Nearly all of us go through life feeling shame from something that has happened in our past. It can be the underlying factor of many issues that affect our body image, self-confidence, self-worth and more. Many times we think we are alone in what we feel, the truth is, we are in good company. Realizing that we don’t need to struggle with this and that we can heal the brokenness within us and start living a life filled with freedom from shame is empowering!
Heather Davis Nelson’s book, Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame, shows us how to direct our attention to God who promises to forgive and restore us no matter what. Her book shines the life-giving light of the gospel on those dark feelings of rejection and worthlessness.
The introduction, Shame:Everyone Has It, is a great start in showing us we are not alone with feelings of shame. The author recounts her fear of public speaking and traces it back to her eight grade graduation where she froze on stage before all of her classmates, their families and faculty. That fear of being publicly embarrassed any time she finds herself in front of a podium with her weakness revealed to the audience is one way that shame manifested its way in her life.
Shame is like a chameleon and easily blends into the surrounding environment so it is hard to see. Shame masquerades as embarrassment or the feeling that you are not quite good enough. It can rear its ugly head when you are about to embark on something new and if unchecked can hold you back and create a nonpenetrable barrier between yourself and others. Many may not even realize it is shame they are suffering from as it gets mislabeled as guilt.
As the author gives examples of how guilt differs from shame and illustrates for us how shame can affect relationships through snippets of life scenarios, it helps us to recognize it in our own lives. I thought it profound that the antidote to shame is empathy and vulnerability. When the author explained how relationships of all types are transformed when we put into practice empathetic responses and vulnerable sharing it was clear to see how that can end the cycle of conflict. It does take more than just empathy and vulnerability because in this world of broken people, there is a chance we can face deeper rejection when being vulnerable which reinforces those shame messages.
It is then, when all seems dark and hopeless that we need to remember a person who left his perfect relationship of impeccable empathy and total vulnerability. He left his perfect place, one where guilt and shame did not exist because sin was absent. It came then that this person who knew the depths of darkness in the human heart entrusted himself to us as a baby, one who was so vulnerable and would not survive without human care. He who was never betrayed would be betrayed by his closest friends. He who knew no sin, would become sin for us.
Isaiah describes Jesus with no greater empathy: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4). It is through this relationship with our grief-laden savior that our shame will begin to dissipate. Through Christ’s vulnerability we learn to entrust ourselves to fellow broken people. His empathy lets us know we are never alone, though humans may betray and disappoint us.
Through Christ we are clothed with honor not shame. We become part of a community that we will always belong and given a kingdom that cannot be taken away. Walking by faith will transform our relationships, parenting, our churches, our marriages and our work. Shame lingers as long as we await the life to come but it will become quieter when we remember its hold is limited and fleeting.
This book covers body shame, social shame, performance shame, shame in marriage, shame in parenting, shame in the church and response to shame in the chapters as well as exchanging shame for beauty and a shame-free destiny. I think that everyone can benefit from this book because we all have shame and realizing we are not alone and that shame’s hold on our lives is fleeting is very powerful. Through the chapters I could identify with ways that shame was holding me back and start to work on ways to loosen the hold it had on my life and break free.
About the author:
Heather Davis Nelson (MA, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a writer, counselor, and speaker. Heather writes regularly at HeatherDavisNelson.com and has been a featured writer at the Gospel Coalition, as well as a contributing author to the Journal of Biblical Counseling. She and her husband are parents to twin daughters and live in southeastern Virginia.
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