Social shame asks the questions: Where do I belong? Who am I? Who are my people? Who can be trusted? None of these questions can or will be answered perfectly by any person, place, community, or church. Your experience tells you this truth.
But the truth is that in order to be in safe, secure relationships within safe and secure communities and churches, someone has to go first. Someone has to take the risk, the plunge, into vulnerability. It’s the only hope of connection. I cannot empathize with pain that I do not know about—that you have hidden from me or others. One troubling aspect of the modern-day church in America is that there are few people who are brave and courageous enough to risk going first (which contributes to the church’s reputation as a community where it’s not safe to be real and vulnerable). The trailblazer always has a more difficult time than those who follow.
The problem then is how will you have courage to be the trailblazer, to pioneer your way forward past the relational barriers shame creates between us, barriers of fear and insecurity and people-pleasing? There is only one I know who can make us brave enough for such a task—who can give us the honor and secure belonging we desire. He is the one who made the way for us to return to God—who repaired the sin-broken trail of relationship to God through His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and then did the impossible so that we could live courageously in relationship with God and lead the way in restoring relationships with others. Jesus was excluded by all and abandoned by His friends in a time of need so that we could always be welcomed into relationship. At His greatest hour of pain and separation, even God the Father turned His back on Him. God’s “Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” became the one who alone cried out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; 27:46). God rejected Jesus in a moment of agony on the cross in order that we would be eternally embraced through faith in this sacrificed Savior.
Jesus’ closest friends on earth—His disciples—abandoned Him when they fell asleep during His hour of greatest need, and then fearfully fled as soon as He was arrested. Trailblazing the way to salvation was a lonely path, filled with social shame, as Jesus was repeatedly rejected and abandoned. Jesus is ready and waiting for you to call on Him.
He is Quick to Answer
What motivated Him? It was love and joy. Hebrews talks about “the joy that was set before him”, which helped Him to “endure the cross, despising the shame”, and which led Him to the victorious, secure place where He “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). This throne is described no longer as a throne of judgment, but a throne of grace—where we may receive help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). And, oh, how we need help! How needy we are! We need grace to first admit how much we need it. Ephesians 2:8 says that even this is a gift of God—faith to believe in grace. And we need courage to believe we have the grace for which we ask.
When you cry out to this Savior—this made-vulnerable-to-you One—He is quick to answer. There is no waiting for a response, as we must do with every other person. Even the most attentive friend, spouse, roommate, or parent is not available 24/7. God gives us the Holy Spirit through Jesus, who is interceding for us even when we sleep (Romans 8:26-27; Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is ready and waiting for you to call on Him.
This perfect love begins to drive out your fear of shame. That’s what social shame is at its core. It is fear of being shamed, of experiencing relational rejection or exclusion. Andy Crouch writes, “Shame is always seen and recognized by the community. Social shame, as well as honor, is all too obvious to all concerned.”1 Add to this Ed Welch’s words in Shame Interrupted: “At the very heart of shame is the absence of relationships, the absence of being known, personal isolation.”2 God never excludes you, but is always calling out for you and seeking to know you; and He has made you part of a community where you have eternal belonging.
- Andy Crouch, “The Good News about Shame,” Christianity Today (March 2015): 37.
2. Ed Welch, Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012), 229.
Heather Davis Nelson (MA, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a writer, counselor, and speaker. Heather writes regularly at HeatherDavisNelson.com and has been a featured writer at the Gospel Coalition, as well as a contributing author to the Journal of Biblical Counseling. She and her husband are parents to twin daughters and live in southeastern Virginia. She is the author of Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame.