I had not seen Sandra* before that moment, but I recognized her look; hangdog, defeated and weary. There was more that seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.Her husband answered the door at Motel 9, but did not want to interact with “church people.” Instead, he pointed to his wife, sitting in the middle of the room. A small black and white dog was on her lap and a large black and white dog lay on the floor. She made no attempt to get up but started to speak from her seat.We gave her food and did small talk about the dogs, then asked if we could pray.  She started crying and asked for prayer for her friend who lived in another motel.  She broke her leg and was in the hospital. As I watched Sandra, her emotion seemed way out of proportion for a simple broken leg.

Then she said something, “I wanted to go see her in the hospital but I started drinking,” motioning to the table where three tall-boy beers sat in a row. Her emotion wasn’t about her friend’s broken leg; it was about her failure to do something as simple as catch a bus to the hospital to support her friend in a moment of need.Then it hit me: What I saw in Sandra’s face was shame.  Shame for her weakness, shame for failing her friend, shame for her addiction, shame that she wasn’t a better person, shame that her drinking got in the way of the person she wanted to be.Shame is different than guilt. Guilt recognizes that we sinned and need to repent. Guilt, even when it is hard to let go of, does not penetrate to the core of who we are. Guilt says “I did something wrong,” shame says “my whole person is wrong.”

When shame flows out of addiction, it doesn’t motivate change, it usually drives us further into the addiction, perpetuating the cycle. “I hate myself, so I might as well bury myself in…” a bottle, pill, website, food or whatever happens to be the addictive tendency.  Shame leads to self-hatred. When we are disgusted with ourselves for our failures, weaknesses and addictions, shame paralyzes us and robs our joy of life.In this situation, no one had to say “shame on you” to Sandra. She was saying it to herself and the results were devastating and visible.

There are a lot of theological and biblical nuances around this topic, but as I use the word shame, I would say this: Shame is never from God; it is only from Satan. A sense of guilt can cause us to deal with guilt’s reality by calling us to repent and receive the forgiveness Jesus has purchased for us.Shame doesn’t do that. It drives us away from God and others, convincing us that there is nothing redeemable about us. When we are gripped by shame, Satan wins the day.What Diane and I did that day was pretty simple.

By our words, manner and prayer we simply tried to show Sandra the grace-filled face of Jesus. When Jesus met those who would have most felt shame–prostitutes come to mind–He shows them grace. He never ignores the sin, but He loves and affirms the person as not only forgivable but valued and beloved.  Shame tells us we are beyond hope, but Jesus tells a radically different story.  There is hope in Him!

I recognized the look of shame because I have seen it in many people, in every environment I have ever worked. It is just that here in the motels it is close to the surface. But even more than that, I recognize it because I have felt shame in my own heart and soul and and have seen it reflected back from my own face in the mirror. There is only one antidote to shame. It is to put yourself in the presence of God and see in His face a love that affirms our worth, no matter the mess we have put ourselves in. When I loathe myself, only Jesus can tell me that is a lie straight from the pit of hell and that I need to replace shame with a belief that in His eyes I am both loved and lovable. Grace outshines shame.In the motels of East Colfax, we bring Jesus by bringing grace to those crippled by shame. But in order to do that, we need to face our own shame and find grace for ourselves.What about you? Do you at times feel shame? Seek the kind face of Jesus and shame will begin to flee.