Do Not Be Ashamed

Tim F. Thornton

Ever since Laurie introduced me to the work of Wendell Berry, I’ve often shed tears while reading this poem without knowing why. Tonight I was reminded of it while praying and I am beginning to understand that God has been speaking to me through it. Maybe he will do the same for you.

Do Not Be Ashamed

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

-Wendell Berry

A friend was at the house a few weeks ago who was praying for Laurie and I. She started to pray against shame. My eyes were closed but I sensed the room get brighter, like someone had lifted an invisible fabric that was covering my head.

Until then I hadn’t thought a lot about shame, but gradually I came to remember kids being really nasty to me without reason in grade school. Probably because of their own insecurities, they picked out anything different about me and made it a joke, right down to the way I chewed. I had to eat my lunch in the classroom for a while in fifth grade because it was too brutal in the cafeteria and on the playground.

I’ve understood for some time that I am created by God for the purpose of being a gift to those around me. I’m called in a special way to spend my life blessing his people. Even so, I have begun to realize that–beginning when I was very young–even though I had no reason to be ashamed, the enemy told me that I did. And on some level I bought into the lie. I learned to fear revealing my true self, especially anything out of the ordinary. I agreed to hide until I knew it was safe.

I agreed to be ashamed.

As I got older I used to take an unnaturally long time connecting with other people–only revealing my best self to those who I felt had earned my trust. As tensions arose in my life my first instinct has been to withdraw rather than to engage. Though I have nothing to be ashamed of, I have sometimes acted as though I do.

Tonight I acknowledged that those grade school kids hurt me and that it was wrong. I released their debt, blessing them each by name into better futures.

Then I ended my agreement with shame. I said it out loud: “I am not ashamed.”

Do you, like me, need to trade shame for an inward clarity? A candor (the quality of being open and honest in expression) that can’t be extinguished by intimidation?

Here’s the truth:

“Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” – Romans 10:11 NIV

“Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NASB

You may need to realize that you are carrying shame for a situation in which you did nothing wrong. You may have done something wrong but need to realize that the wrong is not reflective of your new nature in Jesus.

Either way, you don’t need to live in shame any longer.

To be sure, if you sin it’s good to feel sorrow for something you’ve done and to be led to repentance by the Holy Spirit. But if you’re in Jesus and a spirit is speaking shame to you about who you are (we call that condemnation), you can be sure that spirit is not holy, or else it would be hard for Romans 8:1 to be true.

As for my journey, I now see how the enemy has tried to use shame to paralyze me, because part of God’s purpose for me is to be both free and deeply connected to people. And I can only be those things when I am not hiding.

Not everyone will understand, accept, or approve of you and I when we move in this freedom. It’s a definite loss for the enemy and it’s certainly not a very religious way to behave. OK, so it doesn’t please the devil or the traditions of men. What does happen when we refuse shame?

I love the line in the Berry poem, “a sure horizon will come around you.” It reminds me of another poet I read a lot. In a song we now call Psalm 31, David wrote “You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place,” (NIV). He begins with the line “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame.” Here’s a song Laurie and I wrote that references this psalm.

Shame is not natural when you are in Jesus. So, when the accuser is loud and the critics don’t fight fair, say it with me:

I am not ashamed.

April 10, 2012