About the Guest
What is shame, and what is its purpose? Best-selling author and Christian counselor Ed Welch explores the topic of shame with FamilyLife Today co-host, Bob Lepine. While all of us have felt shame at one time or another, Ed explains how shame controls and often defines so many Christians' lives. Although often linked to our sexuality, there are so many other more subtle ways that shame is played out, reflected in thoughts like I don't belong...I don't fit in....I'm marginalized. At the root of all these thoughts is shame.
Ed Welch explains how shame controls and often defines so many Christians’ lives.
Bob: What does the Bible have to say on the subject of shame? Author and counselor Ed Welch says, at one level, everything in the Bible is about shame.
Ed: We were originally created without shame. Shame came into the human condition. Now, the entire Bible becomes the story: “What do I do with the fact that I feel naked, and unclean, and cast out? What do I do with that problem?”
For me, in thinking about shame over the last few years, it’s not simply that I’ve been educated by Scripture about a particular problem. It’s become a completely different way of reading Scripture; and especially, the story of Jesus.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What does the Bible have to say about shame? How do we deal with our shame? We’ll have a conversation on that subject today with Ed Welch. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Monday edition. You know, I remember, growing up—I don’t think my mom said it to me much, but I remember her saying to the dog when he would not wait to go outside to go to the bathroom—
Dennis: I wondered how you were going to say that on the radio.
Bob: She would take the dog—and she would look at him and say, “You should be ashamed of yourself!” She would scold the dog: “You should be ashamed!” I think the question that comes out of that is: “Should we be ashamed? As Christians, should we be people who are ashamed?” That’s kind of an interesting question; isn’t it?
Dennis: It is very interesting because we have some listeners, right now, who are kind of cringing. They go, “You know, I grew up in a home where I was told, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’”
Dennis: They grew up under that load.
I think we have some fresh teaching and a fresh perspective of grace, and God’s love, and what the proper perspective of false shame is, and what real shame is all about.
Bob: Before we unpack that, something has happened in recent days that we should update our listeners about. We have had, all month long, a matching-gift challenge that we’ve been sharing with listeners. Every dollar a listener donates, during the month of December, we have some friends of the ministry who have agreed to match that donation with $3 of their own.
Dennis: That’s right.
Bob: We’ve seen a lot of listeners who have stepped up and said: “I would like to help FamilyLife Today out. I’ll make a $25, $50, or $100 donation.” Some have done more than that. We’re grateful for all of the gifts.
The donors we talked to had originally said, “We have to cap this at $500,000.” In recent days, they’ve come back to us and said, “You know, because listeners are responding, we’re going to expand the matching gift.” It’s now up to $800,000.
Dennis: Yes. We’re coming to you today and simply asking: “If you’ve benefitted from FamilyLife Today—and what we do here in practical, Biblical teaching for your marriage and family, and helping you reach other people—if you’ve benefitted, we’d like to ask you to stand with us and keep this broadcast on the air with a generous donation—$25, $50, or $100. All of it will be quadrupled.”
Dennis: So if you give $100, it will become $400.
Bob: What’s exciting for us is that if we’re able to take full advantage of this new increased matching-gift opportunity—that means that the benefit to FamilyLife will be $3.2 million. Now, that sounds like a ton of money. That helps us pay for producing and syndicating this radio program. It helps us with the cost of operating our website. It helps us with the resources we make available throughout the year. It helps us with the events that we produce.
It really is vital for the ongoing operation of FamilyLife Today that we hear from as many listeners as possible during the month of December.
Dennis: And that’s why these families have come alongside us. They want to increase the number of people who give; and they want to increase the amount of money that you give because they believe, as we do, that there are a few key messages in our nation today that must be loud, and clear, and be carried back to our homes. That is: “What does the Bible teach around marriage and family, and how can we be successful in this most basic unit of civilization?” If you believe, with us, that that’s important, we need to hear from you. Help us take full advantage of the $800,000 match.
Bob: You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation. We’re grateful for whatever you’re able to do. We appreciate your support, here, at the end of the year; and we do hope to hear from you.
Now, we’re going to listen in on Part One of a conversation that I had—we should explain to our listeners why you’re not in this conversation.
Dennis: Well, Bob, as you know, I was ashamed. [Laughter] —I was ashamed I wasn’t here.
Bob: Too ashamed to talk about shame. [Laughter]
Dennis: I was actually recovering from anesthesia—
Dennis: —because I had shoulder surgery.
Bob: Yes, you did.
