How to Discover Joy in the Midst of Shame
The Way of Jesus: Bearing a Little Shame
Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?
I just experienced a recent job change and move to a new state—another wearying “new beginning.” It caused me to reflect deeply on my life over the period of many months. Usually I remember the things I have accomplished and the adventures I have had. However, the nature of this change caused me to reflect on the person that I am. Images began to come into my mind – faces of the people I have hurt in no small way because of my radical self-centeredness. The overriding image in my mind is that of my life as a boat moving through a narrow canal. The wake of my life swamps all who are near the shore.
It is a remarkably painful image, that boat. I see faces from my past as the waves of my life roll over them. I want to beg them for forgiveness. I have deeply hurt them. A familiar guilt settles over me. But, what is new to me is that I have begun to feel deeply ashamed of who I am: a wretched man.
Joy in Jesus’ Shame
St. Paul says that Jesus “…endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:1-3). Jesus unjustly endured the humiliation and shame of a criminal’s death, which He didn’t deserve. The Way of Christ for me, therefore, is the way of bearing the shame of who I am: a distorted human who deserves the cross of death and eternity in hell. I must admit that fact to the God whom I love. It is the shame that I deserve and the cross of pain I must bear daily. Yet, it puts me in the Way of Jesus, the path of salvation. I invite you to join me.
Bearing your cross is not living a life of despair. In the midst of the pain of your shame before God, a curious thing begins to happen. A very tiny point of light appears amidst the grayness of your shame. When you allow it to do so, this pinpoint of light illuminates those around you. You cannot help but love them and pray for them. They are you and you are them. Words fail. Yet, the prayer of St. Nikolai Velimirovic helps:
For all the history of mankind from Adam to me, I repent; for all history is in my blood. For I am in Adam and Adam is in me.
In your shame and pain you can find budding joy. Jesus, “…for the JOY set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…” Joy, the same joy of Christ given to you by Him (John 15:11) comes to you only through bearing your cross of shame and pain. The joy of Christ in the midst of the pain of your cross. What a glorious mystery!
This is the Way of Jesus. You face yourself and bear the pain of shame for your wretchedness. And right there, you experience the joy of Christ.
- Shame can be painful beyond your capacity to bear it. Pray that the Spirit will reveal to you the things about which you must feel shame. Do not simply reflect on your own life judging yourself by your standards. This is false shame.
- Do not run from the shame God reveals to you. It may feel like it is beyond your capacity to bear. It is not. Pray for tears of repentance. God is with you, weeping. In answer to St. Paul’s question: “Who will save me?” God, through Jesus, will save you from your wretchedness.
- Pray for a wise, mature Christian man or woman—a spiritual father or mother—with whom you can share your story of shame. This is someone who will not try to “fix” you. Rather, he or she will silently bear witness to your confession of shame before God.
- Bear only a little of your shame. How much shame should you carry before God? St. Silouan, about whom I wrote last time, put it his way:
Stand at the brink of the abyss of despair, and when you see that you cannot bear it any more, draw back a little and have a cup of tea.
In the bearing of your cross of painful shame you will begin to experience the promised fullness of Christ’s joy. This is the Way of Jesus. Mysterious, indeed.
Comment on this post below. How do you relate Mike’s story and thoughts? What questions does this reflection on the Way of Jesus bring to mind?