Shame and Hopelessness
For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10
Almost anyone who’s been on a diet knows what it’s like to do well for a few days or weeks, only to give in and fail. In that feeling of failure, we’ve likely felt some shame and promised that we’d do better next time. One indulgence makes the next one easier though, and so often we find ourselves failing repeatedly. Now the shame is compounded, and hopelessness begins to set in. We know what we want but we feel it’s impossible and, in our misery, the only way to feel good, at least momentarily, is to return to the very thing that’s made us unhappy in the first place – more food. I’ll never be successful. I’m destined to fail. I might as well give up and just surrender to my appetite.
This is the same pattern I experienced in my drug addiction. I desperately wanted to be sober, but I was addicted and just kept relapsing. Every time, I promised that this was the last time. Then, I’d fail again. The shame piled up, making me more and more miserable, leading to hopelessness. In my hopelessness, the only relief I knew was to take more pills, which numbed the pain for a while at least. I thought it couldn’t get much worse, but then it did.
After losing my job and finding myself in treatment, I was overwhelmed with remorse over what I’d done to my family. At that point, those who could see my shame told me I must forgive myself. That seemed empty though. I couldn’t just dismiss those painful feelings. I needed to use them to motivate me to change. So, I did just that. I took that pain to God, telling him that I never wanted to feel that way again. Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. The only remedy for my shame and guilt was to use it to embrace radical change, becoming a different person.
Today’s passage was exactly the passage that helped me see what I needed to do with my remorse back then. In it, Paul said that one kind of grief leads to hopelessness and death, whereas another kind leads to repentance and life. We have two kinds of guilt and the only difference between the two is our response. If we wallow in the grief, we’ll get lost in it, embracing hopelessness and failure. Or, we can use that discomfort to daily motivate us to do whatever it takes to abandon the thing that caused our pain in the first place.