What Prompts Talking About Past Embarrassments?
I am one of those people that deals with morbid self-criticism. At times I delve into a deep self-loathing. Most often this manifest in looking at past embarrassments and dwelling on the moments where my embarrassment was on full public display.
As with several other articles, events that have transpired recently have caused me to think about this tendency in myself. Furthermore, I have also wondered if others experience this, and what it means for Christians. While I have also dwelt on the interpersonal familial cause of this in my own relationships, I will not be addressing that directly in this article. Suffice it to say that there are always numerous roots to every issue.
Likewise, I want to address what it means to allow past embarrassments to continue to plague us.
Laying Past Embarrassments All-Out on the Line
This part is going to be incredibly uncomfortable for me. Some of it will be humorous at times and others will be truly difficult. So here it goes.
As far back as I can remember I am more prone to recalling moments of embarrassment than I am success. Frankly, I do not recall that I have ever had a moment of public success much less triumph.
One of the first moments of pubic humility I can recall from my past happened during a Sunday-school program when I was barely old enough to make it into elementary school. I was supposed to recite a single bible verse and I stammered and stuttered and then froze. The audience burst out in laughter, and I blurted out as loud as possible, “It’s not funny.” Then ran off stage.
Once, when I was in junior high, I was headed into my art class. When I walked through the door the room was dark and it had the sound and feeling of emptiness. I walked in singing “Rock of Ages” by Def Leppard at the top of my lungs. The ensuing laughter was nothing compared to the mocking and picking I received for the next two years every time I walked into a classroom.
My Past High-school Embarrassments
In another case of school age embarrassment when my senior year yearbook came out there were two pictures of me in it at cross-country events. One picture showed me on my side stretching and I had a hand behind my back. That in and of itself isn’t the problem. The embarrassment came by way of everyone commenting about me having my hand down the back of my shorts doing inappropriate stuff. I knew it was not true. However, the comments were scathing, and it became nearly impossible to show my face in the hallways. I am sure you can imagine that if you went to public school.
In the same yearbook there was another picture that showed me apparently in a compromising position in another cross-country event. This would not pass unnoticed either. Almost every student in my graduating class and most of the underclassmen wanted me to sign the year book under that picture where they circled what was apparently wrong.
If that wasn’t enough, at senior prom that year, they used both apparently compromising pictures in the Senior Last Will and Testament. They also used them in the senior prophecies. It was so bad I couldn’t even finish the prom.
My Past Adult Life is full of Past Embarrassments
Some of the things I experienced in my adult life that still cling to me from the past are obviously my fault. I have said and done some pretty stupid things in private and in public. However, some of the worst moments have come in “public” moments.
One night while my wife and I were out with friends to see two movies there was a tornado warning. The male half of the couple and I were just finishing our movie when the alert took place. Mind you this was 1999 and no one had a cell phone in our group. I wanted to get home to our daughter to make sure she was ok. So, we walked into the theater where the ladies were. I tried to spot my wife and get her attention. That wasn’t happening. Consequently, I stood in the back of the theater and announced that there was a tornado warning taking place and that if people wanted to leave they should do so quietly. I only did this because the theater staff didn’t think we were in danger and wouldn’t help me find my wife.
Eventually my wife made her way out and we made it home. The worse part of the event was to take place the next day. I was at work and needed to grab something from a bartender to make something. A regular patron recognized me from the theater the night before and made me a laughing stock of my co-workers and the other patrons.
My past adult embarrassments don’t end there.
Past Embarrassments in The Church
In the church I was in at the time of my conversion to genuine saving faith I have some embarrassment over one past encounter. When selecting a man for deacon, the leaders chose someone that had been in the congregation less than a year. I had some misgivings about his qualifications (later proven to be quite accurate) and had expressed them to different men in leadership positions. In every case I was rebuffed and told to mind my own business. This apart from being told that we should bring any question or concerns to those leaders.
