Shame vs Godly Sorrow

Courtney and I had an interesting conversation about shame as it compares to godly sorrow. For context, we were talking about addictions and overcoming them.

Shame is the tool of Satan. It is his version of overcoming our problems, and like all of his tools, it is a lie at the core. Shame relies on secrets, embarrassment, and hiding. Shame tells us that if we don’t confront the issue, it will go away. Shame tells us that our mistakes define who we are and that our mistakes then ruin us permanently. Shame is synonymous with sinner; the word sinner focuses on the internal and therefore inherent nature of our wickedness and unworthiness, which is false. Shame means we are personally wicked instead of being made unclean by the sin. Shame forces solitude in our guilt and turns us toward selfish behaviors.

Godly sorrow on the other hand is God’s way. It is a unifying principle that teaches us that we are inherently good and have the opportunity to give away our wickedness in favor of something better. It tells us that our weakness is opportunity for growth and strength. It tells us that our sins do not define who we are and especially that our divine potential is eternal as long as we choose to repent and change. Godly sorrow tells us that weakness is healed through relying on the support of others, particularly the Savior. Godly sorrow is open and asks us to set aside embarrassment with the knowledge that we are all beggars (Mosiah 4:19). Godly sorrow reminds us that repentance is not hiding, but is a full turning away from sin (D&C 58:43). Godly sorrow asks for a sharing of the load and helps us turn outward (Matthew 11:29-30).

Over the last few months, those verses in Matthew have come to me again and again:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

The invitation to repent is clear, but these verses are not just about repentance and neither is shame or godly sorrow. As we struggle with whatever it is we face in life, shame tells us that it is better to hide and deal with our trials on our own or bury them, but the Savior has openly invited us to come, to follow, and to have peace.

In seminary, I remember learning that when we read of eternal joy and eternal suffering in reference to the final judgment, what we are really learning is that the word “eternal” doesn’t define the length of the suffering, but the manner. It is eternal because God is eternal. It’s His joy. His suffering (see D&C 19:11-12). Heck, go read all of D&C 19. It’s all relevant. 🙂

In the same manner, is not godly sorrow the sorrow that God feels? If we look to the life and the Savior, we see how He sorrowed, and I think that gives us clues to both how He hopes we will feel about our sins, errors and weaknesses but also how He Himself looks on us. Here’s a few:

How did the Savior handle scary, hard tasks?

Mark 14 tells us about His suffering in Gethsemane: “And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”

Earlier in the same chapter, we read that “he [took] with him Pete and James and John … and saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.”

Luke tells us that an angel was sent to support the Savior during this trial (Luke 22:43)

So what’s the lesson? First, the Lord knew His weakness. He knew where He needed help. He was scared, He recognized it, and He asked for help. Second, we learn that the Lord was willing to set aside His worries, His fears, His doubts, and whatever semblance of pride or shame He felt at the prospect of being incapable of completing His task. Third, the Lord got help. He took with Him arguably His three best friends to the garden. He asked His Heavenly Father for help. And He got it.

Shame would have led Him to hide the horrors of that night.

How did the Savior handle death, grief, and pain?

John 11 tells the story of Lazarus who was dead and then risen by the Lord. We see the Savior mourn and weep with Mary and Martha (vs 35). Despite His knowledge of what was about to happen, He still felt compassion and sorrow for His friends and their suffering. Our shame tells us that we must be alone in our hurt, that it is our own to bear. Godly sorrow tells us that pain–while universal in its condition–is not lonely and that we find solace and support in the comfort of others, especially in the truth and reality they offer us. While the Savior truly did mourn the death of Lazarus and the pain His two friends felt, He was also quick to testify to them that their brother yet lived. Truth guided His actions, love guided His tears.

In the Book of Mormon, we see another example of how the Savior handles death, grief, and pain. In 3 Nephi 17, we read the following:

  • vs 7–“Have ye any that are sick among you? Bring them hither. Have ye any that are lame, or blind, or halt, or maimed, or leprous, or that are withered, or that are deaf, or that are afflicted in any manner? Bring them hither and I will heal them, for I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy.
  • vs 11 – 17–And it came to pass that he commanded that their little children should be brought. So they brought their little children and set them down upon the ground round about him, and Jesus stood in the midst; and the multitude gave way till they had all been brought unto him. And it came to pass that when they had all been brought, and Jesus stood in the midst, he commanded the multitude that they should kneel down upon the ground. And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel. And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him. And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.
  • vs 21 – 22–And when he had said these words, he wept, and the multitude bare record of it, and he took their little children, one by one, and blessed them, and prayed unto the Father for them. And when he had done this he wept again.

And really, I could go on.

In this case, Christ asked these people to share their burdens with Him, not hide them. While He certainly knew all their pains and weaknesses, He allowed them the time to come and see Him. Instead of simply healing all with a single wave of His hand (which He most certainly could have done), He invited them personally and individually to see Him, touch Him, and know His voice. This is not shame.

Of the most powerful words spoken in all the scriptures, surely “One by one” stands out as the hallmark of who our Savior is, how He feels about each of us, and how He loves us (see 3 Nephi 11: 14-15).

How does the Savior ask us to help others in their sorrows?

In Mosiah 18, the prophet Alma teaches us about what it means to be Christian, saying:

And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? (emphasis added)

The way that we are asked to support others in their trials is to do as He did with Lazarus and the Nephites and so many others. It is to mourn and to comfort as thou we were experiencing the trial ourselves. One thing to note, of course, is that showing that kind of support to another requires the sufferer to witness of their own sorrow. It is hard to mourn with another when they do not mourn themselves, and that is shame (or pride, which is the root of shame) that asks us to hide from our own experiences.

I’ll end with these words spoken by Jesus:

Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified; Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life (see D&C 45: 3-5).

Shame would have us hide our sins, our weaknesses, our frailties, and the very humanity that makes us God’s greatest creation from the one person who is actively and consistently pleading for our care, our support, our rescue. Godly sorrow is, in the end, nothing more than saying, Yea Lord, I believe.

And then living it.

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One Response to Shame vs Godly Sorrow

  1. Emmerin Schutz says:

    I realized earlier this year that the feeling I had labeled “guilt” was pure Satan. That confused me for a while because I know we have to feel sorrow to change. But my guilty feeling is similar in definition to shame. Learning that has helped me a lot because when I feel that crushing guilt, I know the source, and I can push it away to let God’s hopeful sorrow in.

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