Living in the gap between shame and hope

hope2Do you ever struggle to live in the tension of life?

Maybe that’s not the way you normally think about it, but let’s see whether this will make sense.  We have expectations about our life and the world around us.  Sometimes, maybe most of the time, we find that there is a gap between our expectations and reality.

That gap is the tension.

So, where do you find tensions in your life?

  • Maybe it’s in the expectations you have of your job or career and then you live in the reality of where you work, who you work with, etc.  That’s a tension.
  • We can have expectations of ourselves and others.  Sometimes, others will no meet our expectations, or we fail to meet their expectations.  That’s a tension.
  • You have expectations and desires for your children and where you want them to end up.  They choose another path.  That’s a tension.
  • You have expectations of yourself and you fail to meet them.  That’s a tension.

Anywhere you find that gap between expectation and reality, you are living in tension.

And, our faith life is not immune to these tensions”

  • There’s a tension between grace and truth.
  • A tension between rules and relationships.
  • A tension between the “churched”and the “unchurched.”
  • A tension between insiders and outsiders.

Faith can bring so many tensions bu let’s concentrate on one — the tension between shame and hope.

To understand the tension, let’s try these working definitions for the words:

  • Shame is a painful feeling that can come from the moments when we fill ridiculed, inadequate, disgraced, shunned or hurt.  Shame in terms of the Bible can include dishonor, disgrace or deceit.
  • Hope, in terms of faith, is the confident expectation that God will do what God says he will do.  In other words, if God says it, take it to the bank.  It’s a done deal.

So those two words create a tension. One brings a painful feeling, a feeling that can keep us bound to past sins, pains, hurts and failures.  The other brings a confident expectation that God will do what God says he will do.  Hope includes the expectation that God loves, God forgives, God reconciles and God redeems.

Maybe if we are really honest, the gap between shame and hope is about as far as the east is from the west.  If that is true, how then can we address this gap in our lives?

For an answer, we turn to Paul, the writer of more than a fourth of the New Testament.

If you aren’t familiar with Paul, he is introduced to us in the Bible’s Acts as Saul.  Saul was a Pharisee and he had a talent for arresting and persecuting Christians.  He was on the way to do that in a place called Damascus when he had an encounter with Jesus.  Saul’s life changed, his direction changed and he became possibly the greatest missionary and church planter that Christian faith has ever known.  He even changed his name from Saul to Paul.

For Paul, there could easily be shame for who he was and what he did before becoming a leader in the church.  In fact, some in the early church had some real suspicions about this persecutor turned prophet.

Paul addresses the tension between hope and shame in a letter he writes to the Christians in Rome — we call the book Romans.  Here’s what he writes in Chapter 5:

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. (Romans 5:1-2a)

Paul ties everything to being justified, being made right with God, through faith and grace.  That’s where everything starts for him.  Jesus makes it possible for sinners, people with a past, to have a relationship with God.  And, with that in mind, Paul continues to make his case:

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. (Romans 5:2b-4)

Admittedly, these verses are challenging. Boasting is something we might think of as being frowned upon.  For some it might conjure up images of arrogance.  Yet, Paul is using it here simply to make the comparison.  He’s not boasting in himself, in his accomplishments or in his ability to save himself.  Instead, what’s he’s talking about, sharing with others, is the complete opposite.  Paul wants those who read this to know that he did not do it on his own.  And, that points to the fact that we do not do this ourselves either.

We are saved, delivered, forgiven and pardon because of the hope that is found in God.  Our confidence rests in the fact that we have a confident expectation that God will do what he says he will do.

Relying on the hope that is found only in God, Paul says that allows us to see hope in our suffering.  Our suffering pushes us to hang in and hold on to God.  Hanging on and holding on to God makes us more like Christ.  When we are more Christ-like that leads us to know that God will always do what God says he will do.

Paul expands on this idea of hope in the verse that follows.

And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

Paul brings together the tension between hope and shame.  This is not a tension for us to eliminate.  Instead, this tension is a chance to change our perspective on life.

God’s hope does not put us to shame.  Hope in God does not involve beating us up over past pain, failure or sin.  Hope is not about dropping an anchor of shame that keeps us from moving ahead in our life story.

Hope pushes us to see that God’s light is so much brighter than the darkness we experience.

Do you get that tension?  Shame tells us that our story is meaningless. Shame tells us that we are damaged and irredeemable. Shame tells us that we shouldn’t even try.  Shame pushes us to see the darkness in ourselves.

On the other side is hope.  Hope says our life is bound to God and has meaning.  Hope says that we are renewed, restored and redeemed.  Hope says to persevere and to keep trying.  Hope pushes us to see that God’s light is so much brighter than the darkness we experience.

Hope in God and shame simply cannot coexist in the same space.  Hope comes when God demonstrates his power and love and saves us from ourselves.  Hope is a future.  Shame is an excuse.

Andy Stanley captured this idea of what it means to live in hope: “There is an appropriate way to use your story, not as an excuse but as a testimony to God’s ability to free you from the past.”

Admittedly, sometimes it is hard to push past it all — the pain, the wounds that we have experienced from others, the desires to isolate ourselves, the feelings of low self worth — to see that God’s hope never left us.

So, maybe you are simply in that season of your life and you are struggling to feel worth in God as you wrestle with shame.

Paul’s advice to all of us is to hold on, to hang in, to make it one more day.  Because, when we do, we grow closer to God.  And when we grow closer to God, we start to understand his hope.


ReigniteMyStory.com is based on the idea that every life story can be reignited when we reset it, renew it and redeem it.  You can contact me with ideas, questions or suggestions at reignitemystory@gmail.com or by following me on Twitter at @reignitemystory.

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