When it comes to my big regrets in life—all the dirty, shameful parts of my life’s history—here’s my default strategy: I ask forgiveness first. Then, instead of dealing with lingering regret and shame, I shove those regrets down. I keep all my shame under a tight lock and key (or at least give it my best try). 

Although it’s a priority to keep others from knowing about my weaknesses and failures, it’s almost just as important to keep myself from thinking about them. I want to pretend they don’t exist. I can’t easily handle accepting the deep ways I’ve failed to be the person I wish I could be—the person I hope others think I am.

Yet the shame always resurfaces, so maybe shoving it down isn’t a great strategy after all. Especially when Facebook memories serves up an old school dance photo of two smiling people, and it brings back regrets that haunt me so many years after a failed relationship. Or a simple phrase triggers a flashback to the unfair and hurtful words that ended a friendship—words that I hurled at someone in the heat of the moment and wasn’t able to take back.

Over time, I’ve learned that no matter how defiantly I dig my heels in, I can’t will myself to stop feeling shame over past regrets. As much as I wish true verses like, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12) gave me the superpower to deal with my own shame, they just don’t. When I tell myself the truth, “I’m forgiven, I don’t have to think about this anymore,” I don’t feel better, or shame-free.


When We Carry Our Own Shame

I think it might be because when I shove my shame real deep, I’m still carrying it. I give it space in my mind and heart. It’s like I’m storing up ammunition for the enemy, who is waiting for the slightest opportunity to sling shame back in my face.

And when the shame resurfaces, I doubt my worth, my goodness, my character. I wonder when my mistakes will come back around to haunt me, and in what ways they already have. I anticipate coming judgment, because there’s no way I can get off so “easy” by receiving God’s free forgiveness. I don’t believe God sees me as holy and blameless through Christ. I believe I’m a fake, only waiting to be “found out” and inevitably punished.

Alright, so you’re probably thinking, “girl’s got problems.” I do. That’s why I want to know how to deal with shame. Like, really deal with it. And how to keep it from disturbing peace in my mind and heart, and affecting my relationship with God. 


Letting Jesus Carry Our Shame

When it comes to how to deal with shame, I’m in the middle of a journey of asking what it means to “give it over to Jesus.” Answers like this are a little ambiguous, and a little messy, but I’m starting to see some glimmers of hope. I wanted to pull together a few tips for how to deal with shame. These have been little breaths of fresh air for me on my own journey.


Tip #1 for How to Deal with Shame: Acknowledge It

In my speedy and furious determination to shove away any feelings of shame, I don’t actually acknowledge those feelings—not really

I’ve been practicing sitting uncomfortably with my shame for a little longer. Sometimes this looks like simply making space for the thoughts to form. 

“Man, I am suddenly feeling really intense shame about ________. I wonder what brought that up?” 

“I hate that _________ happened. I wish I’d never made that mistake.” 

Those thoughts are merely stating what’s already happening in my head. They help give form to the shame I’m dealing with. And somehow, that makes the shame a little less scary—I know what I’m dealing with.

Then, I let acknowledging the shame carry me into naming what I’m believing about the shame. 

Reflect: What is a past mistake that brings up feelings of shame for you? Pray about it, naming the regret specifically, and how you feel about it.


Tip #2 for How to Deal with Shame: Name What You Believe 

The scariest part about shame (at least for me), is what it tempts me to believe about myself and how God sees me. I don’t realize the misguided beliefs that are forming about shame unless I call them out. And I do this by stating what I’m really thinking (even though—as you’ll see—it’s super misguided). 

“I am a terrible person/friend because I ________.”

“God is disgusted with me because I ________.” 

“I’m probably not even a real Christian, since I ________.”

It’s okay if things get a little dramatic. Because even if it feels silly, these lies are probably in your head, anyway. Out with it already! God knows you’re having these thoughts, so he’s not surprised by them when you say them.  

Sometimes I just do this exercise in my head, but it’s also been really helpful to write things out, or even share them with faithful Christian friends (hopefully the ones that are really good at being like, “you know that’s a bold-faced lie, right? Because XYZ”). 

Reflect: What is a lie that you are tempted to believe because of the mistake you named earlier, and the shame that comes with it?


Tip #3 for How to Deal with Shame: Name What’s True

Am I really a terrible person because of a specific mistake I’ve made? Does that line up with the truth that God created me as a beloved daughter? 

No, I think this is more true: “I feel like a terrible person, but actually, I’m God’s creation, who he knows intimately and in whom he takes great joy. And I made a mistake, but it doesn’t define me.”

Is it true that God’s response to my mistakes is disgust? Is he surprised by even the deepest regrets I have? No!

What’s more true is that nothing I do surprises God. And that my assumption that he’s disgusted with me is more than likely a reflection of how someone else has responded to me in the past, or how I, in my brokenness, tend to respond when I’m surprised by other people’s mistakes. 

And when it comes to the nagging lie that I’ve done something bad enough to disqualify me from being a “real” Christian, I can bat that one down hard. Because there’s nothing that can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Sin tried. And it lost. That’s what’s true.

Reflect: What is a truth from Scripture that helps combat the lie you’re tempted to believe? (If you have trouble coming up with something, ask a trustworthy friend to help you find a truth to cling to! Or feel free to reach out to us via social or email)


How to Deal with Shame and Actually Move Forward

I’m not sure we’ll ever be totally free of feelings of shame (in this life, at least). It makes sense to feel sad about things we’ve done that are wrong, hurtful, and broken. But shame is not meant to have the hold on us that it so often does. Shame is not meant to convince us that we’re unworthy of God’s love, or that his forgiveness is out of reach. 

Shame is not meant to pit us and God on different sides, as it so often tries to (i.e. “I’m horrible and disgusting, and God is perfect and good”). 

Through Jesus, God invited us over to his side. We don’t always act perfect and good, but we can wear Jesus’ perfection and goodness like a cloak, because he said we could (Ephesians 1:3-6).

And as we stand on God’s side, he fights with us against the brokenness that his beloved people struggle with so much. He’s with us, not against us. He doesn’t want to watch shame drive us away from him. When we’re at our worst, I think he wants us close—really close.

I’m beginning to think that, at least in my own faith journey, “letting Jesus carry my shame” looks like reminding myself of this reframed perspective (and often). Making mental space for dealing with shame in these few practical ways doesn’t “fix” shame, or make it go away. But it does free me from shame’s heavy, unbearable burden. I’m able to move forward a little differently, because instead of desperately trying to shove the feelings of shame down, afraid of who it will try to tell me I am, I feel a little more confident, having gained some ground to stand on. 

If God doesn’t look at my worst mistakes and deepest regrets and run away screaming, I don’t need to either. I can trust that his grace is sufficient, his forgiveness is real, and Jesus’ sacrifice wins. With that in mind, I’m a little more ready to fight shame next time it tries to tell me otherwise. I hope you can be, too.