Pain and Feelings of Shame

I just got off the phone with one of my best friends who now lives a few thousand miles away. She is struggling with a substantially altered “normal” after a recent major life change. Although this change is good, she feels at the mercy of the depression that has wrapped its heavy arms around her every day. Furthermore, she feels ashamed and guilty for feeling depressed. Not a good combination! Many of us have been there — I know I have. I have experienced sadness and at times deep depression when I’ve moved far from the people I love, when I’ve taken on more than I could handle, when I’ve acknowledged the pain of a past relationship that is easier to ignore, or when I’ve been hurt by miscommunication with a good friend. Like my friend, depression has also been accompanied by feelings of shame that I’m not stronger, I don’t believe more in God’s power, I lack courage, or I don’t know what to do in the face of pain. I assume that if I was better at these, I wouldn’t experience the depth of grief, the confusion, or the doubts about the goodness and sovereignty of God that I do when faced with difficulties.

We are often in a fight with the ways we emotionally respond to life’s crises. Why are we so ashamed or guilt-ridden that our lives are often shockingly painful and feel so out of control? Negative feelings can be attacks from the enemy or our own destructive thought patterns. However, sometimes these feelings are appropriately placed red flags in our emotional and spiritual landscapes, exposing our truest convictions about ourselves, the world, and God. Do you discount that this broken world will bring hardship in your life? Do you expect yourself to be impenetrably strong and to always know what to do? Do you think that God doesn’t see you, doesn’t care about you, or isn’t generous with goodness in your life?

Suffering was one of Jesus’ most loyal companions, yet Jesus did not feel ashamed or guilty about these feelings. Jesus knew that the battle was not with suffering but rather with the cause of all suffering: evil. Instead of battling within, he befriended his righteous grief and put it to work. He acknowledged his suffering, prayerfully wept, and let his pain fuel the passionate fire within. When you come to Christ in prayer, you come to a person who knows with his very body, mind, and soul the great pain of the world in which we live.

The truth is, you can’t pull off life on your own! You are human, and that means you have limits to what you can understand and control. You are broken, in pain, sinful, incomplete, and fragile, even while in Christ you are also strong, beautiful, courageous, righteous, and complete. How complex the mystery! As the Creator of the universe, God is sovereign, abounds in goodness, and knows everything. God is the power in all redemption and healing in the world, and our lives are the stories that tell and retell how God is reclaiming the beauty of Eden.

This is what I will tell my friend: It is ok to feel down. God knows you are weak, and knows you are sad. Your desire to become someone who has it all together will lead you to imprisonment. In the freedom of God’s love, you can allow these painful feelings to instruct you, trusting that redemption is already at work in your life. In our limited strength and perspective we must continually open ourselves to the God of all power who wants to provide, heal, protect, and guide.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user harold.lloyd & Maʝicdölphin