Shame is one of the most powerful feelings we can experience and it can often drive us further away from the Lord and the people we love. Jake explores in this talk how shame plays out in our relationship with God. He reminds us that despite these feelings and whatever we’ve done to experience them, God is always waiting for us with open arms, ready to receive us and heal us from these wounds.
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him,”Lk. 15: 20
- Jake gives a definition of shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Can you identify with this description of shame in your own life? In what area of your life do you struggle most with shame?
- Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son to two groups of people: the scribes and Pharisees who tended to consider themselves as always being right, and the sinners who were viewed as always being wrong. Which group of people do you identify with more strongly at this moment in your life? How does this parable speak to you from this perspective?
- The fact that the Prodigal Son has the courage to even attempt to go back to his father shows that he must have some belief in the goodness of his father. How does your heart respond to the thought that God is better than you tend to think or feel He is?
- Shame needs secrecy, silence, and judgment in order to thrive. How can you work to disrupt the secrecy, silence, or judgment that is allowing shame to thrive in your life?
Text: Healing from Shame
Hi, my name is Jake Khym, I’m from Abbotsford, British Columbia and I’m happy to be with you today for this reflection on shame and how about let’s start with a prayer.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Holy Spirit, we ask that you would come and that you would touch our hearts and that you would stir within us as we reflect on the experience of shame and ways that we can experience healing from shame. I pray that as we dive in, God, that you would protect our hearts, that you would lead us close to you, and that Holy Spirit, you would make us sensitive to what you’re doing so that wherever we go, it would be by your leading. Jesus in your name, we pray, Amen. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit Amen.
An Embarrassing Story
So, I want to start with a simple story. I have this memory of being in college and I had this new love for the guitar, I think maybe that’s something that everybody does when they go to college, they try to get into the guitar, but I remember learning it and starting to play it a little bit, and I really liked it, and to be honest, I liked the idea of being a guitar player. You know, you’re trying to be cool and trying to be acceptable, and so the thought of being a good guitar player just seemed to be, oh, that’s going to be a key way to do it.
And so, I remember the guy who, I was involved in the Newman Center and there was a guy who usually played it for mass, and he heard I was learning the guitar, and so he said, “Hey, I can’t be there on Thursday, would you mind being able to play and lead?” And I’ve always been a little bit bold, a little bit risky, maybe not always so smart, but I said, “Oh yeah, I’ll totally do it.” And so, I remember getting there and starting off for mass and I’ll never forget this moment. It was the offertory song, and I’m not really sure what happened before that, but based on what I remember about the offertory, or sorry, the communion reflection song, based on what I remember about the community reflection song the rest of it couldn’t have been very good.
And so, I remember people are going to receive communion and I start to sing and like, this is your time to sing and have people, you know, have a moment with God and I’m going to get to do this and help them all. And I remember starting to play the guitar and I think I hit like three, you know, I just couldn’t find the chords, and then I started to sing and there was this gal singing with me, and I started to sing, and I sang three words, and then she started and then she just stopped and I tried to keep singing and then I got embarrassed and then I stopped, and then the guitar that I was playing was really bad and out of tune, and I looked over at her and I was like, “What’s going on?” And she said, “You’re way off key, you’re way off key.” And then I just stopped playing the guitar.
And so if you can imagine I’m in that church setting with a bunch of my peers, and I was so embarrassed, I was so ashamed, I had all these dynamics going on in my heart, and there were these like four guys who were there who were new, and they were like cool guys, they were kind of fraternity guys and it was like the first time they had come to the Newman Center, checking it out. And I remember after mass, hearing one of them say, “My gosh, the music was ridiculous, that guy’s so bad.” And I was just crushed.
Shame Affects Our Relationships
I don’t know about you, but I think we’ve all had experiences like that where we experienced so much shame. And that’s a moment where it may be, you know, it’s almost cringey, and it’s so uncomfortable, and shame is something that’s such a powerful reality in our lives and it has a significant effect on our relationships, especially our relationship with God.
