How does God’s Word stand up against the popular opinions concerning children and shame? Join AMBrewster as he helps Christian parents understand shame better by contrasting a modern ideology with God’s eternal Truth.
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Welcome to the final episode of our Children and Shame series. If you haven’t made this journey with us from the beginning, I highly recommend you listen to the four previous episodes or today’s episode may sound like nothing more than one person’s opinion versus another.
The previous episodes stepped us through a biblical understanding of Bad and Good Shame so that we don’t have to rely on the opinions of man.
Just take a field trip down memory lane and look at the new parenting fads that crop up every twenty years or so, and you’ll find that most of them were responses to the previous generation’s failed social experiments.
I don’t really want to experiment on my kids. I want to parent in a way that will actually work, and so we turn to God’s perfect, eternally relevant Word. That’s one of the reasons Truth.Love.Parent.’s content is evergreen. As long as the Bible is our foundation and we interpret and apply it in a Christ-honoring way, these episodes should be practical for the rest of time.
So, if you’re new to the show, I invite you to start this parenting journey with us from the beginning. Each season builds on the previous, and we’ve been developing themes and concepts for years now that all interconnect and weave together to form a beautiful picture of the parents God has called and created us to be.
Of course, I do need to go back and clarify something. A few seconds ago I said that “I don’t really want to experiment on my kids. I want to parent in a way that will actually work.” In episode 87 we ask the question “What Is Successful Parenting?” Knowing how God defines success is extremely important so that we don’t have the wrong expectations for our parenting.
I’m not suggesting that Biblical Parenting is some sort of formula that — if followed — will result in perfect kids.
We did an episode about that too. I conducted an interview with Jim Newheiser called “Parenting Is More Than a Formula.”
By the way, any time I cite an episode, you can access those easily by clicking on the title in the description of this episode.
Anyway, in the “Formula” episode we again try to help Christian parents set their expectations correctly.
All of this to say, we need to align all of our thoughts, philosophies, opinions, convictions, and beliefs with God’s Word. And that’s the goal of today’s episode as well.
But, before we do that, I want to thank Johanna for making today’s episode possible. Without the sacrificial gifts of our listeners, we wouldn’t be able to create all the free parenting resources available at TruthLoveParent.com.
You can learn more about how you can help us out by clicking on the “5 Ways to Support TLP" link in the description of this episode.
So, thank you Johanna, from the bottom of my heart, for your loving contributions!
Now, let’s bring our Children and Shame series to a close . . . well, at least for now.
In Part 1 of this study we discussed a popular perspective concerning children and shame.
What I’d like to do today is step back through that perspective and compare it to the biblical Truth we encountered in Parts 2-4.
In case you’re wondering, I will not be quoting large sections from the article this time, just comparing ideas.
1. What is Shame?
According to Grille and Macgregor, shame “causes children to curtail behavior through negative thoughts and feelings about themselves.”
According to the Bible, shame draws children to repentance and reconciliation through an accurate understanding of God and themselves.
2. What Does Shaming Look and Sound Like?
Grille and Macgregor cite a number of negative sounding statements that fall into various categories from the “put-down” to “moralizing” and “competency-based expectations.”
According to Scripture, shame is a by-product of the Interpretation Stage. The goal is not to put down or even communicate expectations. Instead, the goal is show the child how they interpreted the situation the wrong way and how they should have interpreted it God’s way.
As a result of seeing that their behavior did not align with God’s Truth, shame arises and should draw the child to a desire to rectify the relationship.
3. How Common is Shaming?
According to Grille and Macgregor, shaming (which they think is always bad) happens in at least 96% of families. I would agree that most homes in the world do, in fact, utilize Bad Shame.
Now, the Bible doesn’t offer statistics, but we can know a couple things. First, all people are sinners, therefor they likely use Bad Shame as they worship themselves. And, in the Psalms, David does a fantastic job of showing us how many of his enemies were regularly trying to cause him Bad Shame for doing right. We also know that God says that since they hate Him they’re going to hate us. From this we can assume that the enemies of God regularly try to shame His followers for being loyal to God.
And then Grille and Macgregor introduce this section in this article:
4. Is Shame a New Frontier of Psychological Study?
In this section the authors compare shaming to corporal punishment and suggest that both are bad. This should not surprise us considering that God knows that both can be good if done the right way for the right reason.
They go on to cite Daniel Goleman who posits that shaming plays a role in relationship issues and violent behavior. And they cite Dr. Paul Eckman who says “shame is the most private of emotions, and that humans have yet to evolve a facial expression that clearly communicates it.”
