Lent Devotions: Moving from shame to freedom in Christ

Design by Doug Puller/Bread for the World.

Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  

By Rev. Dr. Dean McDonald

Psalm 51: 1-12   

No matter who the author — either David the adulterer or a much earlier writer — this prayer of confession conveys more than culpability for a wrongdoing. Verse 5 indicates that the Psalmist’s feeling goes far beyond deserved remorse for a transgression; rather, he is overcome with shame. He considers his very essence from birth to be badly stained: “Indeed, I was born guilty; a sinner when my mother conceived me.”

Shame is the inevitable result of reflection. It makes us aware of our shortcomings. And, thankfully, Lent serves us as the other liturgical season besides Advent when we are encouraged to make the time to honestly and thoroughly consider our behaviors, values, and goals.

Shame is an intrinsic self-punishment for bad behavior, and can be helpful if it provides us an incentive to be the person God intends for us to be. It has the potential to spur us on to be better or, as in the case of the Psalmist, to be worthily re-created. He desires to be made wholly new in God’s image.

Of course, if our shame becomes overwhelming and prevents us from talking about our feelings or repenting, it is dangerous. Fortunately, this writer isn’t stuck wallowing in his shame, but he reaches out and begs for God to be merciful; and he acknowledges his deep dependence on the Spirit to blot out his iniquities. He seeks freedom from his shame and sin in order to be restored to right relationships with the Holy One, others, and himself.

The simple yet strong supplications found in an African-American spiritual could be our daily call to confession during Lent:

                                                                       “Lord, make us more holy,

                                                                       Lord make us more loving,

                                                                       Lord, make us more patient,

                                                                       Lord, make us more faithful.”

Rev. Dr. Dean McDonald is a member of the San Francisco Theological Seminary family. 

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