So, let’s just define shame for a moment, and let’s talk a little bit about how we can work through it. Maybe you’ve heard of the researcher Brené Brown, she’s quite popular, has a really popular TED Talk, et cetera, and her whole professional career has been researching shame. And this is her definition, which I think is really good. She says, “I define shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we’re flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging. Something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”
That captures so much that experience I had when I’m playing the guitar, because I had an intensely painful feeling and an experience and believing that I was totally flawed and bad and unworthy of anybody caring about me, or I was basically disqualified. And that’s just one experience. I know I’ve had other more intense experiences of shame, and it is a powerful reality. I mean, if we look at all the experiences that have ever happened to humans, shame is like the second thing in the whole timeline, if you will, of human experience.
If we go right back to Genesis, and Genesis 3:10, right after the fall, there’s two experiences that Adam and Eve have. One is fear, and the next one is shame. It’s such a deep part of our world and our reality, it’s this, I am so unlovable and there’s no way that anybody could love me. And it’s got this interesting twist to it as well because it’s not only believing inside that you’re unlovable, it’s also the fear of what someone will do and how they’ll respond to you. That’s exactly what Adam and Eve were experiencing. See in Genesis 3:10 it says, “I was afraid because I was naked and so I hid.”
And John Paul II in the “Theology of the Body” talks about that it was naked without shame was the prior experience to the fall, and then after the fall, that’s when shame entered the world. It’s the result of sin. It’s not being seen as we were meant to be seen and fearing in ourselves that we’re unlovable, and fearing of what the other will say, whether that be God, or someone else. It’s a powerful, powerful dynamic.
An Internal Cancel Culture
One of the ways I like to consider shame is it’s like an internal cancel culture. You know, the whole cancel culture that’s going on? Shame is like that thing in us where the culture within our hearts is like, you’re bad, you’re done, you’re useless, you don’t deserve anything, you’re whatever. And it usually goes right to our identity. I mean, you want to hit somebody deep and you want to cut to the heart deep, you go right to their identity. I hope in some ways, maybe in the spirit, you’ve got connected a little bit to maybe some experiences of shame. And I imagine you have a lot more shame going on than maybe you realize, you know, if you’re not very self-aware, shame is pretty common, and it happens quite a bit.
Luke Chapter 15
Okay, so we’ve laid the stage now of what shame is, and I want to draw us in now to a little bit of how does healing of shame occur? How do we experience healing? And to do that, I want to draw us into the prodigal son story, Luke chapter 15. And in that set a little bit of the stage, I think most of us have heard of the prodigal son story, but a few nuances that I think are really important especially when we talk about shame first, when Jesus is sharing this parable, He’s talking to two groups of people who have come together at the same time, the one are the Scribes and Pharisees, and the second are the sinners. They’re all kind of intermingled and they’re both a bit of a captive audience. If you go a little bit earlier in Luke, you can see that that’s who you speaking to. And so that’s the group of people who pride themselves on never get anything wrong and like to shame other people. And it’s the group of people who feel like they can never get it right, and always feel ashamed around everybody else. It’s such a beautiful setting for this dynamic.
And then Jesus proceeds to tell the story of the prodigal son, and I think something that’s so important for us to remember is that when He’s sharing the story of the prodigal son, it’s a parable, it’s a story that’s meant to tell us about reality, it’s meant to tell us something about who God really is and the heart of the Father. When Jesus is sharing the story of the prodigal son, He’s trying to show us who He is and who the father is, and what the spirit is doing and attempting to do in our hearts. Now, we know the story roughly, the son basically says to the father, “I don’t want to have anything to do with you, can I have my money? I’m going to go do my life my own way.” And he just massively insults his father. And his father doesn’t get mad at him, he wildly gives him his request, and then he goes off and then the son squanders everything.