Biblically speaking, Bad Shame definitely plays a role in relationship issues and could motivate violent behavior. However, Good Shame is designed to enhance relationships and would motivate people toward peace and reconciliation instead of violence. Of course, people are free to sin as they so choose. If the perfect God-Man only offered Good Shame and the people killed Him, that was their sinful response. The burden did not lie on Christ’s shoulders.
And I don’t think it’s appropriate to say that shame is a feeling. Good Shame is an accumulation of mental and emotional experiences that should include the overwhelming feeling of guilt. Conviction is a spiritual reality that does produce a feeling of guilt. And even though humans haven’t evolved from anything, we have plenty of facial expressions to communicate guilt.
Moving on . . .
5. How is Shame Acquired?
According to Grille and Macgregor, no one is born ashamed. It starts the same time that children start to understand language and develop a self-image.
They also point out that shame requires a shamer. Of course, since they believe all shame is bad, then anyone who could be considered a shamer must also be bad.
Biblically speaking, I would agree that no one is born ashamed. Shame requires that we understand an expectation and experience the requisite guilt that comes from having chosen to disobey. But I believe that infants are capable of this even though they don’t understand language and likely haven’t formed a self-image.
Why do infants cry when their parents express displeasure? Could they be mad? Sure, and sometimes I think that’s probably the case, but often I believe the baby is experiencing a undeveloped sense of guilt for having displeased the parent they storge so much.
If you don’t know what it means to “storge” someone, you should listen to our “Four Family Loves” series. I’ll link the first episode below.
Anyway, biblically speaking, shame isn’t acquired so much as it’s experienced when a person is made to feel the guilt of their sin . . . regardless of their age.
And that means that if the “shamer” is glorifying God in their Interpretation Stage, the fact that they are introducing the information that is causing the shame in the child’s life is not a bad thing, but a blessed thing.
6. Why is Shaming So Common?
I do have to quote the authors on this one. They suggest that “Shaming acts as a pressure valve to relieve parental frustration. Shaming is an anger-release for the parent; it makes the shamer feel better - if only momentarily. When made to feel unworthy, children often work extra hard to please their parents. This makes the parent think that the shaming has "worked". But has it?”
I have to agree that if the parent truly is only releasing frustration in an attempt to manipulate their child into superficial obedience and consequently make themselves feel better, then — yes — this parent has a huge problem.
But, what if the parent is using Good Shame for all the reasons we’ve already seen? Obviously, the clear answer is that there is nothing more loving a parent could do than to help their child reconcile their relationship with God.
7. What are the Damaging Effects of Shame?
In this section of the article, Grille and Macgregor say that mere outward conformity is not the only effect of shame. And I would agree with this.
But they also suggest that shame “punctures” a child’s self-esteem and mangles their self-identity. The authors use an example of a 10 year old girl who — after spilling her drink — berates herself with “I’m so stupid; I’m so stupid!” because she’s learned to shame herself as her parents have.
Well, if her parents have called her stupid for spilling her drink, then I would agree that the parent is using Bad Shame, and we shouldn’t be surprised that destruction will ensue. Sin hurts.
But if Good Shame is used correctly, the child may rightly see themselves as a sinner incapable of pleasing God, but the hope of the Gospel is that Jesus lived and died and rose to do what we could never do. He loves us so much that He willingly sacrificed Himself to relieve us of shame and the behaviors that lead to it.
This creates a self-identity that’s wrapped up in the love and worth poured on her by God Himself!
The authors go on to say that shame makes people feel diminished. I suppose that’s accurate, but would we say that it’s bad to empty poison out of a cup in order to wash the cup and fill it with drinkable water? I think we can all agree that would be good!
So, if Good Shame empties us and our children of our sin and Failure Philosophies only to fill us with the light of Christ . . . then diminish away!
Grille and Macgregor are incapable of seeing this because they believe that anything that makes us feel bad can’t be good. But the Bible presents a very different reality.
The authors then say that shame restrains a child’s self-expression. They say, “shame crushes children’s natural exuberance, their curiosity, and their desire to do things by themselves.” It’s true that Bad Shame may do this, but it would be impossible for a child who’s responded correctly to Good Shame to react this way.
The freedom they would experience in the power and Truth of Christ would excite them and propel them toward being able to do even more things to God’s glory through His power.
Grille and Macgregor also quote Thomas Scheff who believes that shame “inhibits the expression of all emotions — with the occasional exception of anger.” Again, if a person responds incorrectly to Bad or Good Shame, then this outcome may occur. We definitely see it with how people responded to Christ. There was a lot of hatred and hostility.
