When I was a kid I had a problem. I am not especially proud of it but I wet the bed. A few times in my large family, being the youngest I was left without a bedroom or even a bed and probably to my mother’s deep regret, she let me sleep on the couch and of course I messed it up. I had an accident as I used to say. Mom tried for hours with many attempts to clean the smell from the sofa.

I remember one time what seemed years later my oldest brother came home to visit with his wife. I was nervous as he sat on what became known as the smelly couch but was completely embarrassed when he tiredly rest his face down into the couch and breathed deeply. It was almost like he was zapped with a shot of electricity he sat up so quickly and with a loud groan, he went ‘whew!’ That couch smelled until the day my parents got rid of it. The cushions were completely saturated with the smell of urine. I was so relieved when it was removed for its replacement.

I am writing frankly about loss and hope today. Perhaps you have experienced divorce this year or lost a loved one. Maybe you went bankrupt or lost your house or some other financial disaster. It’s possible that some here have experienced both divorce and financial failure. I know that happens. I can only imagine the pain you might be in today or have experienced this year. There are times the pain we experience from a loss or failure is so pervasive it defines us for awhile. No matter how hard we try to hide, we can’t escape the reality of our life currently. We are afraid people will catch the aroma of our failures, our losses. We are embarrassed, humiliated, angry, lost and almost every thought brings us back to the pain. We can’t even escape our loss in our dreams as we wake up reliving it all over again every night.

I’m sorry if this article is serving as another reminder to what hurts you so deeply. Out of such hurt, out of such loss, or what we see as great failure there is a great risk of our pain turning into shame. We feel ashamed. We have an incredible sense of guilt just because it happened. There is a profound sense of inferiority or embarrassment. It goes without saying that our self-worth might be at an all time low. We avoid the mirror at all costs and when we do have to see ourselves in the mirror, self-condemning thoughts are the very aroma that leads us to groan and cry out ‘whew!’

When we are so saturated with shame, there is a mighty internal pressure to hide. I have seen it often—with shame comes isolation. Any way we can keep others from getting a whiff or any way we can keep our self from being reminded of the embarrassment or the hurt or the guilt or whatever engulfs us we will do. Strategies to avoid are easier than getting too close to the pain.

When we experience pain, we usually ask the why questions. Why did this happen? Why God? What did I do to deserve this? It’s funny or perhaps not so funny that when we ask the why questions, there is an almost natural instinct to find blame. Someone has to be blamed. As soon as we ask ‘why did this happen?’ the next question is ‘what did I do to deserve this?’ How many of us have looked to God and asked that very question? ‘Dear Lord, what did I do to deserve such pain?’

A while back, the wife of a close friend of mine sent me a text and said please pray he has been called into HR for a meeting and might lose his job. We can’t lose this job. I’m not sure I can go through this again…I’m not that strong. He was indeed fired. It was a total surprise and when I spoke with him on the phone he was already asking the why questions wondering what he did that was so bad? He said, ‘Scott, how am I going to tell my boys they won’t be having much of a Christmas this year? How can I as their father tell them, I don’t have a job anymore? Do you know what that’s going to feel like?’

These types of questions naturally lead us to make a judgment of ourselves and others. Shame is a product of self-condemnation. You ask why and you conclude ‘it must be me’. It might even be true that it is you, a decision you made, a poor judgment, a sin, a reactive moment. It might also be true that it was completely unexpected and even in hindsight you couldn’t see how you would have avoided it. Either way, the why questions can bring us to judge ourselves and when we judge ourselves, we come to believe the worst distorted thoughts.

We tell our self, ‘I must be bad’. God is punishing me—isn’t that why bad things happen? We say in the mirror, ‘this is unforgiveable.’ ‘How can I forgive myself? I don’t deserve forgiveness.’ In my humble opinion, forgiving yourself is the hardest thing to do and if you can’t forgive yourself, I don’t know how you can receive forgiveness from God or others. This type of shame is so destructive! It’s destructive to ourselves, it eats away at our key relationships, it pounds away at our mood.

