I mistakenly gave away a test answer in front of a class once. What followed has seared itself into my memory. The teacher shouted at me in front of the whole class, severely and loudly shaming me until I felt two inches high.
We’ve all experienced it—a shame wound inflicted by someone’s harsh censure. The result, for me at least, is predicable. During the recovery period my mind naturally drifts toward all the things I’ve done right—my virtues, my assets, my righteousness. It’s as if a huge draft has been taken from my righteousness “bank” and I feel driven to replace it.
Sociologist call this phenomenon “licensing effect.” We often attempt to “atone” for our shame by performing or rehearsing good deeds. We feel unconsciously driven to say, I’m not as bad as they say I am. I have a full catalog of goodnesses.
Religious practices, from weary pilgrimages to fasting and prayer as means of self-purging, have been used to placate inner shame and replace moral “credit.” Such practices flow out of our basic false belief that we can generate self-righteousness.
We cannot. But we can accept Jesus’ righteousness in place of our own, and then stand boldly before those who would condemn us to hell.
Instead of trying to appease God through your own righteousness, thank Him for His. Say out loud, “Thank You for saving me when I could not save myself.” Now say it again, thinking carefully about that truth. Let it seep down into your heart.
Now imagine the enemy setting a trap for your feet. Imagine yourself nearly walking into it, then God lifting you above it. Imagine a terrible disease spreading in the world. Now imagine God wiping out the disease. Imagine yourself in searing heat, and God inviting you into a shady place with a cool breeze. God does these things for us gladly. Thank Him for it.
Dear Most High God, we come now into your secret place. We walk out of our place of shame into Your righteousness. Thank You, thank You, thank You.
“He that dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him I will trust. Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the perilous pestilence.” Psalm 91:1-3