“And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ”
Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:2-5)
The serpent’s tricky suggestion in the garden masked a temptation that’s been harrying human beings for centuries. This temptation often comes in the form of a question: “Am I enough?” Dr. Curt Thompson in his insightful book, The Soul of Shame, examines the feeling of shame, where it originates, how we can recognize its influence, what the Bible says about it, and how we can allow God to loose our bonds of shame. Shame is an unhealthy dynamic in our minds that paralyzes our plans for doing good often sabotages our connection with God and others. Whenever that pesky question, “Am I __ enough?” (“pretty enough,” “smart enough,” “competent enough,” etc.) comes up shame answers with many negative thoughts about our past. We naturally want to hide these sins and feelings, just as Adam and Eve wanted to hide in the garden. Shame sends us into feelings of insecurity and we often balk at the vulnerability. Now, I want to be clear—Guilt is a necessary emotion that wakes us up to bad habits or wrongdoings. But if our guilt torments us for longer than necessary, it feeds into a vicious cycle of shame. In other words, guilt involves our thoughts about what we’ve done, shame is fueled by thoughts of who we are. Shame has to do with our identity. Here’s how David responded when he felt shames coils around his heart:
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:3-5)
But then he reminds himself of a God-given truth that shame can’t touch…
“Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:6-10)
One tendency in my own life that shame has stoked is the desire to do more. I’m always balking at the limitations life imposes on me. I want to work a 14-hour day instead of an 8- or 9-hour day. But when I put in such long hours I find my work getting sabotaged by tiredness and muddled thoughts. Working long hours becomes counterproductive because I’m a human being with limited energy. We all have ways of balking at our God-given limitations though. We may want to travel widely around the world and spend more money or time than is wise on vacations and plane tickets. We may desire to reach thousands of listeners or viewers with our social media posts and feel deflated and worthless if we don’t get the response that we had hoped. Or we get upset when our memory fails us on the last exam question as the clock is ticking down. Our influence, movement, and memory naturally have built-in limitations that we can respect and even embrace, remembering that the only limitless one is God. Embracing our limits and trusting more deeply in God as a result is actually an act of worship. We don’t have to be ashamed about being human as long as we’re honoring God with what we can and can’t do.