Speaking of isolation if you load up on blame and you are always depressed or sad, you are not going to be too eager to be with friends. You might tell yourself, these people don’t want to be around me when I am like this. I’m a downer—this is Thanksgiving I’ll spoil the party. I should stay home. There are so many ways we find to isolate and so many reasons to justify it. If I go to that family gathering or church gathering or office gathering there will be questions and I don’t want to feel that all over again. I can’t face anyone right now. ‘Right now’ so often turns into months and if we are not careful—years.

At the risk of being excessively optimistic, there is a wonderful opportunity to explore the true character of God here. We worry He’s judging us harshly and we assume this hardship is the result of his punishment. That is not at all what the Bible tells us about God. Yes, there were times of tremendous punishment in the Old Testament but only after years of warning and horrible corruption and evil.

In the New Testament we have a clear picture of who God is in the person of Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews says, “…in the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom he appointed heir of all things and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful Word.” If you want to understand God, just look at Jesus. Look at what He did and how He responded to very difficult situations. Jesus is an exact picture of God and is God.

The Gospel of John tells us “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Later in the letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul states clearly, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ. It is not God’s heart to condemn anyone, in fact it is His heart to restore.

At the very beginning of Jesus ministry He walked into the synagogue and was handed a scroll. He opened it up and read an ancient prophecy written by Isaiah. It was His mission statement. If you were listening to Jesus and you heard this, you would know what He was all about. He read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Another translation says to heal the brokenhearted.

Do you ever feel oppressed with shame, or with guilt or with hurt or with pain? How many times have you felt completely blind to what’s happening? How about poor or broken? This is what Jesus does. It is a waste of our breath to ask the question why is God punishing me? He didn’t come to condemn but to save, to heal, to free, to give sight, to give hope to restore—not to punish.

Are you familiar with that story of the adulteress woman who was made to stand before Jesus to be condemned? Jesus was in the temple courts where ALL the people were gathered around Him. I can imagine the religious rulers forcing this woman to stand in front of everyone almost naked. They announced to Jesus, ‘teacher this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women!’ They were speaking to Jesus with ALL the people gathered around. When I am trying to make a point with a lot of people around, I have to speak up. It’s not like they whispered to Jesus in private, hey this woman did a very bad thing do you think we should condemn her to a painful death of stoning? No, they made her stand in front of everyone in the temple court and I am sure so all could hear, said, ‘Jesus she committed adultery, she cheated with another man and had sex with him. She’s a marriage wrecker. She’s a loose woman. She’s a slut! I’m sorry, I don’t mean to offend anyone but they disgraced that woman.

Jesus carefully exposed everyone there as a sinner with His famous words, ‘he who is without sin, cast the first stone’. And when they all left because they couldn’t cast the first stone, Jesus said to the woman, I don’t condemn you. Go on and start a new life and sin no more. You are free from your guilt. In fact, you are free from your shame.

There was another woman who had lived with shame for years and years because she had an issue of blood. She wasn’t allowed into town because of her bleeding (that was the law in that culture). Imagine the shame of her and her family. She took a risk and fought through the crowds just to connect with Jesus—to touch Him. She tried to do it covertly but Jesus didn’t miss it and knew instantly she had touched Him. He felt His power leave when she touched him and she was healed. Jesus restored her physically but I think the most significant thing was she could now be restored back into the community. She could go back to the family gatherings, back to the synagogue, back to life with her shame behind her.

There was another person Jesus restored. It was this short man named Zaccheus who was a tax collector. They were known to cheat people and oppress them by over collecting. Few people were despised as much as tax collectors. When this man fought hard to get Jesus attention—the Bible tells us he climbed into a sycamore tree so Jesus would see him—Jesus not only invited Zaccheus to come down to talk to him but even went to his house and shared a meal. Zaccheus’ heart was transformed, he changed and like the adulteress or the woman with the issue of blood, was restored from his own isolation, his own shame.

That is how God looks at each of us. He is not pointing His finger in shame at us. In fact He hopes to restore us, heal us, connect us and unburden us from our own shame. Shame cannot be overcome in isolation. If that is your struggle, find someone to connect with. If you lack that someone, call a counselor who can walk with you past your shame.

Written by Scott Hendrickson, LCPC