A colleague has summed up his pathway to freedom from shame like this:
Other people’s opinions of me are their business.
What I think of other people’s opinions will kill me.
The only thing that matters is what Jesus’ opinion of me.
That formula makes sense to me. I see the rationale, and I honestly wish I could live by it. But most days I can’t.
On most days shame overwhelms me. On most days I feel like I have disappointed those who know me best. On most days I feel like I have earned the scorn that I am sure everyone feels toward me. On most days I am so disappointed with myself, that I cannot even remember what Jesus thinks of me.
Shame renders me self obsessed. I cannot think about you, only “do you like me?” I cannot listen to your struggles because I am struggling with whether or not I will be able to help you like I OUGHT TO. I cannot love you, because I am hiding from you.
At the end of the day, shame hurts, and that pain seems like it never goes away. Like any other pain, I interpret my life through it. So I protect myself from feeling any more. To protect myself, I must pay attention to myself, so I easily become self-obsessed.
Jesus followed the opposite path I take. He did not hide from shame. He sought shame out. He befriended outcasts, intentionally seeking the shame that would come through association. When accused he did not defend himself. Instead, he welcomed the shame that would come with condemnation. In death he allowed himself to be spat upon, insulted, beaten, slapped, stripped naked and laughed at. He welcomed shame.
Jesus must have known that I would never have the courage or the strength to leave my world of shame. So he entered that world to find me. He numbered himself with the ashamed.
Christ obsession frees me from self-obsession. The more I reflect and meditate upon the overwhelming and unexpected shame bearing of Christ, the more I forget myself. Christ, my savior, my hero, the lover of my soul volunteered to sink into my shame. He lifts me out.
I like my friend’s formula, but I have to do it upside down. The only thing that matters is Christ’s opinion of me. He loves me so much he endured my shame. Meditating on Christ’s love frees me from my opinion of me. As I am freed from my opinion of me, the opinion of others becomes their business.
This path is not one you walk once. I walk it everyday. In this sermon, I invite you to walk it with me.