Judgement shuts down vulnerability, but compassion paves the way for connection, which is the antidote to shame.
Years ago, I was part of a small group where we were encouraged to share our struggles so we could support and pray for one another. I don’t remember the specific thing I shared (probably my struggle with anxiety or something similar), but I talked about how I was having a hard time letting go of a behavior that I knew was not good for me. Someone in the group responded by expounding upon the reasons why I should stop engaging in that behavior.
I felt judged, angry, and ashamed, but mostly, shut down. I had summoned up the courage to be vulnerable, but it was received with judgment instead of compassion. There was no healing in this encounter.
Judgment is a conversation stopper or perhaps an invitation to unproductive arguing. Compassion invites people to pull up a chair and tell their story while clothed in the dignity deserved by all of God’s image bearers. One of the very best discoveries of my life has been that every time I come to God with vulnerability about my struggles, I am met with compassion that leads to healing. I had no concept for the depths of God’s compassion until I began to experience it myself and God began to free me from shame. We can extend compassion to ourselves and others, just as God does for us.
We build shame resilience through honest conversations with people who will connect empathetically, and no one is better suited to do that than Jesus, the compassionate High Priest who sympathizes with our weakness. We can love others with the love of Christ by extending compassion to those who bear the heavy burden of shame.
I am learning that we can even extend this healing compassion to ourselves! In Enneagram language, this looks like nonjudgmental self-observation. We can’t change what we can’t see, and we can’t see it if we are full of self-condemnation. No matter what you do or don’t do, you are a beloved child of God.
“He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
2 Cor. 1:4