Not Enough?

A copy of “Living Light News” showed up in my mailbox last week.  It’s a Christian publication that comes around a couple of times a year. When I got to the last page and read the headline, I groaned inwardly: “No Cheque is Big Enough to Pay This Off!”.  The picture under the headline is a zoom-in of a cheque with “NOT ENOUGH” written in as the ‘amount’. The article goes on to say that “we have all incurred a huge debt that no amount of money” (or good works or donations to charity) can pay off. The article ends with a prayer to God that starts off with, “Dear God, I am truly sorry for sinning against You. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done…”

This is pretty typical in my experience of the “sinner’s prayer”. It always starts off with a focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The focus is on how we are “bad” and because of that, God is going to punish us. This looks a lot like shaming a person into praying the sinner’s prayer to me. And in light of Brene Brown’s research on shame I would argue that this is a counterproductive approach to encouraging people towards a relationship with God. Here’s what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012):

“…there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” (p.73)

We all want to experience connection with others, to feel that we belong and that we are ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ to be accepted and loved apart from our actions. So why does evangelical Christianity think emphasizing that we are “not enough” for God is a good way to encourage people to follow Him? The motivating factor here is fear. Fear and shame lead to disconnection, not connection. And I don’t think that is God’s desire for us at all.  Love is the essence of who God is (1 John 4:8) and it is His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God loves us and wants connection with us. He doesn’t want us to hide from Him.

I believe it is our feelings of shame that keep us disconnected from God and others. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Once they had tasted the forbidden fruit they hid because they were naked. I think it’s safe to say they were experiencing shame. I believe most, if not all, behaviors that are defined as ‘sin’ have their roots in shame.

So with that in mind, I propose there is a better, more positive way of introducing people to a relationship with God. And the foundation is love:

You are made in the image of God and He loves you. And because He loves you, He wants to experience this life with you. He longs for connection with YOU. His son, Jesus, came to earth to show us what God’s love is like. He came to break the power of shame in our lives that keeps us disconnected from God and from others. Jesus introduced us to grace. It means God already accepts you and that you are ‘enough’…right now. All He asks is that you believe it and accept it. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, believe that you are forgiven. If you don’t think you’re ‘worthy’ of this kind of love, it’s simply not true. Your ‘worth’ is not based on your actions but on the fact that God says you are precious and beautiful to Him. He doesn’t want you to hide in shame any longer. He wants you to be free. Will you take Him up on His invitation?

Disclaimer: please understand that what I’ve written above does not mean I don’t believe what the Bible says about sin – I do believe that we are all broken (we have all sinned) and that we need to accept God’s forgiveness; I believe the consequences of sin is death…’death’ being the damage to our souls from years of living in shame and disconnection from God

4 Responses

  1. Kim

    Carol, this was an awesome post. I think you have shared a beautiful way to introduce people into a relationship with a loving God. With your permission, I may need to quote this sometime. Is this quote from Brene Brown or is it your own?

    May 17, 2014 at 6:14 am

    • The approach you suggest is definitely positive and beautiful. Yet, I believe personal evangelism needs to be approached case-by-case. And it requires much prayer and discernment to determine which approach resonates with which kind of person. Some people have lived their lives in pride, where they believe that they are right with God because of all the good works they have accomplished. In my humble opinion, a good dose of “healthy shame” may not be a bad thing for them. Without accepting Jesus’ act of redemption on the cross, they are “not enough”. Others, who have lived their lives believing they are not enough and are constantly bombarded with shame need to know about God’s saving grace through Christ and how God loves them regardless of their past, present, or future. Your approach would be perfect for them. Therefore, I don’t think one approach is better than the other or that the ideas contradict each other. They are just different sides to the same coin. Anyway, my two cents. 🙂

      June 8, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    • carolannetebay

      Hi Kim,
      Somehow I missed seeing your comment. The quote at the very end of this post comes straight from me and what I’ve come to believe about God, His grace, and salvation. Feel free to use it.

      June 16, 2014 at 10:01 pm

  2. Leighton Tebay

    Hi Rain

    Pride isn’t the opposite of shame, it is a symptom of it. Pride the result of a battered human soul finding anything it can to build self-worth upon. If one happens to find some criteria by which they judge themselves more worthy than others, it results in pride. The cure for pride isn’t humiliation, but understanding one’s inherent worth regardless of status, wealth, beauty, ability or accomplishments. This undercuts the shame underneath the pride.

    I have a different view of what Christ’s redemption does. I no longer believe that Christ’s death was an expression of God’s wrath against humanity. The issue with humanity isn’t that God in his holiness cannot stand us, it is that humanity in its brokenness cannot tolerate a holy God. Christ came to end the enmity between us, heal us, and restore our relationship.

    In Eph 2 Paul wrote ”
    Eph 2:1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
    Eph 2:2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience,
    Eph 2:3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest…
    Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us,
    Eph 2:5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you are saved!”

    We’ve always been enough in God’s eyes, we’ve just been too broken to see it or realize it. If we knew we were enough we wouldn’t be trying compensate by creating our own worth or by numbing our pain through vice.

    There is no sin, no brokenness, no dysfunction that God’s love can’t fix.

    June 16, 2014 at 9:53 pm