“My dear God, I’m so totally ashamed, I can’t bear to face you. O my God—our iniquities are piled up so high that we can’t see out; our guilt touches the skies.” Ezra 9:6 (MSG)
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about shame, lately. My friend and I are preparing a weekend workshop for men that explores the impact that shame has on our lives and relationships (more about that in a subsequent post today). Because of that, Ezra’s prayer leaped off of the page as I read it this morning.
In the Garden of Eden, Shame was the first result of Adam and Eve’s sin. Having disobediently violated the one and only prohibition God gave them, they immediately saw their nakedness and were ashamed. In response to the shame, they covered their nakedness and hid themselves from God. Some scholars believe that shame, that nagging sense that deep down there’s something horribly wrong with me, is the root issue from which all of our other troubling issues blossom. I feel shame, so I seek to hide it in a false self. I feel shame, so I try to escape from it in any number of unhealthy distractions. I feel shame, so I try to tear down those around me so that they will be at my level. I feel shame, so I attack myself constantly. I feel shame, so I obsessively strive for perfection.
There is, however, a healthy side to shame when we choose to face it honestly and courageously. Shame can make me more aware of who I truly am. Shame can alert me to something wrong in life that I can address and change to the betterment of my self and my relationships. Shame can foster humility, humanity, autonomy, and competence in my life.
When Ezra felt the shame of his people’s iniquity, his response was not to brush it aside and pretend it didn’t exist. He didn’t act out in rage against them. He didn’t give his followers a million new rules intended to create some legalistic goodness in them. He didn’t withraw into solitary depression. He didn’t become hyper-critical of himself and his people. Ezra hit his knees.
In his gut-level, honest prayer, Ezra acknowledged that improper actions from previous generations to his own day had resulted in the disastrous consequences which led to the fix they found themselves in at that moment. He took the first step toward seeking a positive change of heart, a positive change of life, and a restoration of relationship with God.
Today, I’m thinking about my own nagging feelings of inadequacy and failure. I’m identifying the unhealthy ways I try to escape my own shame. I’m seeking to be more like Ezra, and humbly respond by taking healthy steps forward.