A few days ago, I was taking Ruby for a walk. It was mid-afternoon and she was building a tower of pebbles on the beach. My phone (which had been off all day), buzzed with an urgent question from my publisher. So I tapped out a two sentence reply.

In the time it took me to type, Ruby ran behind me and tripped over the pebbles. It was my fault.  I’d taken my eyes off her and she could have been hurt. But before I could do anything, I saw two women walking past and heard them say, loud enough so I could hear…

“Did you see that?  That child could have hurt herself and mum’s sitting on her phone.”


“Disgusting” was their assessment of my parenting. And their words hit their mark. I crawled home, burning with shame. Walked in the door and burst into tears.

A few days earlier, I had a very different experience; but one which turned out just the same.

I was sitting on a bench with Ruby, when a woman remarked on the fact that I was reading to her…

“So nice to see you reading to your daughter. Too many people parent by iPad or television.”

“Oh no,” I laughed, batting away any hint of praise, “My daughter’s been raised by the Teletubbies”.

She laughed and moved on, but I sat there thinking, “Why did I say that?” Ruby is not raised by Teletubbies. She gets In The Night Garden at the end of the day; and that’s pretty much it. But in the face of praise, I raced to shame myself.


When people shame me, I take it. When people praise me, I bat it away or twist it into a criticism. “Disgusting” sticks. “So nice” is instantly deleted. This is what psychologists call “confirmation bias;” we reinforce the evidence that supports our beliefs; and dismiss evidence that challenges them.

But what are my beliefs? I know what they’re supposed to be. As a Christian, I’m a daughter of the Living God, utterly accepted and loved. The Lord of creation is my Father, Jesus is my Brother and He has nailed my sins to the cross, removing them as far as the east is from the west.

These are the truths of the gospel. But so often, I tell myself a different story:

I’m weird. I’m disgusting. I’m messy. Too needy, too flaky, too awkward, too much.

So when I hear negatives from outside, they slot neatly into place; whilst the positives are often filtered out.

Self-condemnation can look very moral. But it’s the opposite of humility.  It doesn’t point me to Jesus or inspire me to change. It means dwelling in slavery, when the Lord has set me free.

So what’s the antidote to this shame? Our natural instinct is to deny wrong-doing and hide; like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But Jesus calls us to something very different. He confronts us with our sin (not feelings of shame but our actual mistakes) and then covers us with Himself. Instead of hiding in the shadows, Jesus calls us out into the light. But in His light there is genuine healing.

Instead of retreating under the label of “disgusting,” in Christ I can move forward. I can face the ways that I may have genuinely sinned and receive genuine forgiveness, (not just more self-hatred). I can dare to face my own guilt, knowing that He died to cleanse me.  And more than this, He rose to cover me.

“Disgusting?”  Not any more.  In Christ, whatever my past, I am “holy, without blemish and free from accusation.” (Colossians 1:22). So when shame rears its head, I don’t run and hide. I lift my gaze to the cross and say, “I’m worse than I dared to admit; but more loved than I dared to believe. I don’t belong in the dark. I belong with Him. Because of Him, I can dare to be myself. And because of Him, I will never be put to shame.”

Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. (Psalm 34:5)


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10 thoughts on “Shame-less

  1. Thanks so much Emma. Reminds me of a verse God really challenged me through a few months ago. Jesus says to a man who he had just healed, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ (John 5:14) His words at first seemed blunt and harsh, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed a challenge to the man not to live any longer out of his identity as ‘an invalid’, where he’d been for the last 38 years (v5). To go back to that place, once he had been healed, would have been so sinful and self-destructive that it would be far worse than the original ailment. So he needs instead to live out his healing. A beautiful challenge to me and a hope-filled one too. Can’t wait to read your new book. God bless you all.

  2. This really rings true for so many of us and, like you, we need to go back to God, back to the cross and remember who we are in him. Thank you. Chris

  3. You’re right Lydia; I approached that verse the same way, (an out and out rebuke), but it’s full of hope and the very opposite of harsh. Thanks for showing me this

  4. I feel like wrapping you up with a big hug…’re a terrific Mum and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise….our family love you all dearly – you are very special to us and Ruby is such a gift from God…He loves & cares for her and she is protected by Him always (even on the beach)!!!

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. As a natural introvert, it is very helpful to be reminded of the love of God in Christ.

    “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”


  6. I once saw a bumper sticker that read ” Jesus loves you! But the rest of us still think you’re an ass.”

    The problem is actually embracing this part:
    “… in Christ I can move forward. I can face the ways that I may have genuinely sinned and receive genuine forgiveness… I can dare to face my own guilt, knowing that He died to cleanse me…”

    Yes. There really are things that we do that cause great harm in the world.

    But we sooooo hate to be guilty, that we are willing to embrace really destructive ways to discharge the shame our failures expose. Ways like blaming others, foolish justification, and of course slipping back into our favorite shame-numbing, esteem-building addictions . Which of course brings more failure, which brings more shame, which begs to be discharged in unhealthy ways…

    Round and round we go.

    In many ways, shame simply feels more powerful than remorse because it is the dark side of pride which says we CAN be like God, OUGHT to be like God… WILL BE LIKE GOD NEXT TIME… We stay in our shame rather than be transformed by repentance, because to repent requires utter surrender to a God who is not us (me!).

    I don’t know that “shameless” is where I’m aiming though. The only people who really feel no shame are psychopaths. Enough of those around for sure. {see aforementioned bumper sticker}

  7. Thanks Caroline – such a good point on shame being the dark side of pride; and refusing to be transformed by repentance.

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