And there’s a pivotal point in the story where the son comes to his senses. And I have a hunch that it was shame that brought him to his senses. I mean, he was looking around and he says to himself like, “What am I doing here? I have messed everything up. What is wrong with me?” And what the crazy part is that he has the courage to even attempt going back to his father, so he must have some belief about his father’s goodness otherwise he would never dare. He wouldn’t even think about coming back home.
And so just right there for a moment, how does your heart respond to the possibility that God is better than you think? And no matter what you’ve done, or no matter what’s going on in your life that it’s worth really thinking about coming back home to a relationship with God? Often shame keeps us apart, it keeps us separate, but Jesus is communicating to us here and saying, “What if I’m all you dreamed and dreamt that I would be? What if I’m way better than you think? What if I’m not as bad as you anticipate?” Now, when the son starts to come home, there’s this little nuance that’s just an amazing.
A lot of people have never heard of this before, but in Jewish culture, when the prodigal son did what he did, it would have been very appropriate in that culture for if he was ever going to come back home, there was this ceremony, this almost a ritual that would have occurred and it would have been by the town’s people, and the rituals called a kezazah, I think I’m saying that right, like kezazah ceremony. And what it basically means is if the son or the daughter, whomever, returned back home and they had broken relationship what the people of the town would do is they would take a pot, and they would go and grab that pot, and that they would go right up to the son, and they would take the pot and they would smash it at his feet, and they would say, “You’ve broken relationship with your family and you should be ashamed.”
It was literally a shaming ceremony. And they would take these pots and smash them, and so the son in a normal, like, if we’re understanding the culture, he would’ve had to walk through an entire city of just pots being smashed down at his feet and being shamed and shamed and shamed, and the general assumption is that the father or the parents or the, they would have stayed at their house and let that son go through all of those shaming experiences to kind of earn his way back.
I can’t imagine that experience in real life. But I think you and I can imagine that experience in our hearts, because I think that we do that to ourselves all the time. We make a mistake, or we don’t pray as much as we think, or we do something that we don’t necessarily like, and it’s like we have our own kezazah shaming ceremony within us, and we just smash our dignity in front of ourselves, and we’re terrified of what people will do and how they’ll respond.
What Jesus Longs to Do for Us
And here’s where Jesus comes, and this is where the story takes on a whole new light. In Luke chapter 15, I just want to read it to you. The son, he’s approaching home again, and in Luke 15:20, it says, “And he arose and came to his father.” Okay, so he’s on his way. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion, and ran, and embraced him, and kissed him.”
The father wasn’t okay with the kezazah ceremony happening. He ran out to prevent the shaming. To say no, and if we go on, you can even see it where the son, you know, begins his speech, his like I’m so terrible speech, and the father cuts him off right mid speech and says, “Quickly bring the best robe, put new sandals on his feet.” Like he’s having none of the shame storm, he’s not participating in it at all. Remember, this is Jesus saying, “This is my heart for you. This is my heart for you.”
This is what the heavenly father longs to do for us in our hearts. This, the story, this parable it’s for you and for me, that’s who Jesus was talking to. I mean, you probably identify with one of those two groups who is there. Maybe at times we identify with the group that’s hearing it and hearing that I do everything right, and I kind of pride myself on that at times ’cause I like that, it makes me feel secure about myself. Then there’s other times where I really feel that I really dropped the ball. We know both of those experiences and Jesus is talking to both of those people and saying, I’ve come for both or for all of you. I’m inviting you back into relationship with me.
And so on a very practical level, this is why when you hear people maybe like me or other people give talks and they say, “Will you open your heart to God? Will you invite God in?” Basically it’s, will you turn back to the father and risk trusting that He’s going to run out to meet you and embrace you and kiss you and care for you and not shame you. See that’s the truth, that’s what it is black and white, that’s what it says right here, but often we don’t believe that, and we think God is the leader of the kezazah ceremony. That’s not true. That’s not who He is. He longs to come and embrace you. See, that’s exactly what shame needs. It needs affirmation, and it needs to be received.