Dennis: I want to tell you something—that’s not for the weak. That was a major deal. It had me out of commission for a while. In fact, Barbara was not happy with me because she lost a bunch of her labor. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, the day that Dr. Ed Welch was scheduled to be here was the day right after you wound up being scheduled for the shoulder surgery. So, our listeners are going to hear my conversation with Dr. Ed Welch as the two of us talked about shame. Dr. Ed Welch is with the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s a well-known author and speaker. He has written a book called Shame Interrupted, which was the reason we sat down to talk about this issue of shame.
Bob: How prevalent is the issue of shame among Christians? I know you don’t have a survey that gives us an answer—but just as you’ve interacted with people—are people buried under a pile of shame, for the most part?
Ed: I think the first thing we’d think of would be somebody who’s been sexually-violated. They would have the corner of the market on shame.
Ed: I work as an instructor in a seminary, and I have these great students. They’re like the perfect students. They go the gamut from probably 19 to 75.
Ed: They’re people with all kinds of ministry experience—they’re perfect. They want to deal with their own hearts—and then move from there and what the Lord has given them—to give those things to others who are hurting. I was talking about shame one day—this was in passing—this was a number of years ago.
I said: “How many of you struggle with shame in a way that is palpable every single day? In a way that affects your life—your life is detoured in certain ways because of shame?” I did offer a personal illustration because there was something in my life, at that particular moment, and I decided to share it. I felt like I was walking the plank by myself.
Bob: That’s a little risky—yes!
Ed: I don’t think I had done it before, and I wasn’t planning on saying it to the class. I said: “Right at this point in my life, I have an experience of shame that just hits me every single day—anybody else?” Before I finished the sentence, every single person in the room raised their hand. This is like the “best of...”—this is a successful—“a successful group”—and every one of them acknowledged it.
Bob: Your own experience of shame that you were confessing, at that moment—this was in a season of your life. You would not say that your life has been characterized by an ongoing battle with shame, every day, for the last forty-plus years; would you?
Ed: I would not—no. So much shame comes out of our own pasts and the way we were treated by our parents—the way we were victimized by other people. I had parents that were strangely encouraging, and I haven’t been victimized. Fewer males are victimized than women, certainly—
Ed: —but I have not been victimized in shameful ways.
Bob: So, we may go through shameful seasons; but some people, because of how they’ve been victimized, really battle this all the time.
Ed: I think the challenge, Bob, is—in our particular church culture, we don’t identify shame that much. It’s sort of this background noise. It’s sort of under the heading of: “I just don’t feel like I belong. I look, and I see everybody else, and they just all fit in. They’re put-together. They’re stories are cool. Somehow, I don’t belong. I feel marginalized in some way.”
Ed: Sometimes, the words get a little bit stronger: “I know what Jesus says, but I live life feeling unworthy.” I think there are a lot of people, in church, who struggle with it; but it’s hard for them to find the words. If you don’t have the words, you can’t move into Scripture to see the solutions.
Bob: I’ll illustrate what you’re talking about. I, for a season, got together with a group of guys pretty regularly. We’d meet at a local restaurant, and sit around and eat cheese dip or whatever else was going on, and we’d talk about our lives. Early on, with this group, I decided: “Let’s try to get below the surface if we can.” I knew if we were going to do that, it meant I had to start. I had to say, “Let me tell you about my life.” I talked about my life pretty candidly—stuff that had happened in the past—I think surprisingly candidly to this group of guys because they weren’t sure what they’d gotten themselves into.
But the next time we met, I asked another guy. I said, “Tonight’s the night to tell your story.”
I knew this guy was a pretty transparent individual—so I would get the goods from him. I remember, as he was starting to tell his story, he said: “So, I graduated from high school and I….” He was starting to move on. Given my vocation as an interviewer, I stopped him and I said: “Well now, wait. Let me just ask you: ‘Were you a virgin when you graduated high school?’” He looked at me and said, “Seriously?” I said, “Yes, I want to know.” He said, “No.” I said, “Okay.”
I think everybody else in the group was like, “Oh, we’re telling that kind of stuff to one another?!” But, to their credit, they all came back. Here’s the point it got to—by the time we got to the fifth guy in the group, who shared his story, his story was having been an alcoholic for many years to the point where it almost cost him his marriage—almost cost him his life. He had now been sober for 23 years.
He said to me afterwards: “You know, when I first started coming here to this church,” he said, “I thought, ‘I don’t know that a guy like me could be a member here, given my background.’” He said, “Sitting here around this group, I’ve got a pretty cleaned-up story, compared to some of you guys.”
We all have those things in our lives that we look back on with regret—with shame—but we keep it all pretty neat and tidy for public consumption; don’t we?
Ed: I love the story about your group. That’s close to heaven on earth. You know what I’m saying?
Bob: I do.
