As I continue to wrestle with the topic of shame, I begin by extracting these words from my last missive and in doing so, set a direction for the thoughts to follow:
I have had a paradigm shift from my early days of faith. I came to understand at an early age that sin was the deepest problem, the reason for our rebellion. At our core, we just want to rebel and have our way, it was assumed, which is what makes us disobey. But I have since broadened my understanding. Something else, I now believe, drives our sin. It does not excuse our sin but I believe it motivates it. And what I see behind our sin is terror! Behind our shame is our terror! Fear is not a strong enough word. Motivated by terror that perhaps things aren’t as they seem, the first couple ate in disobedience. And then the onslaught began.
Whenever and wherever Karla and I go to speak, one topic is nearly always presented: the insatiable thirst of the human soul. CS Lewis describes it as “the secret signature of the soul,” that we are thirsty people, thirsty ultimately for God and for things to be right with him, in us and between us, including the creation. I want to say more about thirst as it pertains to shame. Let me first make a point I have made in the past: thirst is our ticket home to heaven! I say that because of what I see in Revelation. The last characteristic describing man is thirst: The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, 'come.’ Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without cost (Rev 22:17). It seems we had better not lose our thirst. The enemy’s strategy is just that: to use the things of this world to fool us into satiating our thirst. I think the enemy wants us to believe that God is here to satisfy our hunger and thirst. We can, I believe, wrongly hear the words of Jesus—whoever drinks of the water I give him will never thirst again—as a promise of deep satiation now. I DO believe we get tastes of deep satisfaction in Christ. We have moments when God meets us. But the experience of the saints of old seems to indicate that they remained thirsty. And Heb 11:13ff seems to imply that people of deep faith have to come to the realization that they will never be satisfied this side of glory. As friends and churches, we must help each other not only recognize our thirst beneath our indulgence and comfort but also to rightly identify our thirst as being for God.
That being said, here is a question: If thirst is to be there at the end of time as we know it, was it there in the beginning? I think it was though not initially recognized because of the Presence of God. The umbilical cord of life was connected to the Source of Life. But Satan played on the first couple’s thirst with the words, Did God really say…? That question elicited at least two other questions within the human heart: Can God be trusted? and some version of a question about oneself: “Am I really okay?" You might change the wording of that question upon reflection within your own soul. Severing the cord from the Source quickly made the first couple aware of their thirst, probably in the form of desperation and terror. What I want us to consider and wonder about is the notion of thirst being present from the beginning because—and here is my key point today—thirst is behind our shame.
If you stop to consider moments of shame or the potential for shame, it is not difficult to trace a line to one’s thirst for something. I felt shame and the potential for it the other day at an event and as I considered what was transpiring, I came to the conclusion that I long to matter, matter deeply. The deep terror is alienation/abandonment/rejection. I was created to find life in connection to God and others. To be dependent is to acknowledge that we are not ourselves by ourselves but rather in connection to something outside ourselves.
While there is a shame that is not healthy, as pointed out in the book I recommended last time (The Soul of Shame), there also seems to be a healthy aspect to it. In Jeremiah 6, the prophet, speaking the words of the Lord God, suggests that God’s people were not ashamed at their acts of abomination. In fact, they did not even know how to blush! says God. (Jer 6:15) What was the problem? One must go all the way back to chapter 2 to see what made God so angry. Jeremiah has been called (ch 1) and now dispatched to point out the problem (ch 2). This second chapter begins with a bit of nostalgia. God remembers the way things were, the good ol’ days. Those were the days when Israel was faithful to their God. Now, however, it was no longer true. And the problem began when those responsible for the health of the nation stopped asking a rather important question, (vv6 &8): Where is the Lord? Perhaps another way to say it is this: What is God up to? Both the fathers and the priests had neglected their duty to keep God on the forefront of people’s minds. But God is not finished. We have a court scene in what follows as God argues his case, calling the witnesses of other nations (Have they changed their gods?) and the heavens (v12). And then the charges, two in nature.
Perhaps you are familiar with these words and if not, you should make yourself so. They describe what is transpiring in every human heart and they must be addressed if we are going to get anywhere in our spiritual formation. Here are God’s charges vs. his people:
1) you have forsaken me, the Living Water, and
2) dug for yourselves broken cisterns that ultimately cannot hold water.
In this scene laid out by Jeremiah, we have Eden 201. What happened in the garden of Eden happened again amidst the people of Israel: they forsook God and went after something else. It continues to happen in us today.
The problem is not that the people were thirsty. We're all thirsty. We should be thirsty. The problem, however, is not our thirst; rather, it is that we turn away from the true Source of water and then go after things that ultimately don’t satisfy. In our thirst, we ask the created rather than the Creator to fill the emptiness of our hearts and souls, says the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:25. Let me say it again: thirst is not the problem! Yet, we often mistakenly place our shame on our thirst. "I shouldn’t have wanted that” we think, or some version of it. Satan is masterful at getting us to pervert everything. In this case, the perversion is to place shame on our desire rather than on what we do with our desire. That's misplaced shame. Misplaced shame works to keep us from healthy shame. Save your shame for where it belongs because where it belongs is in our turning away from God to look elsewhere for the satisfaction of our hunger and thirst.
God wanted his people to be ashamed, to blush because what seemed logical and intuitive was actually abominable. God’s people, starting with Adam and Eve, prostituted themselves so that they did not have to feel the ache of living in a fallen world as hungry and thirsty people. "I am naked for crying’ out loud, it makes sense to cover up and hide.” “I am hungry and Egypt offers food and drink. Why would I not go?” "I feel dead inside. Why not eat more than I should or spend money I don’t really have?" "My husband never seems to notice me. Why not nag?"
We need to keep working to rightly identify our thirst. Then what? Then follow Jesus’s lead. I see three ways to do that. First, and it is counter-intuitive and seemingly illogical, wait. Live thirsty. Do you recall that Jesus while offering the disciples bread and wine in the upper room (Lk 22) said that he would not eat or drink again until the day we are home with Him? Talk about a hunger strike! 40 days in the desert pale in comparison. I fasted on Ash Wednesday, one whole day and it about killed me (a tad bit shallow perhaps?). Jesus continues to wait, to live thirsty. As he hung on the cross, he cried out, I thirst. Someone offered him something to drink but he refused because his soul was waiting for something more. We really can live thirsty. We really can wait because we now possess the same Spirit that Jesus did.
Secondly, we can then exercise our wills by saying No to temptations. Yes to waiting. No to striking back. Yes to absorbing another’s hatred/unkindness. No to greed and yes to generosity. No to getting ahead at someone else’s expense and yes to self-denial. We can choose kindness and patience. We can discipline ourselves and when we do, we create a solidness in our souls that can help us down the road. Little choices are not measurable and yet they create a solid foundation from which further resistance to Satan’s temptations and our flesh’s pull can come.
Lastly, we can follow Jesus’s lead by understanding what he knew and stated in John 4: My food is to do the will of my Father. What fed him was putting His Father’s character on display to a foolish and badly misguided world about where life is found. We can come to understand that the same thing feeds our souls. We wrongly assume we are fed by TV and gadgets and accumulation. We are not. We are fed by doing what Jesus did: loving another even when we are tired. We are fed by displaying grace when being critical seems more life-giving. I told you it would be counter-intuitive. We will need the help of God’s Spirit.
Shame can be just another pathway to God. Step into the light of exposure with God, to yourself and perhaps with a safe person or two and you just might discover your thirst for what God offers us as a gracious, compassionate, steadfastly loving and loyal God.
Grace upon grace to you,