20 Quotes from Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame

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These 20 quotes from  Curt Thompson’s insightful book The Soul of Shame: Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves (InterVarsity Press, 2015) has deeply influenced my thinking on shame and redemption. Thompson’s book won The Gospel Coalition’s top book award in Faith and Work, and is highly recommended by notable biblical counselors. Thanks to Tony Reinke at Desiring God for this idea.

“Shame is a primary means to prevent us from using gifts we have been given. And those gifts enable us to flourish as a light-bearing community of Jesus followers who work to create space for others who wish to join it to do so. Shame, therefore, is not simply an unfortunate, random, emotional event that came with us out of the primordial evolutionary soup. It is both a source and result of evil’s active assault on God’s creation, and a way for evil to try to hold out until the new heaven and earth appear at the consummation of history.” (13)

“When we experience shame, we tend to turn away from others because the prospect of being seen or known by another carries the anticipation of shame being intensified or reactivated. However, the very act of turning away, while temporarily protecting and relieving us from our feeling (and the gaze of the ‘other’), ironically simultaneously reinforces the very shame we are attempting to avoid. Notably, we do not necessarily realize this to be happening-we’re just trying to survive the moment. But indeed this dance between hiding and feeling shame itself becomes a tightening of the noose.  We feel shame, and then feel shame for feeling shame. It begets itself.” (31)

“It is helpful to remember that part of shame’s power lies in its ability to isolate, both within and between minds. The very thing that has the power to heal this emotional nausea is the reunion of those parts of us that have been separated.” ( 34)

“Shame’s healing encompasses the counterintuitive act of turning toward what we are most terrified of. We fear the shame that we will feel when we speak of that very shame.  In some circumstances we anticipate this vulnerable exposure to be so great that it will be almost life threatening.  But it is in the movement toward another, toward connection with someone who is safe, that we come to know life and freedom from this prison.” (35)

“Ultimately we become what we pay attention to, and the options available to us at anytime are myriad, the most important of which being located within us. Paul, in his letter to the Romans knows this, stating flatly, ‘Those who live according to the flash have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace’ (Romans 8:5-6). To have one’s mind set on something is essentially about paying attention.  What do I pay attention to? Paul says that what we pay attention to doubles back and governs us. Hence our attention is deeply associated with either death or life. So much of the biblical narrative is the story of God working hard to get our attention.” (48)

“We are storytellers. We yearn to tell and hear stories of goodness and beauty, and this is the echo of God’s intention. We long for our stories to be about joy, not just reflections of what we believe but of who we are, who we long to be…But shame wants very much to infect every element of the mind in order to distort God’s story and offer another narrative.” (55)

“The defining relational motif for humankind is not that we need to work as hard as we can, or at least harder than we are. It is not to do our best or to guarantee that our children will have a better life than we had. It is not about being right or the acquisition of power. Each of those (and other versions like them) play into the hand of shame’s anxiety. No- rather, we were created for joy. Not a weak and watery concept of joy that merely dilutes our sadness and pain. Rather it is the hard deck on which all of life finds its legs, a byproduct of deeply connected relationships in which each member is constantly known.” (59)

“For if we believe we live in a world created by the God whose character and acts are found in the pages of the Bible, then shame is no mere artifact. It has purpose in a larger narrative, an interpersonal neurobiological instrument that is intentionally and skillfully used to distract and disrupt the story God is telling… Shame wants to alter our stories by telling its own version, one that is sure to bring trouble wherever it goes.” (80)

“To relationally confront our shame requires that we risk feeling it on the way to its healing. This is no easy task. This is the common undercurrent of virtually all of our relational brokenness. We sense, image, feel and think all sorts of things that we never say, because we’re far too frightened to be that honest, that vulnerable. But honest vulnerability is the key to both healing shame-and its inevitably anticipated hellish outcome of abandonment-and preventing it from taking further root in our relationships and culture.” (104-105)

“In reality, vulnerability is not something we choose or that is true in a given moment, while the rest of time it is not. Rather, it is something we are. That is why we wear clothes, live in houses and have speed limits. So much of what we do in life is designed, among other things, to protect us from the fact that we are vulnerable at all times. To be human is to be vulnerable… Vulnerability is not a question of if but rather to what degree….in seeing the place of vulnerability in the pages of the Bible we cannot but help be amazed at its place and purpose. It begins in the beginning, where we are introduced to a vulnerable God. Vulnerable in the sense that he is open to wounding. Open to pain. Open to rejection. Open to death.” (120-121)

“We deeply long for connection, to be seen and known for who we are without rejection. But we are terrified of the vulnerability that is required for that very contact. And shame is the variable that mediates that fear of rejection in the face of vulnerability. But in the Trinity we see something that we must pay attention to: God does not leave. The loving relationship shared between Father, Son and Spirit is the ground on which all other models of life and creativity rest. In this relationship of constant self-giving, vulnerable and joyful love, shame has no oxygen to breathe.” (125)

“Those parts of us that feel most broken and that we keep most hidden are the parts that most desperately need to be known by God, so as to be loved and healed…God came to find Eve and Adam to provide them the opportunity to be known as he knows anything else. For only in those instances when our shamed parts are known do they stand a chance to be redeemed. We can love God, love ourselves or love others only to the degree that we are known by God and known by others.” (126-127)

“The imagery of the Bible’s story of vulnerability is set apart from the world’s story in that the biblical narrative tells of a God who is with us in this process of exposure. In the midst of vulnerability, shame colors our sense of it [vulnerability] in such a way that we feel quite alone. TO be known presumes that we are not in isolation but that there is another by whom and in whose willing and eager presence we are being known.” (126-1267)

“We all are born into the world looking for someone looking for us, and that we remain in this mode of searching for the rest of our lives. When we acknowledge our shame, it resonates with the shame carried by all of us. With confession, it is given the opportunity for resonance, exposure and healing in the life of the listener as well as the speaker.” (138)

“When we wound others, creating either minor or gaping ruptures, it is necessary to repair them. This requires the admission of responsibility for our role in the rupture. Shame is the emotional energy behind our resistance to this. It does so by deeply fueling our anticipation of being forsaken upon our admission of guilt…One of shame’s features is as a harbinger of abandonment, of catastrophic collapse of relationship…Lurking deep within us is what Satan convinced our first parents to believe-that we are not important enough for God to remain with us.” (144)

“For if relationship with Jesus is as much about being known as it is about knowing, we soon learn that life with God is not about being right but about being loved.” (152)

“Shame positions itself in such a way so as to keep borders tightly closed and vulnerability at a minimum. It teaches us not to review weakness, fearing that to do so will lead to our being shamed-the very antithesis of what we need for human sourcing.”(157)

“We have in Jesus one who was willing to put his naked vulnerability on full display, opening himself to all that we in evil’s employ could throw at him. He was the first to trust us with himself, revealing himself, risking abandonment in the process.” (157)

“All that we do-parenting, pastoring, farming, playing basketball, carpentry, police work, structural engineering-is done in response to love and shame competing for our attention, wrestling for authority over our memory, emotion, sensations and behaviors.” (177)

“These two dominant affective forces [love and shame] of the universe represent the struggle between good and evil. Within each of us, these two affective states-represented by the presence of the Holy Spirit on one side and our shame attendant on the other-are at war over us and the culture we are making. The Spirit echoes the voice of our father telling us that we are his daughters and sons, whom he loves and in whom he is pleased. Our shame attendant reminds us in large and small ways that every function of our mind, let alone who we are as a whole, is not enough and has been abandoned. This war occurs in every realm of embodied life.” (177)

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