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The Beast of Shame

• Sandra Unger

The story of the transforming power of love over shame is all around us. This past weekend Sandra showed us this theme in the movie ‘The Beauty and the Beast’, and we learn how powerful love can be to defeat even the most paralyzing shame.

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Greg has done sermons on shame before, but Sandra felt that there was (and is always!) more to say on the subject — and specifically, how the transforming power of love can overcome even the most debilitating shame.

The Bible of course talks about love a lot, but it doesn’t tell us the “why” of love. It doesn’t really “sell it” or tell us how great it is. Sandra thinks the reason for this is that it is assumed. For example we can see this in 1 John 4:8. Here John is saying God IS love. And we are created in God’s image. So just do it!

We can also see this expressed well by Russian writer Leo Tolstoy:

“Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and internal source.”

– Leo Tolstoy

Love is all important, it is the MOST important.

Psychologist Dr Curt Thompson describes the centrality of love to our life story as follows:

“We are born looking for someone

who is looking for us.”

This theme appears again and again in our stories, but it’s especially visible in the movie The Beauty and the Beast. Here we see a prince who used to be very powerful and handsome, but he was kind of arrogant so he let it go to his head. So he was cursed to be a huge and ugly beast. Over this he felt such shame that he pushed away everyone around him and mostly secluded himself for years, hiding from the world.

Hiding. This is one of the most telltale signs of shame. We feel unworthy of love so we hide.

Brene Brown gives this definition of shame:

“Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.”

In Genesis 3, what did Adam and Eve do as soon as they disobeyed? They hid. (Although notice that God came looking for them even though he knew they had disobeyed. This detail will be important later)

Shame whispers to us about our unworthiness and repulsiveness. So why do we listen to it? Because the voice seems to show us evidence. It gives reasons for our unworthiness — Because you are ugly, or because you did that bad thing, or because you’re not smart, etc. They are all lies of course, but there are kernels of truth there which seem like reasons, so we believe it.

Sandra shared her own story of shame, which took place at the tender age of 5. Some older girls in the neighborhood were smoking and she wanted to be cool so she joined them. But the church they were going to taught her that Christians do not smoke. So, in her 5-year old mind, she concluded that since she had just smoked, she was no longer a Christian. She held this secret inside of her for three long years (which in the life of a 5-year old is an eternity), going through the motions but knowing that she held a secret inside. Finally after three years, she told her mom what she had done, and her mom (of course) laughed responded like it was no big deal at all! But to her, it was huge and she was amazed that her mother still loved and accepted her.

The story of shame and love in the Beauty and the Beast is even more intense. In the midst of his shame, the Beast pushes away everyone around him, so he lashes out at Belle and the others in the house. His rage is terrifying. [Notice here that it is mostly his behavior (which was a result of his shame) that makes him so scary to others. NOT his appearance or his essence!] Gradually, though, they become closer and of course we all know how it ends (spoiler alert!) that eventually he loves Belle and she loves him, which breaks the spell, and turns him back into a handsome human man. Ah, happy ending.

Another good example of this same story playing out (that Sandra gives) is the story of her dog Pig. Coming from a bad breeding situation where she (Pig) was not treated well, she was withdrawn, antisocial and very afraid when Sandra first got her. But slowly, over the course of 8 months of nonstop love and coddling, she eventually opened up to be a funny and spirited dog who now loves toys and dancing (literally!).

Sometimes, without meaning to, we can breed shame into our loved ones, especially children. Imagine this familiar scenario, where a kid, after being told not to run in the house, runs through and breaks a vase and the mother yells and sends him/her to their room. A few hours later dinner is served and nobody speaks about what happened but the kid can tell mom is still a little mad.

Contrast that scene with this alternate ending, where after a little bit of time goes by, the mom comes to the kids room and apologizes for yelling and explains that the vase was special to her, but that the kid is far more special than a vase. She reconnects and affirms her love even though the child had disobeyed. This reconnection is essential to teaching self-worth to a child. *Correction without connection leads to shame.*

The most transformative power of love comes when it is given in the midst of a flaw, mistake or sin. When Adam and Eve sinned, God looked for them. Then God came to the world in the body of Jesus to find YOU, even though he knows you have sinned. God knows all of our secrets. This fact is terrifying, when you think of it. But *he loves us anyway*. He came to find you, heal you, love you, and transform you.

