There is a cycle that is started when we make mistakes. Sin-> Control-> Fear-> Shame. We sin, which comes natural to us because we are flawed beings. The next stop in this cycle is control, in which we try to control our surroundings to cover for the sin. We try to control our children and spouses to make sure that they don’t know what we have done or are doing. We control our bosses and coworkers to make sure they never see us for who we think we are inside. Essentially, this type of control is manipulation in order to protect our perceived character. It can transition easily into fear - fear of being found out, fear of being caught, fear of being exposed. This causes us to hide and withdraw from others and soon leads into the darkest part of the cycle, which is shame. Shame is one of the most powerful tools in Satan’s arsenal. Shame causes even darker cycles to occur - thoughts of suicide, depression, eating disorders, murderous thoughts (hate), etc. I would go so far as to say that shame is the culprit behind many of today’s mental illnesses.
I recently read an article about God’s love that said, “The only one surprised when we fail is us.” God knows our limits and capacities; He knows what we are and are not capable of, so why would He be surprised to see us sliming around in the muck that He dragged us out of yesterday? He’s not. But, that does not mean that He wants us to stay there, or that it was His plan for us to be there again. The thing about free will is that God does have a divine plan for our lives; He plans out the days that we will live, He plans out the glorious victories that we can have on earth, He plans out the successes and the gains, and He lovingly watches over us, hoping that we will follow that path laid out for us by Him (Jer. 29:11). However, just like we experience grief and heartache over our children when they fail or when they choose to follow the wrong paths, our Heavenly Father weeps aloud when we turn our backs on His will for us.
So how do we avoid getting trapped in the cycle of guilt and shame caused by our failures? The first step is to recognize where the guilt is coming from. There are two forms of what I would call “shame”; one is caused by the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11), and one is caused by Satan. When you are being convicted by the Holy Spirit, you will feel a slight nudging in your spirit to confess, or to stop doing something because it is wrong; however Satan tries to use his ploys on us and wraps us up in the filthiness of our sins. Satan mimics the motions used by the Holy Spirit and will attack your mind to cause self-accusations, torment, and deep grief over sins. This is the little voice that starts the cycle of shame. God does not condemn us when we ask forgiveness, and if what we are feeling weighs us down so much that it is painful, then we must come to realize it is not of God but of Satan, the mocker. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.” Prayer can help to discern which you are feeling, conviction or accusation; but also time and beginning to pay attention to the signs of the cycle starting in our minds. God’s greatest hope for His people is for them to have and accept the freedom that He offers.
Getting over failures, sins, and guilt is a long and sometimes painful process; but once you have been refined, it will all be worth it. The next step is to take inventory of your life choices. You should take a moment to pray and meditate, looking at your life, and asking God to reveal to you some places where you are holding guilt and shame. Ask Him to reveal to you some things that you need to confess, perhaps not only to Him, but to others that you may be hurting by keeping secrets. The Bible says that all things hidden in the dark will be brought to light one day, so let the freedom that comes with moving from darkness to light penetrate your heart right now as you read this. Come to Him and confess; and make a covenant in your heart to continue living intentionally, so you can avoid the pain and risk of falling into the shame cycle again.
Are you currently stuck on one of the phases of the shame cycle?