Out of My Mind: Shame on You

I was thinking this morning about something I said more than a decade ago. It was a rash remark, uttered in the heat of the moment. The context, like that of so many of my other rash remarks, was a meeting.

I don’t know why this particular comment came to mind. It certainly wasn’t any worse than many other things I’ve said. I did not curse or take the Lord’s name in vain. My words, as I recall them, were merely surly and petulant. In fact, I can’t even recall the entire exchange in detail. Only a phrase and the shame I felt days later when I reflected on the moment.

 It was the shame that caught me up short this morning. I was struck by how fresh it felt, blushing and red as if the words had only just passed through my lips today. It reminded me of a friend who told me how he still lays awake in bed at night and shivers when he thinks of a particular incident that occurred while in high school. It does not matter that the incident has been forgotten by everyone else. In that moment my friend lives through it all over again.

This is the way with shame. It is no respecter of persons or events. It is just as willing to associate itself with the insignificant as with the great. Just as eager to be the consort of the trivial as the heinous.

This makes shame both a friend and an enemy. There is nothing quite so healthy as shame. In its proper place it serves as a God given and necessary restraint against the worst of society’s behaviors. At the same time, there is nothing quite so unhealthy as shame. Its ancient memory compels us to agonize over that which should have been forgotten long ago. And the remedy for both is the same:  “As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame'” (Rom. 10:11).

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John Koessler

John Koessler serves as professor and chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute. His most recent book is The Radical Pursuit of Rest published by InterVarsity Press.

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