But, when a person accepts God’s invitation to repentance and forgiveness, it multiplies the Christ-honoring expression of emotion. It provides over-abounding and indescribable peace, joy, contentment, and gratitude. It actually is designed to lead us to emotional maturity.
And lastly, in this section, the authors cite studies that suggest the shame motivates people to withdraw from relationships. However, we’ve already discussed that, biblically speaking, Good Shame invites people back into a healthy relationship of love and respect and Truth and obedience to God.
8. Is Morality a Myth?
Grille and Macgregor believe that morality is a social construct that is arbitrary and variable.
But we know from the Bible that God is the author of reality and that His Truth is all that matters. To believe anything else is to live in a delusion destined to bring destruction. This is why the authors following beliefs are misguided.
They suggest that it’s “normal for toddlers to be selfish . . . . It is not unusual for two-year-olds to be unable to wait for something they want . . . . It is quite ordinary for three-year-olds to be sometimes defiant or hostile. If we shame instead of educate, we interrupt a valuable and stage-appropriate learning process.”
They go on to say, “A three-year-old who defies her mother by refusing to pack up her toys - after being told to do so repeatedly - may be attempting to forge a separate and distinct self-identity. This includes learning to exercise her assertiveness, and learning to navigate open conflict.”
If morality is a myth and we can define normal and acceptable however we want — if might makes right — then there is no truth, and all we have are “professionals” telling us what’s okay until a newer group of “professionals” contradicts them.
But God’s perfect standard stands the test of time and is eternally relevant. Selfishness, impatience, defiance, and disobedience are not phases or stages. They’re the normal outworking of a sinful heart. And God’s glorious Gospel has the answer to that eternity-damning problem.
Again, the most loving thing we can do for our children is help them see how they’ve transgressed God’s law and how they can find forgiveness.
These children are not “learning to assert their distinct individuality.” They are worshipping themselves just like every human being before them.
And then the authors assert that “if we persist in crushing their defiance, and shaming children into submission, we teach them that setting boundaries for themselves is not okay.”
How horrible would it be to teach our children that they get to set their own speed limits despite what the government says. Again, that would not be loving.
The best thing we can do is to help our children mature enough they they willing make God’s boundaries their own. That is true wisdom.
There is much more that could be said and a ton of the article with which I’m not dealing, but I think the Bible has been clear enough and the illustrations understandable enough to see that there is a sinful Bad Shame that should never be used by parents, and from under which parents should seek to help their kids gain freedom.
But there is also a Good Shame that is not sinful, but loving. That shame wisely helps our kids see how they have sin against their Creator and graciously invites them back into a relationship with Him. That is the shame Christian parents should encourage when they reprove their children.
Of course, we have to make sure it really is Good Shame and not a Bad version, and we have to make sure that the Good Shame is reconciled through Christ-honoring apologies and repentance.
And there are two more passages with which I’d like to end.
I haven’t shared them yet, but I’m sharing them now because using Good Shame with our kids will help this not be their future.
Philippians 3:17-19 reads, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”
And Jude 1:11-13 says, “Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam's error and perished in Korah's rebellion. 12 These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; 13 wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”
There is so much to unpack here, but the main focus is two-fold:
The Good Shame that was designed to lead them to Truth, the painful feeling of guilt that should have pointed them to repentance, is instead a sick form of enjoyment. They glory in their shame. They cast it up like the foam of a wave.
This can happen as a person’s conscience is seared; they can find satisfaction in the feeling that should have produced a longing for change.
I’ve seen this more frequently than I’d like to admit within the culture that embraces unbiblical sexuality and abortion.
Statistically speaking, homosexuals and people who have abortions struggle with deep depression and are often tempted to suicide. And yet many within these movements have started celebrating their decisions in a way that reveals that they’ve forced themselves to ignore the negative feelings and tried to inject a sort of twisted exuberance in its place.
It’s sad, and that’s from what we’re trying to protect our kids. The Jude passage is talking about apostates who have an outward form of godliness but who are headed straight for Hell.
Dear God, may those not be our kids.
Our next episode will follow this one well as we’ll be looking to the book of Ecclesiastes to determine which is better, immediate or delayed consequences.
I hope you’ll join us for that.
And please share this series with your friends. It’s been very popular lately, and I pray it has been because people are sharing it and it’s been a blessing to them as well.
We exist to glorify God by helping dads and moms become the intentional, premeditated, disciple-making parents God called and created them to be.
So, to that end, I’ll see you next time.
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