Forgiveness is the most powerful story we can tell. But in order to live that story well – to be a forgiving people – we need to find ways past the seeming insurmountable obstacles of shame and blame.
Shame is incredibly powerful. It’s the place you find yourself when you are run over by guilt.
Shame is the assumption that you’re always wrong. Or that you’re always dirty. Incapable of doing anything good. The fear that you are unworthy of redemption or love by others or by God.
Shame can often be tied to our private lives. The things we think about or do when we’re alone. The things we do in isolation can often be the most isolating and damaging pieces of our existence. Shame is rooted in the things we think about as we lie awake at night.
Shame is also one of the greatest obstacles and hindrances to us receiving with open hands the good news that Jesus has accomplished the great work of forgiveness for us.
Rob Bell writes this in his most recent book:
Gospel isn’t us getting it together so that we can have God’s favor; gospel is us finding God exactly in the moments of our greatest NOT-togetherness.
If you are overridden with guilt and trapped in shame, one of the most life-giving and freeing things you can do is to tell someone. Open up about that part of your life that make you feel so unworthy. With open hands, allow yourself to receive life and light and forgiveness. Don’t wait until you have your life and your story put together. In your mess – in your shame – you can find forgiveness and healing from God and others.
Blame is also powerful. You can get swallowed up in anger when you’re caught in a cycle of blame.
Unlike shame, which is often sourced in privacy and secrets, blame comes about from the brokenness in our life shared together.
Blame assumes you’re right and the other person is wrong. And not just that they’re wrong, but that they created the problem, and they need to fix it. You are morally superior and righteous. The responsibility for reconciliation lies outside of you squarely on them.
Blame is rooted not in our own lack of togetherness, but in what we perceive as someone else’s flawed ways of living, thinking, and acting.
Frederick Beuchner writes this
To forgive somebody is to say one way or another, “You have done something unspeakable, and by all rights I should call it quits between us. Both my pride and my principles demand no less. However, although I make no guarantees that I will be able to forget what you’ve done, and though we may both carry the scars for life, I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.”
If you can’t help but look out at the world and cast blame at others, one of the most life-giving and freeing things you can do is to recognize the humanity of the person you’re blaming and vilifying. You are human and they are too.
If at all possible, share a meal and eat with the person you find yourself blaming. It sounds trite, but eating is one of the simplest and most basic acts we do as humans. Share a meal, and you might recognize the blamed one’s humanity and find empathy where you previously felt only anger and blame.
What ways have you found to overcome the obstacles of shame and blame?
This is Part 3 in a series of posts on shame, blame, and the urgency of forgiveness based on a teaching I gave at Kairos Hollywood. Check out Part 1 (Shame or Blame: Which Game Do You Play?) and Part 2 (The Rise of the Anti-Hero: A Forgiveness-Free Society)