Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you. Psalm 25:20
It happened again. For months I had been trying to overcome my angry outbursts at my preschool-age children, and I blew it. I glanced at the windows to make sure they were closed so that neighbors wouldn’t hear my tirade. I looked at the crying faces of my brokenhearted kids, and I turned away. I retreated to my room and got lost in a novel. I turned on the TV for them while I myself turned away to sleep--to escape from the never-going-away guilt and shame I felt after losing it yet again. How could I? How would I ever become free? What would my friends and neighbors think if they knew about my struggle with anger toward my kids? Would my ministry be discredited?
When have you felt similarly? Perhaps it’s every time you remember the sin in your past that seems to be branded on your heart like a scarlet letter. Maybe it’s after you succumb to temptation yet again. Maybe it's when you remember your greatest public failure and wonder if you’ll ever be able to face those who witnessed it. Or it might feel more complex to you; maybe it’s when the memories of past abuse come up unbidden and you feel dirty and unclean. Maybe it's how you feel each time you see yourself in the mirror--not enough, or too much. Maybe it's when you feel invisible to your husband who’s addicted to pornography.
The feeling is shame, and its voice in your heart will either become louder and more insistent or begin to quiet and dissipate depending on where you turn next. We all have our chosen refuges, but any place we turn outside of God will leave us more ashamed than before.
The words of the psalmist serve as our ever-present worship leader, shaping a path for our hearts to travel instead of escapist indulgences and empty idols. We need to be delivered, and there is only one who can rescue us: the Lord. We cry out with Psalm 25: “Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me!” And we cry with confidence: “Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”
To be put to shame is to hope in a false rescuer--to look to deliverance that never arrives, that can’t fulfill its promise. Our God is sure and steadfast and true. We who look to him for rescue will find grace that never fails us and strength present in our weakness. We will find community in which we can pour out our shame and be met with grace rather than condemnation. Our souls will be guarded, and we will be delivered.
When I turn to God’s Word, prayer, and God’s people instead of my idols-of-choice, I am not put to shame. Shame begins to disappear. I find the refuge my heart seeks in the moments of greatest exposure, whether that exposure relates to my own sin, sin committed against me, or a nagging sense of inadequacy.
My God was put to shame publicly on the cross as Jesus died so that I would never have to be--so that a true and steadfast refuge would be always available to those who look to him.
Suggestions for Prayer
- Admit the shame you feel and the false refuges you’ve turned to instead of God. Name them before your Creator.
- Ask God to be your refuge from shame and the one to guard your soul and deliver you.
- Ask God to show you a safe person to confide in and with whom you can call out to God for deliverance.
Heather Nelson is a writer, counselor, and speaker. Heather HeatherDavisNelson.com and has been a featured writer at the Gospel Coalition, as well as a contributing author to the Journal of Biblical Counseling. She and her husband are parents to twin daughters and live in southeastern Virginia. She is the author of Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame.