Dear Parish Family,
To live our faith fully means that, over time, we will more and more resemble Christ. As you and I keep making progress, we will, over time, become the kind of person about whom other people say: “Oh, I love her. She is such a special person.” …or… “He is so patient and loving; I don’t know how he does it,” …or… “I wish we had a city filled with people like her; what a world it would be.”
Resembling Christ is a worthy goal, but there is no one who does it perfectly every day. In fact, we can’t even go a single day perfectly embodying Christ; each of us is struggling with too many weakness and character defects to manage a whole day of perfect Christ-like love. And because we often fall short, we also fall prey to the tendency to get caught in a cycle of guilt and shame.
At first glance, guilt and shame look similar. The words sound like synonyms. Perhaps we couldn’t tell the difference between them. But, they are actually very different responses to our weaknesses. One of them is acceptable, even healthy. The other is toxic and must be avoided. Are you aware of which is which?
Guilt is the feeling of knowing we did the wrong thing or made the wrong choice. Guilt says: “What I did was bad.” It doesn’t feel good to endure guilt, and that makes it a strong motivator to do better next time. Guilt says, “I know better than to do this. I’m going to shape up.”
Because of this, guilt is usually an indicator of some pretty healthy self-esteem. It says: “I’m better than this. My values are nobler than this. I’m going to use this yucky feeling to learn this lesson and not have to return here again.”
Shame is totally different. Shame says: “I am bad.” It doesn’t contain any motivation to do better, because it fails to see any distinction between my bad choices and my identity. Shame says, “What do you expect from a total screw-up like me? I’m hopeless.”
Because of this, shame is a destroyer of self-esteem. It fails to recognize that each of us is made in the image of God. Shame ignores that and tells me that I’m junk and this is the best I can do – my actions are just as inadequate as I am.
Guilt is something that helps us identify our values and recommit to aligning more fully with them. Shame tells us that we might as well give up while we’re behind.
Growing in our resemblance to Christ is a “three steps forward, two steps back” kind of experience. But feeling ashamed of our back steps does no good at all. Let’s instead remember the values we have chosen to put at the center of our lives and course correct whenever we veer off the path Christ has placed before us.
With you on the journey…