Ed: Where there is a—you’re shockingly changing the rules—but you’re not changing the rules at all because the New Testament is after the tax collector and the sinner.
Ed: We should probably identify the ways that shame can come at us. It comes at us in at least two ways. One is—it comes at us by way of our own sin.
Bob, what you’re talking about in that group is—you’re saying, “Let’s be willing to talk about our sins because that is some of the stuff that is underneath the surface;” but there are different kinds of sins.
For example, I found myself confessing, this morning, a lack of desperation in my life. This is a good time for desperation in my life; and I find my instincts are, “How can I manage this complicated situation?” And I’m willing to confess that. I’m willing to confess it because I think there might be some other people who would raise their hands and say, “Yes, I know what you mean.”
There are certain sins that we would confess, but there are other sins that are a whole lot harder to confess. That’s the kind of thing you were getting into with the group. That’s when Jesus identifies Himself with tax collectors and the sinners. Everybody, obviously, is a sinner; but these were people whose sins were flagrant.
Ed: They were known by their sins.
Ed: I don’t tend to be known by my sins; but people, who experience shame that is connected to their sin—they feel like that’s what identifies them.
Ed: So that’s one way shame comes. The other is—and this is a tougher one—shame comes by the sins of other people: It feels dirty. You feel disgusting. You feel unclean. Your instinct, I believe, is—if you have to confess something—and you go around—and we can all find something to confess—but the challenge is you’ll never be able to confess shame away. The treatment is not by way of confession.
Bob: So, somebody who’s been sexually-violated, obviously, can feel that sense of shame because somebody else sinned against them. Are there other ways that we are sinned against—non-sexual ways—where we bear shame?
Ed: Well, let’s try to normalize it. Let’s try to place all of us in this category. I’ve been thinking about rejection recently—and the number of people I speak with where that is such a prominent issue. What is rejection? Rejection is: “You don’t belong. There’s something different about you. You’re not part of this particular inner circle.”
Whether it’s the sort of drip, drip, drip of disparaging words that we would receive from significant people—or this crisis of rejection—such as people who have been divorced because of the sins of a particular person.
Bob: You get fired from a job, or it can come at you in a number of different ways.
Bob: Rejection is a subset or leads to shame—I guess, is part of the hypothesis here?
Ed: Well, shame is—you feeling unacceptable.
Ed: That’s the core. We’re seen by other people and we’re unclean. There’s something dirty and defiled about us—we don’t want it to be seen. The other picture is we feel like an outcast. We feel like we simply do not belong. There, rejection would almost be part of the definition, if you will, of shame.
Bob: It is interesting.
I’ve looked more carefully at Genesis 2 over the last number of years and have come up with this hypothesis that I’ll bounce off you, and you can react to it. The hypothesis is that: In the creation of the man and the woman, God has not yet finished. He has not yet reached the pinnacle; but that when He makes the two into one in the marriage, He has created His grandest work.
If that’s the case, then the last thing He says about that couple is that they were “naked and not ashamed.” I don’t think that’s just necessarily not ashamed in their nakedness, but they had no cause for shame about anything in their lives; did they?
Ed: There wasn’t this sense of: “I’m unacceptable. I don’t fit in. I am rejected because of who I am and what I’ve done.” There was no sense of defilement—there is no sense they had to cover up so they couldn’t be seen before God or other people.
I think what you’re saying—and there are so many things we could talk about here—
but what we’re trying to say, first, is that this is a whole lot bigger than sexual violation—even though sexual violation is a horrifying version of shame. That’s the first thing we’re trying to do; but if we’re right, Bob—that shame is part of the human condition—then, we’d better find it all over the place in Scripture. I think what you’re saying is Scripture is saying, right from the beginning, that we were originally created without shame. Shame came into the human condition. Now, the entire Bible becomes the story: “What do I do with the fact that I feel naked, and unclean, and cast out? What do I do with that problem?”
For me, in thinking about shame over the last few years, it’s not simply that I’ve been educated by Scripture about a particular problem that has really helped me in my own life. It’s become a completely different way of reading Scripture; and especially, the story of Jesus.
Bob: I’m going back to your classroom, where everybody raised their hands.
Honestly, I’m thinking: “Had I been in your classroom, I can look back on my life and there are things that I’m ashamed of; but I don’t, every day, wrestle with this sense of shame as an oppressive part of my life. So, how should a guy, like me, get in touch with my shame; or do I even really need to?”
Ed: What you can do is—you can just sit back and enjoy the story of Scripture and how God is a God for the underdog—for the outcast. Hear this amazing story of mercy, and be wowed by it.
Bob: Be delighted by it.
