Ponderings

On Shame, Fear, and a Little Motivation

What motivates you?

The idea I’m about to share has been swirling around my mind for roughly five years now, but I think I’m finally ready to write about it. Now the basic, nutshell version is this: We’re born into the world with three inescapable ingredients, pride being the first one (not such a surprise to most), followed by two other motivating emotions (which is the part that might surprise you). But, instead of sharing those here, I’d like to unpack the idea a bit more by looking at the first story of man in the Bible.

The Garden of Eden

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it (or even touch it; Gen 3:3) you will surely die.’“ (Gen 1:15, 16, 17 – 3:21)

And what happens fairly soon after this? Well, in Genesis 3 we see God’s directive dissected and questioned. Did he really say it that way? Did He really mean death? Certainly not. And really, Eve’s tempter didn’t have to work that hard on her. He only had to prey just the slightest bit on her desires and her freedom to choose when he suggested she would not surely die, but that she could become like God… with opened eyes and knowing good and evil. Because, honestly, who of us doesn’t want to be like God? A king with all power and knowledge, in charge of our own kingdom, even if it’s simply a kingdom of one.

So she looked and touched and ate the fruit. And, not one of us can blame her. Though Adam tried. But I’m jumping ahead…

While also being reminded of a funny story involving our own little Adam (actually his middle name). So for most of our years together, Big C and I did loads of house remodeling. Okay, maybe the “I” part of that sentence isn’t totally accurate, but since we basically stayed in non-stop project mode and I was forced to live among and through it, I *feel* like I did loads of it. Or, maybe that was laundry? Anyway, this one time, when our “Adam”, who also happens to be our oldest, was about four, we embarked on a bathroom project. That four year old’s bathroom, to be exact. Now budget being an issue, instead of replacing the bathtub, we’d opted to have it resurfaced by professionals (basically a paint job for tubs). But the day the company came out, Big C was working, so when he got home, he went directly to admire (read: inspect) their work. And, of course, his little four year old shadow followed right after him, clearly determined to do some inspecting of his own because within seconds of walking into the bathroom, that little shadow reached out with full intent to touch the tub, for what we can only assume, was to be a more accurate assessment. Immediately he was stopped in his tracks by a firm “No!”, plus very strict orders not to touch it for the rest of the evening. However, as this is a story similar to the first Adam, I’m fairly certain I don’t have to tell you what went down in that bathroom within the following five minutes. Yep. Straight up defiance and plenty of frustration and more than a few tears and that sweet, little shadow’s fingerprint, right up front and center, on our new and improved, gleaming white bathtub! A fingerprint that, if we still lived in the house today, I can emphatically say would mean the absolute world to me! But, then? Well, it was flat out disobedience through and through. Likely infused with a healthy dose of curiosity and distrust. Because we’re just born to be in charge of us.

But, unfortunately, like Adam and Eve learned, we aren’t as capable of this kind of kingliness as we’d like to think. We’re more like my sweetest ever (Honestly, the sweetest!) four year old… wanting his way and believing he should have it because he’s wise well beyond his years. In his own mind. My mind, too, if I was in the mood to brag on him. It’s the whole reason I call him Wisdom on these pages of mine. Guess what, though? Not that I want to dog on the kid, but at 22 years old, he’s still like this. He must learn things the hard way. Always. And, I’m just the same, if I’m being honest. I’m Eve. I’m my oldest son. And, just so he doesn’t feel left out, I’m also my youngest son, Weapon. Because, like his code name suggests, besides having the strength of an ox, his head is as hard as one and he’s usually battling head strong and hard in this whole learning for himself game. And so, just like them all, I’m simply forever battling the desire to be the king of my kingdom of one, as well.

And, here’s where I bravely state that we all are guilty of living like this.

Though, I wanna tell you something I’ve been learning in the battle against this ever present pride of mine. This desire to always do everything my own way, without any regard for my Creator, will forever be present in my life and, if left unchallenged, will certainly be the death of me. Just like we saw with our first couple. Additionally, because of this couple, the two emotions I hinted at in the top paragraph will always accompany my life, as well. And I see these two emotions as completely connected, so I often refer to them as the two-headed snake from that garden debacle. Because, just like its evil counterpart, this snake also seems to creep deadly around, forever tempting me to believe its lies. And besides the horrible and eternal separation from God, that one little snack in the garden, guaranteed that this awful two-headed snake would follow us all around for the whole of our lives. Oh, and I’ve named this particular beast, though, admittedly it’s not very clever…

Please allow me to introduce you to, Shame and Fear.

Not interested in getting to know them? Can’t say I blame you. Unfortunately, I know them all too well. Or… maybe you’re sitting there, feet propped, relaxing, and doubting me. Again, can’t say I blame you. I usually doubt me. Because, maybe you’re just thinking that you’d never use either of these words to describe your usual emotions. That you don’t really battle feelings of shame and that you certainly wouldn’t consider yourself a fearful person. But, I’d like to ask you to think about it this way before we move on… Where or what is that place or thing in your life you’re most desperate to hide from others? And, what or who is the one thing you avoid… whether it be opinions, outcomes, or circumstances? See, I can almost promise that you have at least one answer to these two questions. If not multiple answers. Because – and I believe this wholeheartedly – living with shame and fear is simply our unfortunate human condition. Due to the events in that garden, we are all born into this world with a sense of pride that is always, always, always accompanied by shame and fear.

But… but… aren’t these emotions only birthed into us through our environments or by certain experiences? Well, I used to think so. I did. That it was our life circumstances and exposure to certain elements in this world that determined whether we carry around any shame and fear. (Or, believe that we don’t carry them around.) And, while these events may play a role in our expression of or even the depth of shame and fear we have, they are not the original cause, and here are two simple reasons I now believe this…

My own life and, most importantly, God’s Word.

See, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t a bit fearful and not, at least, tempted to hide my truest self. And, I was a much protected child. I was also very much accepted and loved. Unconditionally. It was a bit broken, I’ll give you that, but never a day went by that I didn’t feel it to my core. Still, they could only love me so much. And me, them. Because, we just come into this world broken, with a deep need for a love and an acceptance that only God can meet. And, I hadn’t met Him yet. And so, to me, this is now a reality I feel to my core.

Because, everything broke down to the core in that garden that day…

Adam and Eve; Fruit and Fig Leaves

Then, Adam and Eve both ate the fruit and, “… the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’ (Side note: He KNEW where they were.) He [Adam] answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.’ And he [God] said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?’ The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’ 

And Y’all, right there is our two-headed snake, Shame and Fear. Did you see it?

What Is Shame? What Is Fear?

Shame is the realization we are naked and imperfect, resulting in a deep desire to cover up in order to not be exposed; and fear sends us into hiding, while pointing fingers or deflecting defensively… or, even angrily. Shame says we must make sure we’re good enough. Fear says we must protect ourselves. Shame says I must see myself, and present myself, as better than I feel I am. Fear says I must control me, you, and everything around us, because I can’t handle the uncertainty. They both shout loud that we’re not okay. And they both have a strong potential to motivate most everything we’ll ever do. In fact, so many of our choices and actions can be traced back to these two emotions, that I’m now convinced they’re the actual root of pretty much everything.

Now, we’d likely all agree that shame and fear motivate most expressions of our brokenness. Addictions, arrogance, control, anger, passive-aggressiveness, hatred, manipulation, jealousy, greed, self-loathing, gluttony, and unforgiveness can all find their roots in shame and fear. But, surprisingly, these two can also be behind many of the other ways we often express ourselves in our stories. They can drive us to act and do good, to serve others, or be kind to others. Because, while those particular choices are ordinarily thought to be motivated by a true, or selfless, love, sometimes they’re actually driven by a sense of shame and fear. Shame for not doing or being enough, or having a need to prove our worth or earn affection. And fear over any potential rejection or bad opinions or even, sadly, God.

You see, if I’m ashamed of myself I can do all kinds of things to cover that. Wonderful things and good things and not-so-good things and everything in between. It’s the same with fear. And while fear will often find its expression in anxiety, acting out, aloofness, laziness, procrastination, rage, unsociability, over-working, competitiveness, and sarcasm… it can also be expressed in more surprising ways like humor, risk taking, and even over-achieving, all done in an effort to fight back against fearing that we’re not enough, too much, or any other negative feelings chasing us down.

And so, by understanding that shame and fear are at the root of most everything… by understanding they can actually source, or motivate, potentially everything we do, we are better able to address, and even battle against all those things we do that we wish we didn’t… all those negative emotions and behaviors we still feel unable to overcome… plus, all those feelings that are associated with them. How? By realizing that God actually has us covered. Right and exactly where we are.

