She found herself caught in the act. Guilty. No excuse, no way out of it.
They grabbed her hands and dragged before everyone in the town, putting her and her terrible, awful choice on display. “Look at what this woman has done!” the voices shouted. “Can you believe that she did such a despicable thing?”
Her shoulders slumped lower in shame and she fell to her knees in weakness. The shocked and disgusted stares of those around her–soul-piercing, condemning looks–were even more oppressive than the scorching heat of the mid-morning sun. Her soul felt wretched, empty and utterly lost.
Maybe you’ve never been caught in adultery like this woman was (you can read more about her story in John 8:1-11).
But I’m guessing you’ve felt the same depth of shame and self-loathing for a choice you’ve made. You’ve felt the weight of disappointment that comes from a wrong choice.
You’ve heard the screaming voices in your head declare that you are awful and wretched and beyond hope.
You’ve felt paralyzed and trapped. Maybe you’ve heard that God would understand and you should reach out to him about it, but those voices quickly say, “That’s true for every situation but this one. This really is too much. It’s too despicable.”
So you close off part of your heart. You bolt down the door to that area and keep pressing on. No one needs to know about it, right? No one will find out.
Besides, the phone is ringing and your kids are fighting in the other room and you tell yourself life must go on.
But as the days wear on, the torment continues. It’s not awful at first, but it’s enough that you take notice.
And when you make other bad choices in your life (whether a repeat of this one or something else), you notice that the oppressive heaviness intensifies. And oh how you hate the weight of it on your heart.
You need to talk to someone about it, but who? Can God help, and if so, how can you bring your feelings of shame before Him? What does that actually look like?
These are real issues that we all face everyday! We all make huge mistakes and must face the consequences of our actions.
And yet, the great news is that, yes, just like the story of the woman above, there is a way out.
When others (or even your own heart) won’t offer anything but reproach and vehemence, there’s a hand reaching out that’s ready to offer something perhaps you thought never possible: Hope.
Friend, that’s what I want to walk you through today. I too have felt the heaviness of my own shame and I want to share with you the hope that’s possible to you and everyone else, no matter what you’ve done.
The first step to processing our shame in a healthy way is to make a critical distinction: Are we dealing with conviction or condemnation?
Is It Conviction or Condemnation?
What is Conviction?
Conviction is God’s prompting in our heart to make a decision that brings us in closer fellowship to Him. God allows us to feel conviction so that we can live the humble, righteous lives he calls us to.
Conviction is an important part of the Christian life! We can’t have God’s grace without his gentle spirit of guidance. We could not grow spiritually without his promptings to live differently or to confess wrongful actions to Him.
Since conviction comes from God and God is the definition of perfect love (1 Cor 13; 1 John 4:18) we can know that all conviction will be done from God’s pure heart of love (even if His truth stings sometimes).
In short, conviction is a good thing, and we must continually tune our heart to the Holy Spirit so that we can be quick to respond to any conviction He gives.
What is Condemnation?
Condemnation, on the other hand, is a negative, destructive thought pattern that seeks to destroy and undermine our self-confidence.
Condemnation doesn’t give healthy, biblical answers to a situation. Instead it fills a heart with with phrases like “You’ll never break this pattern,” “You’re worthless,” and “You’re a horrible person.”
There is no guidance toward God. Instead, condemnation is a prison—a breaking down of the spirit—and often leads to additional sin.
Jesus describes two distinct patterns of guidance in the parable of the sheep and the wolves. He says in John 10:10 (TK—LINK): “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
And that’s the best way to think of it: Condemnation brings destruction and disorder; while conviction brings healing and peace.
4 Steps to Take When You’re Filled with Shame
How can we tell if what we’re facing is true conviction from God or condemnation from the enemy (or from our own selves)?
And ultimately, how can we remove the heaviness and guilt inside that results from our bad choices?
Here are four simple steps to take.
Step 1: Ask God to help you clarify where the shame is coming from.
We serve a good, good God who wants to help us untangle our often confusing emotions.
Go to quiet place and take a few minutes to talk to God about all of it—your anger, your sadness, your guilt—through prayer and examination of various Bible passages. I’ve found that a concordance and a journal are a huge help here.
Don’t rush this process. Just read, share your heart with Him and listen. It’s OK if you need to spend several times alone with Him before you get clear answers about what’s going on.
Remember that God is on our side (always!) and wants to help you sort through all you’re feeling. He wants to give you the healing you’re seeking. Expect his help and his answer.
Step 2: Separate the conviction from the condemnation.
During these moments, God may show you that your feelings are a complicated mix of both conviction and condemnation (this is often true for me, especially if I’ve allowed the emotions to fester for a while).
That’s fine and that’s normal. Be gentle with yourself as you separate out conviction from condemnation. Sometimes I even make a list of convictions and condemnations so that I can really see on paper what’s going on.
Step 3: Learn from the conviction and restate the condemnation.
What healthy things is God trying to share with you (conviction)? How is God trying to direct you back on the good path? Ask for forgiveness and for His help in living out those truths.
Conversely, which emotions are flat out lies meant to destroy (condemnation)? Reword the negative, destructive thoughts into His life-affirming truths.
For example, recently I’d said some pretty awful things to my husband while we were in the middle of an intense “discussion” (read: an argument). God convicted me that I’d used my words to destroy instead of build up (Proverbs 12:18) (and yes, I needed to heed that warning and ask both God and my husband for forgiveness).
But I also heard terribly condemning thoughts like, “What an awful wife you are,” and “Your husband is going to leave you because you’re not good enough for him”. Those were not of God and I needed to call them out as lies.
Instead I restated them as these truths: “God uses my imperfections to demonstrate to others that He lives in me,” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12) and “As a daughter of God, I am no longer identified by my mistakes but I am completely redeemed and always ‘good enough’” (John 8:1-11).
Note: These aren’t “feel good” expressions but instead an affirmation of God’s truth supported by scripture. They are the thought patterns we need to cling to when condemnation strikes!
Step 4: Let it go, and walk on.
Once God has revealed any conviction (and you’ve asked for forgiveness and help to live differently), and He’s shown you how to rework the condemnation into truth, you can walk in forgiveness and freedom!
Just like that woman caught in adultery who saw no where to turn and no way out, God is there reaching out, ready to listen and to offer you guidance to the healing you need.
He’s a good father that corrects his children in love, and who also shows them how to walk in that new path (and promises to be with them every step of the way).
I pray that you can prayerfully follow these steps so that you can move forward, walking confident and free in God’s grace!
His hand is reaching out to you today, ready to give you hope and to heal you from your shame. Will you take it?
I pray that you can prayerfully consider what we talked about in this post so that you can move forward, walking confident and free in God’s grace!