How to Pray When You’re Ashamed
- Alicia Michelle Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 9 Aug
Ouch. I instantly realized what I’d said was hurtful and wrong.
My husband and I had been having a “healthy discussion” (read: an argument) about some ongoing family issues. We were firmly encamped in our opinions and neither side was budging.
Normally, we’re pretty good about fighting fair. But that night I was tired. And because I wanted to be right (and to be “done” with the discussion), I let my guard down and said something I really shouldn’t have.
Suddenly, shame—that horrible did-I-really-say-that? feeling—trickled into my heart.
I knew I’d wounded my husband. And yet he didn’t respond with the equally rude retort that I deserved. He controlled himself when I did not. That fact only intensified my guilt and shame.
I began to sob as my emotions swirled like the makeup on my tear-stained face.
I felt far from my husband… and even farther from God. I’d let my anger get the best of me and now I felt trapped and alone by my own shameful choice.
Caught in Shame’s Crippling Grip
I share that moment because perhaps you’ve said something or done something that you know is wrong, and you have no idea what to do about it.
You’re so angry at yourself. You may feel hopeless or filled with other self-condemning thoughts.
Most of all, you know you should pray but aren’t sure what to say to God.
How can we bring our feelings of shame before God? What does that actually look like? That’s what we’re going to discover here in this post.
The first step to processing our shame in a healthy way is to make a critical distinction: Are we dealing with conviction or condemnation?
Conviction Vs. Condemnation
What is Conviction?
Conviction is God’s prompting in our heart to make a decision that brings us in closer fellowship to Him. God allows us to feel conviction so that we can live the humble, righteous lives he calls us to.
Conviction is an important part of the Christian life! We can’t have God’s grace without his gentle spirit of guidance. We could not grow spiritually without his promptings to live differently or to confess wrongful actions to Him.
Since conviction comes from God and God is the definition of perfect love (1 Cor 13; 1 John 4:18) we can know that all conviction will be done from God’s pure heart of love (even if His truth stings sometimes).
In short, conviction is a good thing, and we must continually tune our heart to the Holy Spirit so that we can be quick to respond to any conviction He gives.
What is Condemnation?
Condemnation, on the other hand, is a negative, destructive thought pattern that seeks to destroy and undermine our self-confidence.
Condemnation doesn’t give healthy, biblical answers to a situation. Instead it fills a heart with with phrases like “You’ll never break this pattern,” “You’re worthless,” and “You’re a horrible person.”
There is no guidance toward God. Instead, condemnation is a prison—a breaking down of the spirit—and often leads to additional sin.
Jesus describes two distinct patterns of guidance in the parable of the sheep and the wolves. He says in John 10:10: “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
And that’s the best way to think of it: Condemnation brings destruction and disorder; while conviction brings healing and peace.
4 Steps to Take When You’re Faced with Shame
How can we tell if what we’re facing is true conviction from God or condemnation from the enemy (or from our own selves)? And ultimately, how can we restore that fellowship with God?
Here are four simple steps to take:
Step 1: Ask God to help you clarify where the shame is coming from.
We serve a good, good God who wants to help us untangle our often confusing emotions.
Go to quiet place and take a few minutes to talk to God about all of it—your anger, your sadness, your guilt—through prayer and examination of various Bible passages. I’ve found that a concordance and a journal are a huge help here.
Don’t rush this process. Just read, share your heart with Him, and listen. It’s okay if you need to spend several times alone with Him before you get clear answers about what’s going on.
Remember that God is on our side (always!) and wants to help you sort through all you’re feeling. He wants to give you the healing you’re seeking. Expect his help and his answer.
Step 2: Separate the conviction from the condemnation.
During these moments, God may show you that your feelings are a complicated mix of both conviction and condemnation (this is often true for me, especially if I’ve allowed the emotions to fester for a while).
That’s fine and that’s normal. Be gentle with yourself as you separate out conviction from condemnation. Sometimes I even make a list of convictions and condemnations so that I can really see on paper what’s going on.
Step 3: Learn from the conviction and restate the condemnation.
What healthy things is God trying to share with you (conviction)? How is God trying to direct you back on the good path? Ask for forgiveness and for His help in living out those truths.
Conversely, which emotions are flat out lies meant to destroy (condemnation)? Reword the negative, destructive thoughts into His life-affirming truths.
For example, in the situation with my husband, I was convicted that I’d used my words to destroy instead of build up (Proverbs 12:18) (and yes, I needed to heed that warning and ask both God and my husband for forgiveness).
But I also heard terribly condemning thoughts like, “What an awful wife you are,” and “Your husband is going to leave you because you’re not good enough for him.” Those were not of God and I needed to call them out as lies.
Instead I restated them as these truths: “God uses my imperfections to demonstrate to others that He lives in me,” (2 Corinthians 4:7-12) and “As a daughter of God, I am no longer identified by my mistakes but I am completely redeemed and always ‘good enough’” (John 8:1-11).
Note: These aren’t “feel good” expressions but instead an affirmation of God’s truth supported by scripture. They are the thought patterns we need to cling to when condemnation strikes!
Step 4: Let it go, and walk on.
Once God has revealed any conviction (and you’ve asked for forgiveness and help to live differently), and He’s shown you how to rework the condemnation into truth, you can walk in forgiveness and freedom!
Friend, the next time you’re plagued with shame, I pray that you can prayerfully follow these steps so that you can move forward, walking confident and free in God’s grace!
Alicia Michelle, author, speaker and blogger at YourVibrantFamily.com, is passionate about helping women discover their beautifully imperfect journey through parenting, marriage, homeschooling, faith and homemaking. She’s also happily married homeschool mom of four curious and amazing kids who keep her on her toes!
Alicia is the author of the books Plan to Be Flexible and the Back to School Survival Manual. She also teaches the online video courses “7 Days to a Less Angry Mom,” and “bloom: A Journey to Joy (and Sanity) for Homeschool Moms”.
Publication date: August 9, 2016