When I decided to write a book about the experience of shame and Christian spiritual growth, I didn’t talk about it much. Too negative, too discouraging—these were the reactions I figured I’d get. But I was wrong.
Instead, I’ve been amazed, mildly startled actually, by the consistently constructive, encouraging responses I’ve received once word slipped out that I was hard at work on such a book. “I’m glad you’re writing about that; it’s really important. So many people find it hard to take themselves seriously, let alone love themselves.” That’s the kind of feedback I’ve been getting.
For reasons that are infrequently known but frequently only intuited, just the word “shame” elicits an emotional resonance at some level in many of us. There are questions too: what makes it so difficult for us to live peacefully in God’s gaze without looking away or feeling the need to make ourselves different so God won’t turn away from us? In other words, why is love, especially being loved, such hard work? Why do so many of us think there’s something wrong with us—that we’re defective?
Years of helping others in spiritual direction have shown me that feeling unworthy of love is a chronic wound many Christians share but few talk about. Not only is it embarrassing to do so, but it also renders many of us much more vulnerable than our expertly trained personal defenses can tolerate. Sadly, safety regularly trumps trust, yet trust is our only sure path to God, healing, and peace.