Monday, February 01, 2021

Shame, Abuse, and Grace

Silver maple leaf on my red front porch

I sat in my office with a man who had been verbally abusing me. I asked him, "Can we just pray for love for each other?" My thought was that, as Jesus-followers, we're even supposed to love our enemies, and apparently that would be me, for him. And, even though we disagreed with each other on some things, we could still exhibit grace towards one another. Grace, and love, does not agree with, or "affirm," everything

My appeal for love did not reach him. It was as if I never said those words. He kept on defaming me, in person and behind my back.

Where did his wrath come from? I don't think it was about me. I think it came from a heart of shame. Many abusers of others are shame-filled people (the relationship between shame and abuse is asymmetric). Sprouting from the root of shame, the shaming of others grows. 

Others exist as threats to the shame-based person. So they call others words like "Nothing," or "Stupid," or "Amateur" (which is how this man referred to me), or whatever. In this way the shame-filled abuser ensures, at least in his own mind, and sometimes in the captive minds of the ones they abuse, their superior status in the honor-shame hierarchy. They "put down" others so that they might rise up.

Shame-filled people don't experience grace. The abusers among them are graceless and merciless. Shame-filled abusers can feed off the failures of others. They may love to see others fail and fall. They may gossip and slander about the failure of others, justifying their own existence as somebodies. The declared nothingness of others becomes the somethingness of the shame-filled abuser.

Most people struggle with pride and shame. I know I have. Both are forms of self-obsession and, as such, other-dissonant. These two sides of the same coin are killers for the struggler, and for the people in their lives. I have battled these twin evils. Thankfully, there is an answer in the grace of God. As I experientially understand grace, I find myself more grace-filled towards others. 

And, I don't have to do evil myself in order to experience even more of God's grace. (See here.)

Grace, as C.S. Lewis understood it, is the Christian distinctive. By it, shame is overcome.

(For more on freedom from shame see Lewis Smedes's excellent Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve.

The best book on "grace" is Philip Yancey's What's So Amazing About Grace? See also Yancey's Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News? )

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church