The Challenge of a Life Without Shame

Friday, March 16 (O.S., March 3), 2018: Friday of the Fourth Week of Lent; Martyrs Eutropius, Cleonicus and Basiliscus of Amasea († c. 308); New Venerable Martyr Martha and Martyr Michael († 1938); Venerable Virgin Piama († 337); Sts. Zeno and Zoilus; Icon of the Mother of God of Volokolamsk (1572).

Sixth Hour: Isaiah 29:13-23
Vespers: Genesis 12:1-7
Vespers: Proverbs 14:15-26

My words and deeds often don’t align because, as the reading from Isaiah suggests, I am often ashamed of myself.

It may be that I have shameful thoughts or done shameful deeds. Just as likely, however, I may be ashamed of the Gospel. Or maybe, I don’t want to behave in such a way that makes clear that I am a Christian. I can be ashamed of goodness as easily as wickedness.

Shame is insidious. It twists and distorts my heart, my relationships with God and neighbor. The great challenge in overcoming shame is that it rarely travels along a clean, straight line. Rather shame mixes everything together, it’s a jumble of sharp edges that cut and dull edges that bludgeon.

The prophet Isaiah summarizes the experience when he says to shame, “You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay; that the thing made should say of its maker, ‘He did not make me’; or the thing formed say of him who formed it, ‘He has no understanding’?”

Yes, a life free from shame is desirable. Accustomed as I am to shame’s many burdens and limitations, however, the offer of liberation is unsettling, frightening even. I may not like shame, but at least it’s familiar.

This is why, as in Genesis, the spiritual life is often described as a journey to a strange land. I may not like shame but it at least as the “virtue” of familiarity. In a fallen world, shame is my native land, my “father’s house.”

When I hear the offer of salvation not simply as the promise of heaven at the end of my life but as freedom from shame in this life, like Abram I’m not sure I want to make the journey.

Freedom from shame not only means traveling to a strange (emotionally and spiritually) land. It also means becoming a new person–Abram becomes Abraham–who has new and rather intimidating responsibilities.

I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.

What if, shame insinuates, I’m not up for the challenge? I’ve failed before, why do I think I won’t fail again? Maybe I’d be better off staying where I am.

To this Solomon responds the “simple believes everything, but the prudent looks where he is going. A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool throws off restraint and is careless.”

Hearing the offer of salvation, I need to look carefully not only at where I’m going but where I am. And where I am isn’t good. Yes, I need to be cautious and not run headlong into the future. I need to do this though not because God can’t be trusted but because in those first few moments of the journey I’m still unsure of myself.

Accustomed as I am to shame, I will at first find my new freedom in Christ intoxicating. Being still unsure of what God wants for me, and from me, I can become quick-tempered, acting too quickly and so “foolishly.” If I’m not cautious, shame can again trap me causing me to be arrogant or to express myself with an unwise zeal.

I need to give myself time to adjust to this new life, this new journey. I need to acquire “discretion” and prudence. In a word, I need to grow in wisdom.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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