It was the Fourth of July. Three families parked in the lot next to a church and spread out their blankets and chairs to watch the fireworks. Before long nine-year-old Ryan was fidgety. “Ryan, how many times do I have to tell you to sit down and shut up? Can’t you do anything right?” his mother scolded.
To kill time before the show, Ryan’s dad told the other families about their recent vacation trip. “Riding in the car with Ryan is such a pain. I mean—he stinks! The kid passes so much gas that we practically had to stop every five miles to air out the car.” Everyone laughed as Ryan blushed in shame and stared at his tennis shoes. “I think we’ll just tie him down in the back of the pick-up next summer—so we can all breathe!”
Humiliated, Ryan pinched his little sister. “Ryan!” yelled his dad. “For the hundredth time, try acting your age. You ought to be ashamed of yourself!—and right here by the church!”
What do you think words like these did to Ryan’s heart?
How have you seen children shamed by adults?
Is there anything in Ryan’s story that you can identify with? If so, explain.
It’s the age-old story of humanity’s fall:
GENESIS 3:8-10. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
Adam and Eve experienced guilt. Guilt probably said to them:
You’ve disobeyed God.
You’ve done something wrong.
You broke the only rule He gave you.
My inner critical voice saying, “I have done something wrong.” A sense of violating a standard.
My inner critical voice saying, “I am flawed.” A sense of being deeply defective or unworthy.
They also felt ashamed. Maybe Shame said to them:
You are not what you used to be.
You are not good.
You are bad.
You are worthless.
You are powerless to change.
You deserve to be punished.
You don’t deserve to be loved.
Maybe they thought, “The problem isn’t just what I’ve done. The problem is rooted in who I am.”
So Adam and Eve hid.
and Sin had its first casualties.
humiliating and miserable... or... holy, blessed, and cleansing?
THE WORLD OF SHAME IS CONFUSING AND COMPLEX.
BUT WE WILL FIND HOPE ON OUR JOURNEY TO FREEDOM!
Why study shame? You may be thinking, Why an entire Bible study on the topic of shame? Sounds depressing. Can’t we just take our sins to the cross, read Scripture, and experience Jesus’ forgiveness? If that’s how you feel, this study will expose you to the complexity of the topic. And it will prepare you to come alongside your friends and family experiencing the deep wounds of shame with sensitivity and compassion.
Why not avoid shame? Or you may be thinking, Talk about shame?! I’d rather get my leg amputated without anesthesia! The experience of shame has been so painful that there’s no way I want to stir up all those feelings and memories I’ve tried so hard to bury. If that sounds like you, this study will help you connect with biblical characters who felt much like you have. And it will provide an atmosphere of grace to explore your shame with trusted others in your group—maybe for the first time. Our prayer is that you’ll find Jesus seeking you out in your shame so you can receive His mercy, healing, and new freedom.
Shame is universal. Our first awareness of sin may come through guilt—and certainly all of us are, in fact, guilty of falling short of God’s standards. Some of us also have serious things we’re ashamed of—sinful addictions or devastating abuse. Most of us grapple with “smaller” stuff—the shame of unpleasant body issues, not making the team, not getting the promotion, or losing your temper again—but whatever its “size,” we all experience shame in varying degrees and situations. We go out of our way to avoid it. It is amazing how much of our behavior stems from an unrecognized need to avoid shame, cover shame, or deny shame.
What types of shame are there? Sometimes shame happens when we’ve really blown it and deserve to be ashamed. That comes with being part of the sin-prone human race. It is intended to usher us into God’s healing presence, into the bath of His forgiveness, into His loving mercy. At other times shame is heaped on us over things we aren’t responsible for and don’t deserve. It can drive people into utter darkness, desolation, and separation from life.
Is this a dangerous study? So there’s shame that alerts us... and then there’s shame that just hurts us. If you’ve suffered deep abuse or pain of any kind, discussing this subject may trigger inner screams of accusation, “It’s all my fault! I deserve the condemnation and pain.” If this triggers despair, we urge you to seek appropriate professional support.
Where is God in all this? For others who have shame grouped with other “bad emotions,” this study will open your eyes to why God designed us with the capacity to feel shame—and to Satan’s skill in twisting shame into something lethal. As we honestly face our shame, we’ll be drawn to Jesus—the only lasting solution to our shame.
Our prayer. We, the authors, are in our own process of healing and spiritual transformation. We’re continually facing our shame, tasting the acceptance and mercy of God and other people, tuning out voices of condemnation and tuning in voices of mercy and truth. We’re finding freedom, intimacy, and mercy in Jesus. That’s our hope and prayer for you, the reader.
What would your group like to gain from studying this topic together?
Maybe right now you can’t really identify with feelings of shame. Maybe it will help to think of shame as one of a whole family of emotions. As you read through this list, highlight several feelings that you connect with being ashamed. Explain.
What if...? Imagine God had not given us the capacity to feel the strong emotions of guilt and shame. Without them, how likely would we be to return to Him in worship and experience intimacy with Him in a fallen world? What would that be like?
Take a few minutes to pray together—for yourself, for each other, and for others you know who might struggle with shame. Ask God to bring you hope and genuine freedom as you explore both the “big” issues and the “little” issues with Him.
Before you launch into studying these chapters, briefly discuss two or three questions below. Don’t try to reach agreement or resolution now! You’ll have lots of time to explore biblical principles that relate to all of these questions as you move through the study. Also let each member respond to the last two questions (7 and 8).
There’s no getting around it. Shame is uncomfortable. But God is in the business of taking uncomfortable things in our lives and redeeming them for our good. Consider Joseph’s words to his brothers who had abused him horribly years earlier:
GENESIS 50:20. You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Can you think of an example where God took something shameful in someone’s life and worked good out of it? Explain.
EXAMPLE: Chuck Colson (an assitant to President Nixon) went to jail for his crimes. But there he met Christ and now ministers effectively among prisoners.
Every day as you read or listen to the news, be on the lookout for the impact of shame in the stories. Cut out or print any news items that illustrate people acting out of some kind of shame. Each week, bring articles you find to your group for discussion. Here’s an example:
In Pause 4 of each chapter, you’ll find several features:
Take a moment and consider the opportunity to memorize a key verse from each chapter—something you may never have tried before. You’ll never regret storing these powerful verses in your heart.
It’s really quite easy! Just repeat one phrase at a time and keep adding phrases until you have it all. Speaking the phrases out loud is a real help.
Take a few minutes to read together the Scripture memory overview found on page 149. This will help your group decide whether or not you’d like to make this practice a regular part of your group time. Either way, try to memorize the verse on the following page as your guiding verse for the whole study. Use the simple tips now as you memorize this verse out loud together as a group.