The marigold shag carpet etched its shape into my knees as I leaned over and enthusiastically accepted my neighbor Adam’s invitation to a coloring throwdown. With a pink crayon clutched in my grasp, I pressed the dyed wax against paper and vigorously shook my wrists.
I didn’t mean to break it, but I was only four and the crayon hardly stood a chance against my childish fervor.
The green one busted next.
Then the orange.
I remember many details of an incident that spanned only five minutes and passed nearly 40 years ago:
How I held each crayon so tight that my right palm started to sweat
The low-pitched hum of the fan as its metal blades tumbled fast in a futile effort to abate the mid-summer heat
The deep scowl on the reddening face of Adam’s father
I caught a sideways glimpse of his angered expression and tried to reign in my nervous energy.
“Those are Adam’s new crayons,” he barked. “If you break one more I’m going to spank you.”
Before he finished his sentence a silver crayon buckled under the pressure of my chubby grip. The next sounds I heard were the swish of matter slicing through air and the hollow thud of a strong hand connecting with the small of my back.
My tiny fingernails dug into the base of my neck, desperate for my lungs to accept the air they just punched out.
Spit pooled at the corners of his mouth as he screamed,
“You’re a bad girl! Leave now and never come back here again!”
I wanted to run, but I couldn’t even stand. I kept my head bowed and looked at my frenzied scribbles on the coloring page collecting my tears.
Shocked with shame, I sat shaking until my friend’s mom gently helped me to my feet, brushed strands of my butter-blonde hair away from my eyes, and instructed her son to walk me home.
Breaking the crayons was not an act of willful disobedience, rather a blunder of child too young to control her impulses, but my stomach twisted itself into sickening knots. I wasn’t as upset about being struck as I was about the notion that I was deserving of the blow.
I felt blemished by something even uglier than the raspberry hand print plastered across my back.
I had been slapped by shame.
Yes, there was some guilt over my part of the destruction of the crayons, but the guilt that whispered “you did something bad,” didn’t fasten to me like the shame-sewn accusation of “you’re a bad girl.”
The author of Revelation refers to Satan as “the accuser” for good reason. One of his nastiest tricks is to blame the inflicted for sin committed against them. He pummels our minds and hearts with twisted condemnations wanting to shift our focus away from our hope in Christ.
“He would have stayed if you were someone worth staying for,” he tells the abandoned wife.
“Your mama only hits you because you’re stupid,” he hisses to the abused little girl.
“He touched you there because of how you look,” he mutters to the woman fighting off her boss’ advances.
“Your son would still be alive if you realized his drug addiction sooner,” he taunts the grieving mother.
Again and again the devil slaps shame on top of senseless acts, leaving us flailing in a river of remorse instead of clinging to the cross.
God whispers to the hearts of his beloved,
But it’s dizzying-hard to ground ourselves in truth when our conscience directs us toward a lie, especially when that lie seems affirmed by an authority figure.
Still, busted and bloodied as we might be, we need to fight shame with the fierceness of a mother lion protecting her cub from a pack of hungry hyenas. Word by word … syllable by syllable even … we need to scratch out every shame-laced lie that assaults our soul. Because if we don’t stand up against shame, it will shred us. It’s that viscous. That relentless. That dangerous.
It’s shame that hushes us when we start to speak out against injustice.
It’s shame that cackles in our face when we attempt to put our brave on and reach toward a dream.
It’s shame that pins our heart against the wall when we try to trust.
It’s even shame that shakes its head no when we muster enough strength to extend forgiveness.
I don’t believe a more formidable weapon than shame exists. It’s stronger than hate and births jealousy, fear, and discontentment. But for all its girth and bullying, shame has an Achilles’ heel.
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!” -Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)
Jesus wrestled shame to the depths of hell where He left it for dead.
Shame is beatable. Shame holds no power over grace.
Shame cannot live anywhere grace breathes.
When shames smashes and thrashes and claws at your dignity, send it back to the pit of hell where it belongs. Don’t allow it to disgrace you. Rest in peace-giving grace and rise confident in the One who stands in honor alongside God.
Perhaps you finished reading this post, but your heart still aches because the shame you’re slapped with was dealt by your own mistakes and not a sin committed against you. If that’s the case, please know that everything written above applies to your situation too. We all mess up. I’ve slipped and sinned a disheartening number of times even since I’ve been a Christian. I’ve hurt myself and others and it’s ugly and I hate it and I wish I could find a blue TARDIS and give myself a few do-overs … but I can’t. I can however, allow grace room to breathe … grow … and bathe me new.
Never forget that no matter what you’ve done, you are forgiven and loved.
Don’t let shame win.