Satan always uses the same tricks. He is a mastermind of psychology who has perfected a few ploys and uses them again and again, devilishly pleased with how easily we succumb. On this earth, he started with Adam and Eve and found a particular fiery dart so potent and searing, he has never stopped using it.
You may recognize this technique.
Adam and Eve partake of the fruit, discover their nakedness and then stand shaking when God calls their name in the garden. Satan is right at their shoulder, with urgent words, “Hide. Quickly, hide.” He floods them with a sense of their unworthiness, calls them to retreat, run, be separated from all that is good and holy because they are flawed.
He tells them to shrink in shame, to be flushed with embarrassment, not only at what they’ve done, but who they are.
Shame is one of Satan’s pernicious tools, a view of ourselves he is always busy selling us. In our inner conversations, our self-talk, we may not call it shame, nor recognize that Satan has also told us to run and hide, but the tactic is the same.
It is that secret disdain of ourselves that we carry like a hidden worm because we have not been all that we imagined that we could. It is that nagging sense of disappointment that the weaknesses we wrestled with yesterday and last year are still dogging us. It is the chagrin that so much that is difficult for us seems to come easily to others.
It is that embarrassment that we have let ourselves and others down. It is the sin that sickens us or the sometimes hardness of our hearts towards those we should treat softly. It is the life skill we never quite master. (Can my closet still be this disorganized?)
It is the suspicion that others don’t regard us or recognize us, the sense that they dismiss us. It is the dismay that we don’t measure up, that no matter how hard we try, that we can’t do it.
We may not experience any of these kinds of shame, but for many, there is a piece of ourselves, maybe a hidden piece, carefully masked perhaps even from ourselves, that is dimmed in shame.
If it was one of Satan’s first temptations to our parents in the garden, we can be certain that he is using it in some way on us. It is a particularly effective tool for those of us who are members of the Church who want so much to become good.
We cry tears and lament, “Have I been a good enough mother?” “Have I been a good enough father?” We beat ourselves up with what we might have done differently at home, at work, in our church callings. We ask ourselves if we missed the boat somewhere along the way, took a Wrong Turn, buried our talents. Or maybe just hit a glass ceiling that our heart tells us we could have shattered if we could have just found the way.
We sometimes contribute to our sense of self-disdain, playing right into Satan’s strategy. We may recount our weaknesses until they grow in our mind, replay every rejection, let our disappointments fatten and grow in our souls until they dominate and then diminish our identity.
Anything that makes us feel small and wretched does not come from the Lord who desires most of all for us to remember whose son and daughter we are, and therefore what glorious vistas can await us.
If shame can make us grovel in humiliation before life’s opportunities (even if others don’t see it), it can also have the opposite effect. We may go to great lengths to hide our chagrin by seeking to be overly competent, feel that we must never make mistakes. We might find ourselves in that endless race for importance, because inside we feel so unworthy and unimportant.
In this way, shame is a cousin to pride. A shrinking sense of dismay about ourselves—or even some part of ourselves—may lead us to that great temptation—working really hard on our beautiful self-image as an antidote.
Even unconsciously we may try to prove that we matter, or worse, that we matter more than other people, that we have our precious, little superiorities. We may search, even unconsciously, for ways to feel OK. We may decorate our resumes or our bodies or our social standing, hoping to smother the voice of shame and heal the hole it eats inside of us. Maybe then we can feel important enough.
Shame can become terribly self-absorbing. It can become a relentless search for something, anything, to make us feel better. “ If I achieve this, then will I be good enough? If I do that, then will I be good enough?” “Have I properly shored up my self-esteem so that I can finally shroud that sense of shame, silence the voices of chagrin, dismay and self-disdain which whisper to me?
Shame is paralyzing. It stops us in our tracks. It bids us give up, contract, stop trying. It makes us feel that we should abandon our standards since they are impossible anyway and we could never live up to them. It wraps us in despair and tells us that since our efforts are so puny, we might as well give up. It is not worth fanning the life force inside of us that would fire our vision and keep us moving. “I’ll never win, why try?”
Shame ultimately can divide us from God, make us retreat in trembling. We don’t want to be exposed as naked and riddled with weakness. We don’t want to stand before him with our obvious scars and lesions, the sins we know too well. Shame can distort our vision of who He really is. We may suppose he, not Satan is the source of this painful shame that wracks us, the over-exaggerated sense of our unworthiness.
I think that shame is often behind those who finally abandon God. His expectations make them feel guilty and they flee from feeling ashamed.
