Shame and Behavior
2 min read
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. Phil 1:6-7
Twenty years. 20 years I tried to change my behavior. It only produced one thing—shame—and then added more and more and more and more shame, until it seemed like suicide would be a relief.
Growing up in church, ‘change your behavior’ was all I ever heard. Add to that, a grandmother who made it worse. She made it worse by never really asking about our lives. She had one mantra and would write each one of her grandchildren, 25 of us, every year and tell us to repent of our sins or we would go to hell. The church sermons only made it worse.
I grew up believing that I lost my salvation every time I had an impure thought. On the other end of that spectrum, I don’t believe we can do what we want after accepting Christ, there is perseverance, running toward the prize, etc.—to be addressed in another post.
During junior high, we moved to a Pentecostal church where my medical treatment for my cleft lip and palette stopped in lieu of being dragged up to the altar at my grandmother’s whims so that God could remake my face. When I wasn’t ‘healed’, I was told that it was due to my lack of faith.
With that history, I believed that there must be some great sin in my life that kept the healing from happening. So, I went to college so I could have some great sin in my life. I believe the same-sex relationship that began then and continued on and off for 20 years had nothing to do with my lack of faith or inability to be healed.
I came to realize—and not because anyone forced me—that my attractions were a temptation from an enemy trying to destroy the image of God in me. It wasn’t until I addressed my wounds and the trauma in my life that those attractions subsided and are nearly defunct. [They’re not defunct 100% because I believe the enemy will always use this area to try to deceive and destroy me.]
What does all this have to do with behavior modification?
Bottom line is that I thought if I just changed my behavior, God would love me more or I would be a better Christian. My legalistic upbringing actually kept me from addressing the pain and the wounds so that I could move toward healing.
I work with people with all kinds of traumas and adverse experiences impacting their behaviors, addictions, depression, anxiety, etc. They are relieved when we talk about getting to the root of the problem and the need related to the addictive medium: drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc. We rarely talk about the addiction but are always moving toward the pain, the wound, or the fear of success or failure that is driving the method of escape or creating pleasure in life to mask the pain.
I would not ask WHAT you are doing, but WHY—what emotion, pain, or confusion is it that drives you to something that only produces shame and regret. Whatever that is, bring God into that. With him in the middle of the pain or unmet need, he will heal and you will feel his love for you. He died for that shame. He will help you see the value that he sees in you.