And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed or embarrassed. Genesis 2:25
The story of Adam and Eve is pretty well-known: God gives instruction, serpent tricks woman into disobeying instruction, woman eats apple and hands it over to man, God finds them red-handed, man is doomed for all of eternity.
The story continues that Adam and Eve on realizing their nakedness and hearing God calling for them, they hid in the Garden – as if the Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent God didn’t already know what they had done or where exactly they were hiding. But the Bible says something interesting happened before they did:
Then the eyes of the two of them were opened [that is, their awareness increased], and they knew that they were naked; and they fastened fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
Adam and Eve went from being naked and unashamed in Genesis 2 to being naked and ashamed of it – such that they had to cover themselves… and all in the span of a few verses. A single lie had completed changed the course of history and introduced a brand new concept into the world:
And thus began the cycle
LIE. SIN. SHAME. FEAR. BLAME. LIE. SIN. SHAME. FEAR. BLAME. LIE. SIN. SHAME. FEAR. BLAME.
The serpent told Eve a lie grounded in truth.
Eve and Adam sinned.
They became ashamed.
They hid in fear.
Adam blamed Eve…
And then more and more lies about identity, about God’s love and goodness, about being enough were ushered into the world.
I have talked about how to overcome the lies in our lives in the first episode of the #ForFreedom series, Liar Liar, and today I want to talk about Shame. But not just any shame.
Now, gentlemen, please don’t log off just yet. This is for you as well. You are always asking for the ‘Dummies Guide to Understanding Women’, so think of this as Chapter One. You have to understand that men and women, for the most part, experience shame very differently. From the beginning of creation, all the way from Eve up till today, women have suffered severely from shame, and it’s about time that all of us knew that God has freedom for it.
To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.” Genesis 3:16
Somehow (and understandably) Eve is always the butt of all ‘Fall’ jokes. Whyyyyy did she have to listen to the snake? Why did she eat the apple? Why didn’t she just confer with Adam before making any decisions for the household? And it is from that story that many have deemed Eve – and women – the weaker sex.
Shame has become almost intrinsic to the female experience. And a large part of that shame has been reinforced by mankind and patriarchy (As shame most usually is):
Shame that causes us to pile on clothing in order to hide the curves we have been told are shameful and not attractive to the opposite sex..
Shame that, because of a ‘body count’ or because of what someone did to us, causes us to hold on to our pasts and to think we are not worthy of love.
Shame that says we cannot hope to attain the heights men can, or causes us to reach for domestic accolades and shirk from competition. Shame that says we will never be measure up.
Cultural Shame that tells a woman who is barren or infertile or has chosen not to have children that she is not enough, and tells the unmarried or the widowed woman that she is to blame, and that she too can never be considered whole.
Shame that tells the woman who was physically assaulted, abused or raped that her choice of clothing or flirtatious actions were to blame, and that she is both victim and perpetrator of the same crime.
Shame in my culture that causes women with mental issues to be treated more harshly and ex-communicated from their communities and sent to witch camps.
Women are shamed and made to feel shame in a way that men are just not.
I have heard many people argue that Christianity is misogynistic, and read tirades of how the Bible reinforces patriarchal norms in modern society, and I completely get that. From an outsiders view, it is easy to assume that Paul was sexist (or as someone suggested, asexual), or that God has placed men by his side while women remain the lesser creation. But that’s an outsiders view. That is not God’s heart.
In fact, the entire Bible is a narrative of God restoring mankind to the relationship and intimacy that existed in the Garden – to a place of being unashamed – and especially women. From God appointing Deborah as a judge, and giving Jael the victory over Sisera instead of Barak, to Esther, an orphan, saving an entire nation. He gave women who were treated as outcasts because of their barrenness, children, and placed female sex workers and widows in the lineage of Christ. He chose to be born of a young virgin. He did not shame or condemn adulteresses as society would – he showed them grace. In fact one of Jesus’ closest friends had once been a prostitute, and contributed greatly to the spread of the gospel.
Consistently and repeatedly God reaches out to women in the Bible and says to them: “You are loved. You are cherished. You are not ‘less than’. You are enough. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I am not ashamed of you. I will still use you and your situation for good.”
Tell the Truth and Shame the devil.
One of my favorite characteristics of God is that He is a Redeemer. He doesn’t see us, heads bowed because of our pasts – because of what was done to us or what we did to ourselves – or our failures and shortcomings, or what others have said of us, and just leave us there to mourn. He never intended us to live under the heavy hand of shame. So He has given us freedom in Christ through His loving mercy and grace. He has reached out to us reminding us that we need not stay in that place of shame. He takes what was meant for evil and what once caused us pain and shame and uses it as the very thing we need to give others His freedom.
As I began this journey to freedom I had such a narrow understanding of what shame was, and because I didn’t understand it, I couldn’t recognize it and how it was affecting my life. That’s the first step to overcoming shame and gaining Christ’s freedom – to understand what shame is and confront the areas of your life in which you feel shame. Your natural instinct will be to tuck them away because they can be painful to face, but you have to face them head on. Shame is like a wound – if never exposed, it can never heal. It derives its power from being unspeakable. You have to recognize the lie your believing, then choose not to let it cause you to cower in shame or live below your full potential and the full life Christ literally died to give you. You have to speak it – bring it before God and into the light of His truth. You have to embrace and believe the truth of who God says you are over the lies of who man says you should be.
But it is a process. Freedom – from lies, shame, blame, fear – it’s always a process. Just when you think you are free of one thing, God will reveal another level of shame in your life to which He wants to bring freedom.
So be patient with yourself. Give yourself as much grace as He has given you. Slowly learn to love those parts of you that you have kept hidden again. Embrace your insecurities and cover them in the fact that Christ is made stronger because of them.