Some ideas if you suffer from shame.

1) Name your Shame. Telling is the last thing the shame voice wants us to do, but it is by far the most effective tool in extinguishing it. Whether it’s with a friend, journal or therapist, tell your story and name your shame. This defuses its power over you.

2) Come out of hiding. We all know the posture of shame: Head down, shoulders hunched over. We hide in our bodies. Come out of there! Let yourself be seen and known. Because unless we are really known, then we discount any love we do receive as being only because they don’t really know us! Being known and loved is where healing happens.

Consider this quote:

“The more of me that is exposed to another, the greater will be my wounding when I am betrayed. We deeply long for connection, to be seen and known for who we are without rejection. But we are terrified of the vulnerability.”

– Dr Curt Thompson

3) Let Jesus love you. He came here not because we were awesome and perfect, but because we were the opposite! Because we were broken and in desperate need of love and healing. Allow him to enter and accept this!

If you are fortunate enough to already have received adequate love in your life, then this is your call to give that love to others who haven’t been as fortunate. This was the most important transformative part of what God came to do, and therefore it’s the most important task of the church. Your job is to *love as an act of war* against shame. This can be hard, because let’s face it, some people are difficult to love. Nobody said war was easy. But these victims of shame are the ones that need it most.

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Topics: Culture, Love, Transformation

Sermon Series: Moving Pictures

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Focus Scripture:

  • John 13:34-35

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

  • Romans 8:1-2

    There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

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One thought on “The Beast of Shame

  1. Peter says:

    While the message that Sandra has brought was excellent, it brings also to my mind Robert Southwell’s quote,

    “Not where I breathe but where I love, I live”

    Although scientists are looking for ‘life’ on Earth and elsewhere in the Universe that may be termed ‘biological life’, this is far short of conscious and conscience life experienced by humanity.

    As Sandra indicates, if we are created in the Image of God (or His Image-bearers) then we reflect this love to others and Creation. While in one sense we could say God’s life is love, but God doesn’t have life as He is life. And our life is from Him; hence we live. So that true living is loving or, truly relating to others is love itself, in action.

    We can understand Adam’s ‘plight’ in the sense of God saying (Gen 2:18), “It is not good that the man should be alone”. While Adam could express his love to God and Creation, he could not express it through a relationship with another person.

    We then have the primal couple working in God’s temple on Earth ie Eden, with the choice of ‘feeding’ from either the tree of eternal Life or (effectively) the tree of death. After choosing the latter option their created purity/innocence was lost and they were excluded from God’s temple/Eden…with the consequential shame that Sandra mentions. It is interesting that at this point in the Creational narrative, that the loving relationship between Adam and Eve breaks down (Gen 3:18 “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”) that is further reflected later, with Cain murdering his brother.

    Prior to the Fall, Adam and Eve were able to enjoy being in the presence of God without shame or a ‘grocery list’ of laws that they had to obey…this all came naturally. Now, in another sense, they (or perhaps humanity) knew the difference between good and evil if they were to come into the presence of God…the gulf is indeed deep and wide (the aspects of ritual and moral purity are covered to a large extent in Leviticus).

    If we step back and look at the Bible in a holistic sense, we could almost say that it is a book that teaches us to love…to recapture that which was lost at the beginning. Indeed Jesus says when questioned,

    “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:36-40)

    So, as Sandra indicates, God’s love/our love can only truly be expressed or shown through loving relationships that removes shame…that has its source in the Cross, the sacrificial life of Christ, that so totally removed our shame that, as the writer of Hebrews states (10:19),

    “.…we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus”

    And, as Rev 22:4 states that we, “will see his face”. Something that would have been beyond the comprehension and shame of Adam and Eve, after the Fall.

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