Despising the Shame
Author: Elyse Fitzpatrick
My husband recently lost his job necessitating a move to a rural senior mobile home community. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t responded well.
Since this move I’ve noticed a significant propensity to anger, ingratitude, bitterness, self-pity, and ensuing guilt. I’ve been standoffish and arrogant with the dear folks who tried to welcome us here. We won’t even talk about how I treated my husband.
Of course I’ve known that I was sinning and that I needed to change, but I couldn’t quite get there. Although I knew that something was significantly wrong with my heart, I couldn’t figure out what was driving it. So, I prayed and asked the Lord to help me respond in a more godly way only to find myself right back doing the same things over again.
A Biblical Counseling Perspective
Right here, in the very messy reality of life, is where I was helped by the biblical counseling perspective this site represents. The Bible and the counsel that flows from it taught me that my primary problem is the sin resident in my heart. Were we facing difficulty? Yes. Did that difficulty force me to sin? No.
Biblical counseling also taught me that I needed the help of others to see what I was blind to. It was, in fact, during a conversation with an old friend that the light finally began to dawn.
The Power of the Gospel
Understanding personal sin and what drives it is beneficial…as far as it goes. But it doesn’t automatically transform us because there is no power inherent to self-understanding. What changes lives is the gospel. The last (and most important) piece of the puzzle that I needed to see was how my union with Christ intersected with my circumstances and how His perfect obedience freed me from all guilt.
So, in a nutshell, here’s how all that worked in this situation: Through the help of my friend I realized that all this bitter water was flowing out of a heart that was resisting being humbled. I was struggling with humiliation and shame. I hated thinking of myself as a needy old lady who lived in a trailer in the sticks. This self-understanding is God’s kindness to me. It has been a kindness because I never would have seen the significant pride resident in my heart that was tied to my identity as being a youngish, well-to-do, urbanite.
Next, the gospel reminded me how Christ was humbled for me. I saw Him leaving His Father’s home to condescend in the incarnation. God became man! Talk about humiliation! But it didn’t end there with His life—it stretched all the way to His humiliation on the cross as His Father turned from Him; and it stretched even into death, the ultimate humiliation of us all.
He didn’t just identify with us for a short time. No. He became Immanuel—one of us for eternity. He is not ashamed to be called my brother. He despised—thought nothing of—the shame of the cross because He was looking forward to the joy of freeing His bride. He submitted to humiliation for me.
But that’s not all. He is not just my example of how to handle life’s humiliations; nor does His humiliation mean that I should beat myself up about what He’s gone through and how I’m responding. Not only is there no power in self-knowledge, there’s also no power in feeling guilty. Here’s where the transforming power of the gospel speaks: Jesus is my righteousness.
This is where the gospel really frees me: I’ve been sinning terribly and this failure makes me want to give up. But because I’m justified, I know that my record is not what God sees. What He sees is Christ’s perfect response to humiliation. I am freed not only because I’m forgiven, but also because I’m justified.
Now, with that in mind, I can get about the business of fighting my sin. I can remember that God has adopted me and promised to complete His work in me. I can pray in faith and fight with zeal today, putting off grumbling and putting on gratitude. And every time I feel that humiliation, and am tempted to respond sinfully again, I can thank my Savior that He has been tempted just like this and that this perfection is my record.
There are a thousand ways to respond when difficulties come our way, but only the gospel transforms our hearts to make us welcome them because they make us love Him more.
Posted on January 7, 2014