We need to be received when we feel ashamed, and we need to be affirmed. That’s exactly what the father does, and that’s exactly what Jesus is doing. So if you go to the Lord in that time of prayer and you keep hearing in your mind, things like, “Well, you’re so bad and God would never do that,” that’s not Him. That’s not God. I mean, it’s not what He says, it’s not how He responds. He says, “This is my heart for you, I want to run to you, I want to meet you, I want to love you, I want to kiss you, I want to affirm you. I want you to come back to life,” and He knows that shame is not the best way to bring people back to life. So often we don’t need help condemning ourselves. The Father’s not doing that.
How to Deal with Shame
On a very practical level, kind of in addition to the reflection about, you know, our relationship with God and opening our hearts to Him is Brené Brown talks about three things that shame needs to kind of thrive, secrecy, silence, and judgment. And so, I want to invite you when we think about the practicals of this, I want to invite you to think about if I’m feeling ashamed, I don’t need to allow secrecy, silence, and judgment to continue, especially judgment within my heart.
So, what are some of the things that I can do? Number one, I’ve got to be honest, ’cause if I’m ever going to address the shame, I actually have to get honest, and that’s sometimes the most difficult part, that’s what the prodigal son did. He had that moment where he got honest about reality. That’s hard. That’s really hard. And so with that in mind, I want to invite you to then go, “Okay, am I willing to be honest?” And that’s risky, come Holy Spirit, come Holy Spirit. And then from there, we have to break the silence and the secrecy, we have to open it up, that’s how you break through shame, that’s how shame experiences healing, and one of the best ways to do that is in prayer, is to open our hearts and say, “Lord, I’m so ashamed of this experience that’s happened. I really am not fond of myself right now. Come in, come into my heart.”
We can count on being loved and received by the Lord. And if you’re experiencing anything else than that, a little bit of tip and discernment of the spirit is that if it doesn’t match what the scripture is saying, if it doesn’t match the heart of God that we see in Revelation, it’s not God, don’t pay attention, reject it, send it away. If the thoughts aren’t loving thoughts, kissing thoughts, embracing thoughts, here’s a new robe, here’s some new sandal thoughts, if that’s not what’s going on in your mind, that’s not God. He’s much more creative than to need shame, and dictatorship, and condemnation to bring you back to life that doesn’t work, you and I know that. We do it all the time to ourselves and it doesn’t work. The Father’s heart for us is good. And when we encounter His care and His kindness and His love for us, we can experience healing. And so I just want to pray with you.
Father, there’s so many areas in our hearts and in our lives that are far away from you, there are so many areas where we are bound in shame. Father, we’re confessing that and we’re being honest about that right now, and we bring that to you to break the secrecy and the silence of shame, and we invite you to come in and to speak to us and to show us your love. Come Father. Come Holy Spirit.
If you’d like to continue to pray with us, I invite you to go to Luke 15 and to spend some more time in the scriptures. Thanks so much, and God bless.
About Jake Kyhm
Jake Khym has a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Theology with a concentration in Catechetics. Jake has worked in various pastoral ministries for over 22 years including adult faith formation, seminarian and priestly formation, diocesan evangelization, catechesis, RCIA, and retreat ministry. Jake has also run a counselling practice for over 11 years.
Currently, Jake continues to see clients (mostly Church leaders) in his counselling practice and he teaches at the Seminary of Christ the King in Mission, BC, Canada offering human and pastoral formation to the seminarians studying there. Jake also offers priest and seminarian formation retreats, is a consultant to various (Arch)Dioceses and ministries, offers an annual Men’s Retreat in British Columbia and accompanies male leaders on their journey of faith.
Jake also has two podcasts, Way of the Heart Podcast and Restore the Glory Podcast. Way of the Heart is offered by Jake and his friend Brett Powell and is a podcast primarily for men to help them navigate life with a heart that’s fully alive. Restore the Glory Podcast, featuring Jake and his friend Dr. Bob Schuchts, offers the wisdom both have learned personally and professionally on the healing journey.
Jake lives in Abbotsford, BC with his wife Heather and their three children.