Subsequently, when the floor was opened for discussion about his selection as deacon, I raised my concerns. The pastor literally directed me to be quiet telling me I was out of line. I responded in anger and stormed out of the church leading my embarrassed family out with me. As I stormed out I announced my resignation (later rescinded). I own this as my own sin. The situation was mishandled all the way around. However, my response was out of line and not keeping with a desire for Christ-likeness.
Holding Past Embarrassments Forced Upon Me
In the same church I was eventually called before the leadership in 2010 as it became clear that there were massive divisions between us in our doctrinal understandings. As my wife and I sat down to the table for the meeting we could clearly see the agenda on the sheet of paper in front of the pastor.
“Problems with Todd” was typed out across the top. From there it was all downhill. Subsequently, one of the accusations leveled against me before the conversation turned to doctrine was that I had commented about how adorable or cute the daughter of one of the congregants looked one day for worship. This was related to the pastor that it was said in a creepy and lascivious way. Instead of confronting me with this alleged incident at the time it was used against me for the purpose of this meeting.
They quoted Galatians 6:1 using it out of context. The implication being that “caught in a sin” meant that “if we catch you doing something sinful we have to respond this way.” They intentionally misconstrued the intent of “caught” for their own ends and beat me up with it. I never knew who my accuser was nor was I given the chance to seek forgiveness or make amends. To this day that accusation hangs over me with so much weight that it becomes nearly unbearable at times.
One Last Not So Far Past Incident
As I mentioned in a previous article I recently had occasion to have an encounter with a local “pastor”. I did not handle myself well in that moment. I am terribly embarrassed by that. Subsequently, I apologized both publicly and in private for how I labeled this man. In the interim month since my apology I have not heard from the him. This is grievous to me on several levels.
There is much to be said for receiving forgiveness from someone you have sinned against. Such a wound first inflicted by the one sinning often does far more damage to the sinner then the one sinned against. The withholding of forgiveness allows the wound to fester and the puss of embarrassment causes deeper infection.
Why Am I speaking About My Past Embarrassments?
These things cling to me with a rugged tenacity that is irksome. They and others will spring up in me at the times I least need to be reminded of them and cast a shadow over my soul and psyche that is seemingly impossible to escape. This isn’t the same as the lifetime of depression I have battled and spoke about in another article. These embarrassments are something far different they are directly rooted in something deeper.
When I think of them I reminded of Peter’s words in 2 Peter 5:8 when he leaves us with the imperative to be sober and vigilant. While I cannot be overtaken by the Enemy, I can, in some ways be heavily oppressed by him. This is the warning to watch out for his desire to devour us. Embarrassment is the tool of the Enemy that works to draw out the deeper something that we should be putting to death daily. That is what I sense when I feel that overwhelming feeling of embarrassment over the past rise up in me.
Holding onto Past Embarrassments Speaks to Something Deeper
While forgiveness from others or even from you to others can have a freeing affect on us, both emotionally and spiritually, embarrassment can still linger. Oft times the reason for withholding forgiveness from someone that has sinned against you is to cause such a festering wound to get worse. It is a tool of someone that enjoys seeing the other person squirm.
However, more times than not, embarrassment clings to us over past events due to something deeper inside of us. When we consider what embarrassment flows from it will motivate us to change.
My contention is that embarrassment is nothing more than the sin of pride and self-centeredness. Don’t get me wrong. There is a place for proper shame and embarrassment. If I walk out of my bedroom into living room unclothed and my wife is sitting there with a friend, embarrassment will drive me back into the bedroom. (Probably for the next 50 years.)
There is an old joke that somewhat addresses embarrassment:
“Baptist never recognize one another in the liquor store.”
That is really what is happening in that joke. Embarrassment is me getting caught out and my pride being dealt a serious blow. I don’t want that kind of recognition. My pride wells up and screams, “Don’t look at me I am better than this. In fact, outside of this one moment I am better than you!”
Pride is the killer waiting in the dark shadows of a creepy basement. When you are most vulnerable it jumps out and slaughters you. This is why Proverbs 16 warns us that pride precedes the fall.
Therefore, it is not healthy to allow pride to cling to the roots of the heart that has been made new and set-free by God.
