Friday, December 28, 2012

Shame Interrupted by Edward T. Welch

The pain of worthlessness and rejection is real and powerful. But the gospel is stronger and more powerful. That's the premise of Edward T. Welch's new book, Shame Interrupted. Several months ago, a couple pastors I get together with recommended that we all read it together. And I am glad that they did. It was no accident that after reading how shame is so prevalent in the lives of people, I began to see it in the faces of the people I minister to each week. Shame is real. The pain of rejection is real. People struggle with this feeling of worthlessness that so pervades their hearts. It makes them go into hiding and they struggle finding their identity in anything other than the fact they feel unacceptable. That really is how Welch defines shame:
"Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated" (2).
The book reads like a counseling session. In a masterful way, I felt counseled by Welch as I contemplated the shame that lies inside of me. The thoughts of "Your not good enough." The feelings of "You will never be accepted." The attitudes that kept telling me to keep hiding. I resonated with much of what he said in this book.

As I just inferred, one of the first attitudes of shame is that it likes to hide. And the way to begin the healing process is to expose it. It loves to hide in the dark, but it must be brought into the light. This is not easy. But we were not originally created for shame. It was only after the fall of man into sin that shame began to exist. In fact, we are told in Genesis 2 that Adam and Eve were walking around naked and were not ashamed. Welch explains:
"In the beginning, there was absolutely no shame, with people walking around in the nude literally and figuratively. They had no concerns about their bodies, which were flawless, and no concerns about what they had done because they hadn't done anything wrong. They feared no one's critical judgments because no one was critical or condescending. Nakedness without shame. To be known without feeling exposed. To live without any need for self protection" (42).
I have a friend at my church that talks about what it means to be perfectly known and still perfectly loved. My guess is that there is a fear deep down inside all of us that if someone were to know us perfectly, they would not love us perfectly. After all, who wants to expose all their deep, dark secrets. We hide them because we have bought into the lie that exposing them will affect the way that people relate to us. We believe that lie because we have felt it. We have felt the rejection. We have felt the stares. We have experienced how people relate differently towards us when we are exposed. So, it is easier for us to keep it in the dark. That's shame.

This is where we desperately need the gospel to take root into our life. We are worried that to be perfectly known will affect the way someone perfectly loves us. But isn't that what God demonstrates in his love when while we were still enemies with him, he sent his son to die for us (Rom. 5:8)? Didn't he send his son even though he perfectly knew us? And even though he knew all our junk, he perfectly extended and moved toward us.

There were many aspects of the book that would seem helpful to point out, but would make it a very significantly long blog post. His chapter on "Clean and Unclean, Holy and Common" was brilliant. Very insightful. His thoughts on "When God Touches the Untouchables" really made me stop and think. Very drawing. And his chapter on "The Cross" was humbling.

Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with shame issues in their life. Let Welch be your counselor as he leads you through the implications of the gospel upon your sense of worthlessness. Let me end with one quote that I think will help explain the premise of this book really well.
"Most people who know shame are horribly uncomfortable with the idea of receiving honor. It is hard to be honored when you don't feel very honorable. When you work hard and do well, no one minds a little recognition. But screw up and receive praise? That can be hard to take.  
Yet this is the way of God's kingdom. It's called grace. Leave your discomfort at the door and get used to it. Be amazed. Just say, 'Thank you.' This is the only door; there is no back alley through which you can enter. There is no gate that says, 'Second class, enter here.' If you want Jesus, you must be willing to accept the honor that goes with the relationship. Your royal status--ascribed to you, not achieved--has been unveiled. 
So why is that entrance so difficult? What causes us to be uncomfortable with, or even resistant to, this grace and honor? No one resists a fat lottery check or a free item at the market. Get a freebie and it makes our day. Maybe that's because there is no apparent sacrifice or love behind it. But in this case, when we look the Gift-giver in the eye, know the extravagance of the gift, and notice we have nothing to offer in return, we can feel a bit sheepish. Yet we can't enter the kingdom with embarrassment that lasts more than ten seconds. Any more time than that and we will turn away from the Gift-giver, and that just can't be. 
For me the problem, again, is my residual pride. I can feel like scum and still resist grace. That's an odd combination, but we are odd people. Part of me would actually prefer a reprimand, a scowl, or at least an opportunity to slip in without anyone noticing. I would fell then that I had somehow paid for my failures. Who wants to feel like they are in someone's debt? But the old upside-down way of thinking is being righted. 
In the kingdom of God, our eyes are turned away from ourselves and onto the glory of the King. In this simple redirection we have the pleasure of thinking less often about ourselves. If Jesus is highly honored because he gives us such a great gift, then bring it on! I'll gladly accept it" (223-224).


  1. Larry Crabb and Dan Allender have a lot to say on this topic as well--especially fear, shame and hiding as they relate to the Fall (and therefore to us)! I recommend "Encouragement: The Key to Caring" if you get the chance.

    For my quick summary, right here:

  2. Thanks for the heads up. I have Encouragement by Crabb and will check it out again.


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