?
I had dealt with all sorts of insecurities growing up, but for the first time in my sheltered life, I felt unwelcome and unworthy among the faith crowd that had been my comfort zone. It was the first time I had felt truly ashamed of myself. I found myself mowed down by the guilt train, questioning why the Holy Spirit would tell that lady something without telling me. Was my Holy Spirit broken? Had I failed to listen? Was I worthy to stand among this group of more modest ladies and proclaim God’s word? I mean. You could see my thighs underneath my leggings.
Of course, I encountered this scenario several times over the course of my service time and have since developed thicker skin. (Maybe if you’re lucky I’ll sit you down and tell you about the scandalous time I sat down and my underwear protruded a couple millimeters above the waist of my jeans. Guilt game was strong that day.)
But I’ll never forget the moment I stopped and realized: this is why people hate Christians. This is the legalism associated with the faith that turns so many people away. This is the damage done when a personal conviction is flung at another like some sort of righteousness grenade.
The Bible says we are to speak the truth in love to one another to help each other grow up in Christ. Unless you know the other person’s story, are in an intimate friendship, and know the context in which the hearer will receive your message, then whatever truth you think you’re speaking cannot possibly be spoken in love. You can’t love somebody you don’t know.
Shame is an instrument of evil. It causes people to retract, to hide, and to burrow deeper into their insecurities and vices. Shame says: “You are naked. Cover yourself.”
But it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. His kindness says “Who told you that you were naked? I created you in My Image.” Use that as your model the next time you wish to correct somebody.