I was at the park one sunny day recently, sitting under a tree on the grass, reading a book titled Jesus Calling. A lady walked by with her dog and I found myself instinctively lowering the book behind my knees so she couldn’t see the cover. I didn’t want her to see that I was reading a book about Jesus. It embarrassed me.
It made me wonder:
Why am I embarrassed by my love for God?
After everything God has done for me, why wouldn’t I be shouting His praises from the mountain tops? Nearly every page in my journals since I was 16 are filled with private conversations, devotions and thanks to God, and yet, when in the presence of others, I barely mention Him.
When I reflect on this, I realize that I suffer from what I’ve now come to call “God Shame”.
“God Shame” is the feeling of shame that comes upon you when you express your personal faith to others.
Here are some subtle ways God Shame appears:
- Are you hesitant to talk or write about God as often or as deeply as you’d like?
- Do you find yourself consciously holding back from using the word “God” in public and instead, using softer words like Source, Universe, the Divine, Presence, etc?
- Do you fear what others might think of you if you expressed how you truly feel about God, uncensored?
- Are you uncomfortable leaving a book that was clearly about God on your desk at work for everyone to see?
- Do you question your own faith and wonder sometimes if you’re being duped by believing in something you have no proof exists and can’t explain.
- Do you follow one religion publicly (with your friends and family) but believe something else privately?
- Do you wait until you know someone’s religious or spiritual stance before you express your own?
- Do you “tone down” any talk of God when in the presence of others whose beliefs you aren’t sure of?
- Are you afraid people will think you’re “one of those” if you openly expressed how you feel about God (you know, one of those religious zealots who mercilessly preach God to others until their eyes glaze over)?
- Do you have “God friends”, a small circle of people who you feel completely open to talking about your love for God, but around others outside the circle, you hold back your true feelings?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, you probably have some level of God Shame. The more YES’s you answered, the deeper your shame.
If this is you, you’re not alone. I used to answer yes to ALL of these questions.
And if there’s one thing I know about shame:
Shame thrives in silence and secrecy. The best way to get rid of shame is to confront it. You confront shame by wrangling it out of the closet, holding it up to the light and talking about it.
After that fateful day in the park, I decided I didn’t want to be controlled by shame anymore. So I made a commitment to myself and God that I was going to come out of the proverbial closet.
Here are some actions I took that may help you too if you’re still in the God closet.
EXPRESS YOURSELF ONLINE
I started a website called ClosetGodLover.com which has now morphed and evolved into this website that you’re reading now. It was my way of openly expressing my love for God as well as my shame. I’m not saying you have to go all-out and announce it to the entire world with a website like I did. I always start with what I know, and since I know blogging and websites, it has a certain level of familiarity and comfort for me. As strange as it sounds, announcing to billions of people on the internet felt safer to me than standing on a street corner and yelling to the 20 or so people around that I’m openly a God lover! Although there are billions of internet users and anyone could stumble on my site at any given moment, I knew only the few who were meant to find my site would find it. In turn, I received a bunch of emails from people of all walks of life expressing their God shame as well.
For you, if you’re not a website geek like me, you can start by expressing your love for God on social media. If you don’t have the courage to do it all out as a profile post in fear of your friends or family seeing it, browse through God-related websites or closed Facebook groups and write a comment in response to something that moves you. You can start RIGHT HERE in the comments section below. You can even talk about how you’re scared to post the truth. Embrace your vulnerability and be truthful. People are generally pretty open and appreciative to those of us who are genuine and share our deepest truth – fears and all.
EXPRESS YOURSELF IN PERSON
I also made a conscious effort to insert my beliefs into in-person conversations, first, with people I trusted and then, slowly, with people I didn’t know. For example, if I was at a grocery store and the clerk commented on what a beautiful day it was, I’d say a quick statement such as “God is good!”. It wasn’t to convert the clerk to believe in God (I had no idea what her beliefs were nor did I care), it was to convert my shame. By not hiding my beliefs, I was shining light onto the shame, little by little. I didn’t need to have a long, drawn-out conversation with the store clerk, the purpose was merely for me to get comfortable talking openly about God, even if it was mere mention or one-liner.
The more you insert your God-love into conversations, the easier it becomes. At first, like anything new, it could be super uncomfortable. And depending on who you talk to, you might even get some strange looks. I was taught never to talk openly about religion or politics and I still abide by that rule for the most part. It’s because people have very strong opinions about religion – and about God. So when you start talking about God, you might even get some arguments or resistance back. That’s okay. There’s no need to engage further. The purpose of this exercise is NOT to change someone’s mind about God, it’s solely about getting YOU to release your God shame and become more comfortable out of the God closet.
EXPRESS YOURSELF WITH OBJECTS
I keep a laminated picture of Jesus on my dashboard in my car. Whenever I had my car washed or oil changed, I put the picture in the glovebox so the workers couldn’t see it. I didn’t want them to think I was a Jesus nut. As part of my commitment to leaving shame behind me, I stopped hiding Jesus. So next time I got my car washed, I left the picture there. I wanted to get over the fear of what other people might think of me (another disguise of shame). The first few times were uncomfortable and I got some weird looks (or they weren’t looking at me weird, I was just projecting externally because of my shame) and I found myself wanting to explain it or at least point it out in some kind of joking way to break the ice. But I held back from the urge to explain myself and now I’m used to it. I don’t even think about the Jesus photo when I get my car washed now. They can think what they want, it doesn’t matter to me.
You can start with a photo of Jesus like I did, or a piece of jewelry, like a necklace with a cross. Or you can keep a copy of a God-oriented book on your desk at work instead of putting it away in a drawer. If there’s an object in your life that you’ve observed yourself hiding from other people, take a chance and leave it out for someone to see. You don’t need to wave anything in anyone’s face or scream at the top of your lungs (unless you really feel inspired to!) but it’s sufficient to simply allow your God objects to be seen and witnessed by others.
The more you practice allowing yourself – and your love for God – to be seen and witnessed openly, the more comfortable you become. Before long, you’ll find that the shame you carried around is gone and who knows, you might even start your own God-loving ministry or website!