“Shame that is not transformed is transferred.” Brennan Manning

For years I listened to the voice of shame say, Who do you think you are? You certainly don’t belong here. You’ll never belong anywhere. What is wrong with you? How can you possibly believe God could love you or forgive you? You are too much. You’re not enough. You are the problem.

If you’ve believed these same lies, you’re not alone. When sin entered creation, so did shame. Adam and Eve tried to hide from God behind fig leaves that could never fully cover or remove their shame. They hid because they were ashamed and confused.

Here in the twenty-first century we may not reach for fig leaves, but we still hide behind perfectionism, performance-based living, people pleasing, and addiction of every kind.

Much of our confusion comes from mislabeling shame as guilt.

Guilt (or godly conviction) points out, “What you did was wrong.” Shame accuses, “There is something wrong with you.” Guilt helps us walk in line with our who we are as sons and daughters of God; shame seeks to mar that identity. Guilt leads to reconciliation with God while shame keeps us in hiding. One is helpful to our growth, the other harmful.

The Holy Spirit convicts us of our guilt in order to help us turn back to God and receive forgiveness. Shame is the enemy’s tactic to convince us that we are too flawed, too broken, and too rejected to seek God at all.

So, how does living with shame affect our families?

When we suffer under shame’s influence, we tend to shame others, often without even trying. Shame is so isolating and oppressing that when we feel its heavy presence, we can be compelled to shrug it off as quickly as we can.

Often, we elect someone close to us to become our scapegoat. I’ve experienced the burden of another’s shame, and I’ve heaped my own shame onto my kids without a second thought. Do you see how easily the cycle of shame can perpetuate in families?

Awareness is crucial, but it cannot break the cycle of shame.

Naming our own shame and being mindful of our response to it is certainly helpful, but there is only One who has the power to remove our shame completely. Jesus did more than take care of our sin problem when He died on the cross and rose three days later.

In Leviticus 16, God laid out His design for the Day of Atonement. Aaron, the priest, took two goats and sacrificed the first for the sins of the people. He kept the second goat alive so that he could lay his hands on the goat and shift the peoples’ shame onto it. Then Aaron released the goat into the wilderness. (See Leviticus 16:20-21)

Under the Old Covenant, God provided two goats: one to resolve the people’s guilt, the other to bear their shame. We, too, need forgiveness from sin and healing from shame. In his book Free Yourself, Be Yourself, Alan Wright says, “If our sins are paid for by the first goat’s blood, but our shame is unhealed, we will always be looking for another goat.”

How is the cycle of shame broken in our families?

Only through Jesus. Under the New Covenant, God provided a solution for our sin and shame. God accepted His Son as the perfect sacrifice for our sins and shifted the weight of our shame onto Him as He hung on the cross. He provides forgiveness of sin and healing from shame. “Jesus was the Lamb and the Scapegoat.” (Alan Wright, Free Yourself, Be Yourself)

Instead of transferring our shame onto those we love, we can turn to Jesus and let Him transform our brokenness. We can reach out in faith, trusting that He has removed our sin and absorbed our shame. In confidence we can step out of hiding toward the One who made the first move to demonstrate His unconditional love for us through Christ.

By Kelly Sobieski