Bob: But the person, who is like the person in your class, who said: “Every day, I’m aware of my shame,”—for that person, it’s not as simple as just being wowed by God’s mercy. They’ve got to process this at a little deeper level; don’t they?
Ed: Perhaps, if we would set a goal for our conversation together, it would be to be surprised by Scripture in such a way that there is hope. See, the experience of shame, Bob, is that: “The promises of God are not that relevant to me. So, why bother reading the Scripture? It sounds good, but it’s not necessarily personal—not to mention the fact that, when you read Scripture, you’re confronted with the person of God and the thought of being face-to-face with Him—where He sees you—is not the most comfortable experience.”
Ed: But for a person, who wrestles with shame, to recognize that God Himself is interested in the marginalized. When you feel like you’re not marginalized, you wonder, “What’s wrong with me?”—
Ed: —that the story of Scripture is Jesus Christ makes a beeline for the tax collectors. The tax collectors were the people who were marginalized and outcasts from their culture—the sinners—people who were known by the things that they had done—
or we can add these people with physical disabilities—people with leprosy.
Ed: People with the issue of blood—like the woman in Luke, Chapter 8—to see that these are the centerpieces of Scripture.
Bob: This is who God gravitates—to Him.
Ed: These are God’s people—to see that’s what the kingdom of heaven is comprised of—those people—to see that and to have hope—and then, perhaps, to read the story of Jesus through the lens of—“Just watch Him. Just watch Him.” For example, He chooses to be born into poverty. Poverty is shameful. You are looked down upon if you’re born into poverty—not to mention the sort of strange family context into which He was born.
You watch Him in His initial public ministry and, almost from the get-go: “He couldn’t be the Messiah because He keeps associating with the tax collectors and sinners.”
Bob: The wrong folks.
Ed: I think one of the most beautiful features of that—which is hard for us to see unless you say, “Jesus is going after the shamed people,”—He eats with the tax collectors and sinners. In that culture—not that dissimilar to our culture—when you eat with somebody, you’re saying: “You’re my type. You’re my people.”
Ed: It is a sign of fellowship.
Bob: The junior high lunch room—we eat with the people we want to be like.
Ed: Absolutely. To put it in different terms: “It’s this hug that Christ extends to us that we would never expect the Holy One to extend to one who feels unclean.”
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to the first part of a conversation I had with Dr. Ed Welch, not long ago, on the subject of shame. The extended conversation is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com if our listeners would like to hear the complete dialogue.
Dennis: And just listening to that, Bob, I was just reflecting back on what the gospel of Jesus Christ does for us in our lives. He removes our shame. To that listener who really struggles with this—who feels like they’ve been marginalized in their life—this is really the message for you. The gospel brings freedom—setting you free from the guilt and the shame. It really has to become, I think, an issue of faith and belief: “Will you trust God at what He said about you? Do you believe you’re forgiven?”
Bob: I love Romans 8:1 that says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s a declaration that our shame has been dealt with. We don’t need to be ashamed any longer. That’s easier said than felt, sometimes; but that’s what Ed Welch is getting at in the book that he has written on the subject of shame. It’s called Shame Interrupted: How God Lifts the Pain of Worthlessness and Rejection.
That may be something that you experience. It may be something that a friend of yours has confided in you. They may feel consumed with this sense of worthlessness, and rejection, and shame. This would be a great book for you to read through together with a friend and interact around the subjects.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of Ed Welch’s book, Shame Interrupted. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. You can also call us, toll-free, at 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Ask about how to get a copy of Ed Welch’s book, Shame Interrupted,when you get in touch with us.
Now, let me remind you of something that Dennis mentioned earlier in today’s program. We have a very generous matching-gift challenge that has been extended to us, here at FamilyLife. In fact, we’ve had some friends of the ministry who have just increased the total amount of the matching-gift challenge.
If you make a donation to FamilyLife Today this month, it’s going to be matched three-to-one. You make a $100 donation—and it, all of a sudden, becomes a $400 donation—a $20 donation is an $80 benefit to FamilyLife Today. If we can take full advantage of the matching-gift opportunity, it means more than $3 million-worth of money for FamilyLife to be able to move forward in 2014.
December is a critical month for ministries like ours. Let me encourage you: “If God has used this ministry in your life in some way this year, consider being as generous as you can be.” Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “I CARE”, and make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone. Or, if you’d prefer to mail a check, our mailing address is P O Box 7111, Little Rock, AR. Our zip code is 72223.
In any event, we hope to hear from you. And let me ask you to pray for us—that we would be able to take full advantage of this matching gift and that God would provide exactly what we need for 2014.
I hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We’re going to continue the conversation with Ed Welch about the subject of shame. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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