Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dealing with MEsses: Guilt or Shame?

I meet with people regularly who are dealing with messes in their lives. Addictions, resentments, sorrows, depressions abound. This is especially so, it seems in the shorter and darker days of winter.

Funny thing, I mess-up too. (And it feels good just to say it.) And sometimes it feels weird having these people (who have made mistakes) come to me. The only redeeming thing about having people approach me with their mistakes is that I have a good place to send them--a Higher Source of Healing.

This morning, as I was studying for my weekend teaching, I read an important distinction. "Guilt is saying, 'I made a mistake.' And shame is saying, 'I am a mistake.'"

Guilt is an important response for our wrong-doings. It seems to me that until we can experience legitimate guilt, we are doomed to remain who we are, and those we hurt, will perhaps live under our unintended curse. No progress, no maturity is possible without admission of regret, without being sorry and changing.

My faith teaches that we are stamped with the image of God. We mess up--sin--yes. But deep within each person is the image of God waiting to be recognized, restored and cherished for its beauty and significance. This is what Christ does. This is what the church is to do.

Shame however, is an unintentional slander of ourselves and--I believe--our Maker. Christian faith should not be shame-producing. It should rather point to the freedom from guilt that is available. Freedom is a rare word midst many people of faith. But it was the trademark of Christ, and his early followers. Hear Him say: "Neither do I condemn you! Go and sin no more." In other words, "You are free! I love you! Now quit doing this stuff that hurts others and yourself."

Just some thoughts about dealing with people like me, who find ourselves needing fixed after the messes we make.


Zee said...

wow, never heard it put that way... thank you.
i guess in my mind i always mixed those two into one mould, where shame was the result of guilt. therefore, to feel no shame would be not to feel guilty, and not to feel guilty... well, either you're a saint or you're careless :-) as a result, shame was lurking around like a nasty happiness thief.
thanks for sharing the distinction!

david said...

That is one person's read on the difference. Since you are a student of English, it makes me a bit nervous to say these are accurate definitions. I think distinguishing between the "A made a mistake" and "I am a mistake" is the core of the quote. More so than the definition of the two terms.

Thank you for sharing your comments. Peace to you and yours. I just saw a baptism photo from Vinnitia. Awesome!

Zee said...

right. in russian (and ukrainian, for that matter) language, the difference is the same. i mean, it makes sense. and besides considering that i usually think in english anyway (for quite a few years now), it's sometimes easier for me to grasp the meaning of something when i read / hear it in english than in russian.