Cleaning Out the Closets

I’ll never forget when I went to Carrie’s mom’s house for the first time. I distinctly remember Carrie telling me to be careful when I opened any kitchen cabinets, because her mom kept them very full. I assured her I would use extreme caution. Unfortunately, I forgot her warning, opened the pantry, and was brutally attacked by Tupperware containers. Needless to say, Carrie was embarrassed, but I reassured her that everything was okay, and it wasn’t a big deal.

Our personal lives seem to be no different. We all have “closets” that are off limits, even to those closest to us. We know there is great danger in someone’s opening the door and being barraged with secrets that would humiliate us. We carefully guard those doors, constantly confirming they are under lock-and-key because we are certain if anyone uncovered those secrets, they would think less of us.

I am no expert on shame, but I’ve had (and still have) my share of it. Regrettably, I’ve allowed shame to silence my testimony, incumber my relationships, and stifle my spiritual growth. When given the opportunity, shame will destroy every aspect of our lives. It will change us into people we never thought we’d be. It sets in motion a downward spiral into addictions, depressions, and feelings of inferiority.

I have seen first-hand the vicious cycle of shame. Once we are attacked by shame, we start to look for an escape. Most of the time, this comes in the form of an addiction. Even if the addiction is not sinful, we know that we are in bondage to it. The inevitable result is that we then become ashamed of our inability to break free of our addiction, which forces us deeper into the addiction of which we are so ashamed. Addictions invite us to escape into a world that temporarily numbs our shame, but when the high is over, the shame returns with a vengeance, driving us deeper into the addiction.

Why do people have addictions to drugs, alcohol, eating, pornography, materialism, work, social media, video games, and a myriad of other strongholds? My guess would be -shame. All addicts are trying to escape the shame that plagues them.

Some might think shame is good, because it reveals our offense and brings us back to right standing with God and others. The reason one might embrace this idea is because we often confuse guilt and shame. Guilt is felt when one has done something wrong; shame is felt in a variety of circumstances. Guilt acknowledges a wrong doing; shame finds value and identity in failures or self-imposed standards.

Over the next few weeks, I want to discuss shame and how it affects our testimonies, our relationships, and our spiritual growth. I pray that you will find hope and healing in these posts. If we are ever going to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world, we have to “clean out the closets” that hide our shame. Dr. Brene Brown, a “shame researcher,” wrote in her book, I Thought it was just Me, “I have found that the most effective way of overcoming these feelings of inadequacy is to share our experiences.”[i] So, that is what I plan to do.

John 21:15-19 is without question my favorite story in the New Testament; it is the story of Peter’s restoration. Peter experienced a devastating blow to his ego and a major spiritual setback when he denied Christ. At that point, he decided he was finished -the salt had lost its flavor -he was disqualified, unworthy to be called a follower of Christ. Ashamed, he found a place to hide, his fishing boat. However, Peter was unaware of the restoring power of Jesus Christ. Jesus reassured Peter that his failures and brokenness did not disqualify him; rather, they served as reminders of the inconceivable grace of God.

When discussing grace, we often quote Ephesians 2:8-9, but we do a great disservice to the message God is trying to convey when we leave out verse 10. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

The word “workmanship” is translated in New Living Translation as “masterpiece.” When God created man, he said his creation was “very good.” But when he transforms us and restores us in Christ, he says we are his masterpiece.

His masterpiece? An artist obviously finds the most pride in his masterpieces. “Surely my failures and brokenness make me qualified for nothing more than his pile of damaged goods,” you think to yourself. Not so, according to Ephesians. How could God be proud of someone like me? That is what I want to discuss next time.

I have created a link to a message by Chip Ingram about shame. Allow yourself some time to watch it; the message in its entirety is about 45 minutes, but I can assure you it will be a worthwhile investment. I honestly believe it is impossible to listen to this message and not be touched; it will meet you where you are and challenge you to rise above the clouds of shame.

I look forward to hearing your comments, and be sure to share this with someone who needs to hear it. Until next time, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16 (ESV)

[i] Brene Brown, Ph.D, LMSW, I Thought it was just Me (New York: Gotham Books, 2007), p. xxiii.

3 thoughts on “Cleaning Out the Closets

  1. Nora Ankrom

    Thanks, Bryan, for this blog! I wonder, can you explain more of what you mean by the difference in guilt versus shame? Is that something you plan to go into more next time?


    1. I think we often use the terms guilt and shame interchangeably when we shouldn’t. We feel guilt when we have done something wrong (assuming our consciences are intact) and only when we have done something wrong. Shame is felt when we feel like we don’t meet certain expectations -our house isn’t as nice as the Jones’, our bank accounts, income, etc. aren’t as impressive as the Jones’. Our house isn’t as clean as we want it to be and so on. Guilt positively motivates us to take the necessary steps to repentance; shame silences us because we are afraid of being found out. I hope that makes sense.


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