man looking out office window contemplating weight of shame

Overcoming the Weight of Shame

“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;
For you will forget the shame of your youth,
And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.”

Isaiah 54

Courtesy of Doug Gillett, The Redeemed

When my marriage collapsed, I felt a lot of things—regret, anger, confusion, worry for the future—but above all, I felt shame.

Shame for the way I’d failed to deal with my long-standing depression. Shame for the way I’d let it grow between me and someone I loved. Shame for how much I’d turned to alcohol. Shame for how alone I’d let her feel.

We respond to shame in many ways, but one of the most common is withdrawing from the world. I stayed in my suddenly empty house, mostly drinking and watching TV. I didn’t feel like I had the right to do anything else. Movies, parties, trips, any kind of social outings—those were for happy people with something to celebrate. And what right did I have to celebrate, or even look happy, when I was such a failure?

While I stayed inside and beat myself up, the world kept turning—and I stood still. I didn’t try to spend time with friends, engage more deeply with therapy, or strengthen my relationship with God. Shame didn’t make me a better person. All it did was hold me in place and keep me from getting on with my life.

What Does God Say About Shame?

And the thing is, I was doing it to myself; the shame was all coming from me. Not from my family and friends, who only wanted to help me in a difficult time in my life—and not from God.

In Isaiah 54, God speaks to the captive national of Israel as a barren woman who cannot bear children, which made one an outcast in those days:

“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;

Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;

For you will forget the shame of your youth,

And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.”

He could also be speaking to us. Even if we’re forsaken by others, God will never shame us or force us to relive the failings of the past. On the contrary, in His infinite forgiveness, He wants us to be lifted out of shame and made whole. Nothing we could do, no mistake we could make, is so shameful that it’s beyond His redemption—if we’re willing to accept it.

We Can’t Avoid Regret, But We Can Rise Above It

We are humans, we will sin, and we will make mistakes. The Bible accepts this as a fact of life many times over. We will regret giving into temptation, just as we will regret not doing things we know we should have.

But God has promised us we’re not alone even when these things happen. As my mother has often said, “God never puts a bigger burden on us than He knows we can carry.” Or, as First Corinthians puts it in chapter 10:

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

No temptation is so strong that God can’t help us rise above it—if we’re willing to accept that help. On the other hand, if all we do is sit and wallow in shame, we’ll never accept that help because we’re convinced we’re unworthy.

But God has already told us we’re worthy! The question is, will we believe Him?