I heard shame once in the voice of one of my daughters when she was eager to get an answer from the Lord over a problem that weighed upon her while she was in high school. She said, “Mom, will you pray for me? I know the Lord will answer you.” In her statement was the assumption that she did not think God would answer her. She thought herself, somehow, unworthy of Him.
I heard shame in the request of a Relief Society teacher who, in a lesson, asked us to write down everything we could think of that was good about ourselves to increase our sense of self-worth. Maybe this list we created would help convince us that we were acceptable.
Was this an idea that would work? I didn’t think so, so I laid my pencil down. So did my neighbor, Diane. She said, “I don’t get this exercise. I love the Lord, and he loves me. That’s all I need to know.” I’ve never forgotten that comment that sprang from wholeness.
Satan is busy, however, with his program of shame. He wants us to feel like pygmies and not children of God. He wants us to participate in his program by scolding ourselves, telling ourselves that that chiding, nagging inner voice is actually there to do us good, make us responsible.
“Why don’t you ever get this right?” says the voice, shaming us.
But this program of shame is the same one he tried to foist on Adam and Eve. When he sees our nakedness—those vulnerabilities, weaknesses, disappointments and sins that stick to us, sometimes like glue, he screams “Hide, you wretches. Run and hide.”
That is Satan’s method of covering our sins.
In the tenderest of mercies, the Savior also invites us to cover our sins, but in a quite different way, a way which is the polar opposite. The Savior’s way is encompassed in what Nephi asks in his psalm, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!”
Seeing our nakedness and our wretchedness, the Savior, through his atonement, covers us with his own cloak. He does it with a loving, warming embrace. We are encircled in his arms and his robes. Our nakedness is covered, not because we ran and hid, following a devilish voice that implies that we are worthy of disdain. It is covered because, instead of running and hiding, we turned our faces to the Lord and as he embraces us in the folds of his robe, we find that shame falls from us.
We are loved, noticed by the King, made sacrifice for by the Lamb. We are precious, more than we can imagine right where we are, and gleaming with possibilities that go beyond.
God does not want us to travel with shame, for its burden is too heavy and is the fountain of many other sins.
This idea of naked and clothed is spoken in this verse about how it will be to stand again before God.
“Wherefore, we shall have a perfect knowledge of all our guilt, and our uncleanness, and our nakedness; and the righteous shall have a perfect knowledge of their enjoyment, and their righteousness, being clothed with purity, yea even with the robe of righteousness” (2 Nephi 9:14).
The righteous are not naked and made ashamed by the exposure of their weaknesses and vulnerability. They are clothed—and it is in the Savior’s own robes. The embrace of the Savior’s atonement allows us to have vision of who we really are. Yes, we falter and our best efforts are met with road blocks. Yes, we battle our weaknesses and the war to overcome them is often long, but drawing close to the Lord, means coming into his embrace, feeling his love, and sensing his vision of who and what we are.
Clothed in his robe of righteousness, we do not feel shame. When we are naked, Satan tells us to run and hide. Christ instead, wraps us in his love, empowers us to overcome as he has, and gives us vision to see ourselves as he does—as infinitely lovable and worth his sacrifice.
In the JST, John the Baptist, warns the Pharisees, “If ye receive not me, ye receive not him of whom I am sent to bear record; and for your sins ye have no cloak (JST Matthew 3:34).
Christ’s atonement is an invitation to be “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love” (2 Nephi 15). We are invited to be reconciled, which means to return, to come home to the place we have known.
Not just our sins, but all those things that make us feel small and unworthy, awkward and incompetent are transformed when Christ covers our nakedness with his robes.
Hugh Nibley says that the Jews have various interpretations of the word cover. It means “to archover; to bend over; to cover; therefore, to cover your sins, to wipe them out, to forget them, to pass over with the palm of the hand, hence to wipe over; to cleanse; to expiate; therefore, to forgive, to renounce, to deny, to be found.”
It means to be encircled in love.
Oh what a number Satan does on us—making us feel like tiny, hopeless germs, far from home and far from ourselves. He would have us wallow in shame and shrunken vision, pained because we feel so small. It is a tell-tale sign that he is at work in our souls when these feelings abound.
What a joyous alternative is offered by the Savior. “Come unto me, all ye that are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” That rest is in the robes of his righteousness where we are healed and clothed. No need to crouch and hide. We can stand before the Lord with glorious expectations and hope in the process.
We have no need to be ashamed for we are God’s own children, and though we are not yet what we will be, the Lord loves us and wants us to catch the glimmers of ourselves that he sees.
Thus, when we feel the shrinking disdain for ourselves that so many know, it is time to say, “Get thee hence, Satan. I will entertain your lies no more.”