God Covers

Looking back at Genesis 3, after God announces the consequences of their fateful choice, He does something extraordinary. In verse 21 it says this, “The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Now, I’ve always heard this was the first ever animal sacrifice because the skin had to come from somewhere, but we can’t just leave it at that and move on to the next part. Which really just becomes bad again because it’s back to their consequences, so let’s bask in the good a bit longer…

So, there sit Adam and Eve who, for the first time ever, are now hiding in shame and fear from their very own Creator by using these flimsy little leaves and God’s own gorgeous creation as their covering. Now, these two were the only humans in all of creation to experience complete and total love and an all-enveloping fellowship with God, so the fact that all of that ends right here forever is beyond tragic. And, God must’ve been completely heartbroken by their choice to follow their desires and disobey His one and only restriction. And now, because of those choices, He’s forced to explain what is to become of their life from that point on… the hardships and pain and toil. And, He’s saying it all, while they just sit in their shame and fear. But then, we see the extraordinary thing happen! (Which we can always see, if we’re looking.) We see God’s compassion! A compassion that leads Him to simply, though rather shockingly, kill His own creation in order to provide these two image bearers of His adequate clothing for their new life beyond the garden.

And, please hear this part… God went looking for this pair knowing exactly what they’d done. And He did so, not for the sole purpose of punishment and banishment, but I believe it was also for this other reason… COVERING. See, He doesn’t just pronounce judgement, then walk away in His anger and disappointment at the loss of their fellowship, thereby leaving them to fend for and cover themselves. He also doesn’t just instruct them on how to do it. No. He actually takes the time to cover them Himself. God, being full of compassion, and in His infinite faithfulness, love, mercy, and grace, steps right into the very mess they’ve made for themselves and offers them a blessing right in the middle of it all.

Ahhhh… Jesus

Right? Because this kinda rings a bell. Jesus did that. God offered Himself, through His Son, to cover all that is broken in us. It’s a complicated idea, if you’re not so familiar with it, though it gets easier to understand in time. The main thing though, is that this Son of God, this Man named Jesus, stepped right into our broken world and offered us a cover through His perfectly pride-less life, death, and resurrection. God didn’t leave us forever alone to fend for ourselves or overcome our brokenness or try and reach Him through all kinds of rules and requirements. And, what’s even better is that Jesus just continues to cover us. With His perfect record, protection, love, mercy, and grace. And because He lived perfectly, we no longer need to accept any of the shame and fear that comes courtesy of that most unfortunate day in the garden… or, from our own records… or, even from our very own hearts. Nope. We can rest in His pure heart. Despite that sneaky, two-headed snake slithering about and tempting us to believe otherwise. We can make the choice to know we are forever covered up by the One who covers completely… even over the brokenness and unfaithfulness and pain we create for ourselves. And, we can know beyond all doubt, that since Jesus was the Adam that Adam could never be, we’re definitely and infinitely covered. And we can make the choice to daily (or moment by moment, if need be!) believe He will always be the cover that fights back at all the shame and fear in the midst of any temptations to believe otherwise.

So here’s my bottom line in all this and why I wanted to share it with you… we no longer have to cover and hide who we are because of the shame and fear that plagues all of humanity. Through Jesus, we are freed from any slavery to that lie! We can stand tall and proud and loved right where we are, just as we are, by our Creator. And we can help others in their quest to live free, too. We can do this by coming out of hiding and openly sharing and showing all that breaks us, knowing we all experience this breaking in one way or another and we need each other to help carry the load.

Now, I could choose to waste precious time being fearful of living like this (and trust me when I tell you I’ve wasted years!)… or, fearful of opinions and situations and outcomes and anything else you can name. I can continue to try and cover up – or waste even more time hating – all the infinite things I’m ashamed of and over. I can even try and feel better about myself by looking at others and judging them in all their stuff.

Or, I can look honestly at all of you and all of me and embrace the works in progress that we all are. I can see all the flaws, scars, junk, and even open, oozing wounds, and choose not to run because I wouldn’t want you running from me. And I can fight to hold my head high and hold yours up, as well. And, I want to do that! It’s the whole reason for this blog. It’s why I share my world on social media. It’s the whole reason for every word I’m graced and blessed to write. It’s for FREEDOM. The freedom Jesus died to give us. And I want it for us all!

Oh, and one little thought on motivation: In every situation we have the choice to check our hearts for what is currently motivating us. If that answer is anything other than Love (Jesus), then we can also make the choice to not move forward, in God’s strength and grace. And we can confess and press in to find His perfect will and purpose for our lives, while learning to make decisions based on this alone.

And then, eventually, we can all walk brave, free, and redeemed, forever covered by God Himself, in Jesus ❤

 
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34:5) 

   
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:8)

4 thoughts on “On Shame, Fear, and a Little Motivation”

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