Embarrassments from that Past that Haunt Us are Current Battles with Sin
When we allow past embarrassments to keep us knuckled under to the way the world views us, we are telling God He isn’t enough. COnsequently, we appear to be rebuking God, “I realize that Christ died to be the atonement for sin. Yet, that isn’t enough. Don’t you understand what I went through in those moments? Do you know what it was like for me in that moment? You can’t expect me to let that feeling go!”
There is a tacit shaking of our fist at God on His throne in these moments.
Embarrassment over those past moments is us clinging doggedly to a sense of our own worth and value. It is self-righteousness and being ashamed for how we were exposed for how weak and incapable we are on our own.
Particularly, what we are doing is denying that Christ knew shame. We are uttering without words, that we have forgotten what He did. When we look to the words of Hebrews 12:1-3 we see this reminder. “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross despising the shame…”
The Christ set aside His equality with the Father (Philippians 2) not counting it a thing to be grasped and took on the shame we justly deserve to suffer.
Christ Despised the Shame So We Could Cling to Past Embarrassments?
I dare cry out NO! When the author of Hebrews used the word shame there he was telling us something poignant. There is a historical and cultural context to this reality.
The Hebrew people who read this epistle knew full well the context of what was being said. It was a great dishonor to be crucified in Jewish tradition. As far back as the Deuteronomy we see that a convicted criminal who is hanged on a tree is cursed. The Hebrew people would not even allow an executed criminal to hang over night on the tree. (Sound familiar?)
Similarly, even Roman law did not allow for crucifixion for any but the worst of criminals. None other than Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid crucifixion. It was simply that grotesque to the people. Yet, here is the God-Man, inserting Himself into the world. He enters into the malady of mankind and takes on Himself the worst of earthly curses that could be imagined. This was the disgrace- the dishonor, to which Christ condescended to be subjected to.
In short, Christ endured the shame that He did not earn as a result of anything that was lacking in Him. Unlike Christ, we endure embarrassment and shame often as the result of our own sinful actions.
However, I would argue, that for those of us that are in Christ, the shame, the embarrassment has been rightly done away with. Christ has endured the worst of embarrassments, so that we do not have need to.
When Past Shames are Good for Us
Make no mistake. There is a good sense of shame over things we have done to violate the high and holy standards of God. When the Eternal Moral Law of God is brought to bear on our sin it needs to be felt shamefully. I would argue that there is no true conversion to life in Christ without shame and guilt over our sin against God. This is a positive use of shame or embarrassment for us. There should even be a sense of heavy guilt on Christians who are rebelling against the Master Who Bought them.
Yet, this state should be short-lived and replaced by the freeing joy of knowing the One who endured the cross on our part.
Do not discount shame and embarrassment and how it is used by God. However, the dwelling on past embarrassments is nothing more than a clinging to pride of self-worth and that sin needs to drive us to the One who hanged on a tree in our place.
Letting Go of Past Embarrassment to Cling to Christ
When we cling to past embarrassments and work to hide them instead of letting them out into the light of God’s redeeming work through Christ we are insulting the Christ.
In a sense we are declaring that we are ashamed of the Gospel. How can I say that? We are telling God, “I am too ashamed of the past here. There is no way You can use this to display the power of the cross and the redemptive work of Christ. I know that you promised me that there is now no more condemnation for me, but I think You may be wrong about that.”
No! We should not let that be the case for us. We need to drag those embarrassing moments out into the light and expose them to the power of God. It is imperative that we take those things that we are ashamed of from our past and disinfect them through the purity of the blood of Christ.
This does not require that every little detail and every disgusting sin and moment of shame be drug out kicking and screaming. However, it does require that we face them and kill them. We must die to the pride that says our past embarrassments still have power over us. We must stop hiding from those things that shame us and realize, that all things work to the good of those that love God and are called according to His purposes. The more we struggle to hide from them, the worse our past embarrasses us. This exposes the all-pervasive pride that will forever hold us back from experiencing the same joy that was set before Christ at the cross!
Soli Deo Gloria!