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Toxic Shame vs the Holy Spirit

Toxic Shame vs the Holy Spirit

You know that mom at the grocery store? The one we all promise ourselves we’re never going to turn into? The lady yelling at her kids, causing a scene, and basically saying farewell to every last shred of cool she may have had. I’m not talking about the cute mom in kitten heels and 7 for All Mankind jeans. No, this is the lady in jeggings, no makeup, and a sloppy ponytail.

Recently — and I hate to admit it, because I know my reputation as a fashionista/trendsetter/chic mama is on the line — I became that woman. I don’t have a good reason. It was just one of those days. I mean, I might as well have gone to the grocery store wearing a terry cloth robe and velcro rollers. (I was donning yoga pants and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt, so not much of an improvement.)

I spent most of the trip flinging food gently placing our healthy, nutrient-rich provisions into the cart, while yelling at patiently encouraging my three sons to “Sit still and stop eating all the groceries before we even leave the store!” “Practice gentlemanly patience until we can consume our daily bread in the privacy of our own home.”

I pulled into the checkout line sweaty from stress and exhaustion. The phrases “hot mess” and “she’s got issues” come to mind. The checkout lady must have been having a day of her own. She took one glance at our melee and decided this was an opportune moment to step onto a soapbox. No, not a soapbox… a stage. In a voice loud enough for the customers on the other side of the store to hear, she reprimanded me because my four-year-old wasn’t properly buckled into the cart.

I know what you’re thinking, and let me just stop you right there. Yes, he should’ve been securely fastened. Yes, I was letting things go. I own it. But for the record, the kid was keeping himself entertained by buckling and unbuckling the seat belt… for the entire shopping trip! Enough said. Maybe you don’t have kids, or maybe you are the cute mom at the store (#ihateyoualittlebit), but let’s just imagine for a moment that one day you find yourself at the grocery store in Disney- inspired sweats, attempting to manage a shopping list, a budget, three kids, and your dignity; and on that same day, one of those three kids is miraculously keeping himself occupied with a plastic buckle. I have a feeling you too will let the seat belt slide. (If I’m wrong, just never ever tell me, please.) Permit me to walk you through our little nine-part grocery-store melodrama.

Part 1: The Moment in Which, after Being Reprimanded Publicly, I Attempt to Keep Things Light

Me: I know. He should absolutely be wearing his seat belt. He keeps taking the silly thing off then buckling it again. He’s having so much fun. What can you do? Crazy kids. (Here, I inserted a little giggle I hoped would communicate, Be cool, lady.)

Part 2:The Moment in Which, Shockingly, the Cashier Does Not Respond to Subtext of Giggle (and Also Refers to Me as “Ma’am”)

Her: Ma’am, I understand your predicament, but store policy states I cannot load your groceries unless your son puts on his seat belt.

Part 3:The Moment in Which I Endeavor to Appeal to the Cashier’s Sensitive Side

Me: Look, I’m just trying to survive this outing. Can you please help a mom out? Woman to woman, I’m doing the best I can here.

Part 4:The Moment in Which the Cashier Does. Not. Budge.

Her: Ma’am, you need to take your child out of the cart or buckle him in; otherwise, I won’t be able to give you your items.

Part 5:The Moment in Which I Begin to Lose It

Me: You’re seriously telling me if I don’t force my four-year-old son to keep his seat belt buckled, you won’t give me my food?

Part 6:The Moment in Which the Cashier Does. Not. Budge. Again. (And, by the Way, Calls Me Ma’am a Third Time. Enough Already with the Ma’am!)

Her: Yes, ma’am. That’s store policy.

Part 7:The Most Mature Moment of My Existence

Me: This is the most ridiculous thing I have ever dealt with! (I yelled this statement, by the way. Not a whisper, not even a raised voice. This was a full-on, causing-even-more-people-to-stare-at-me, yell.) I then proceeded to yank my child out of the grocery cart with such pomp and circumstance that I just knew the cashier would have to recognize the error of her ways. The customers in line behind me would applaud. The manager would come over and offer her sincerest apologies. My righteous indignation, in light of this unjust personal affront, would be rewarded with a lifetime supply of gift cards.

Part 8:The Moment in Which My Son Makes His Feelings Known

My Son: (crying)

Part 9:The Moment in Which the Cashier Revels in Her Triumph

Her: Now, then. Would you like paper or plastic? (Here she inserted her own giggle, which I can only assume was designed to communicate, I win. I win. Ha ha ha. That’s right. I called you ma’am. I’ll do it again… ma’am.)

Aaaaand… scene.

I stomped out of the store, huffing and puffing the entire way. I hurled my kids and groceries into the car and clambered into the driver’s seat, where I stopped for a beat and tried unsuccessfully to pull myself together. Leaning my forehead against the hot leather steering wheel, I prayed the heat would burn away my tears. I was embarrassed by the way the cashier had called me out publicly, and I was mortified by my immature reaction. She may have set the shame stage, but I assumed the role: naked, center spotlight, shame shrieking like the feedback off a poorly positioned microphone.

Shame Doesn’t Have to Be a Scene Stealer

Believe it or not, there is a bright side to shame. Shame can be a prison guard, but it can also hand you the keys to freedom. It can paralyze or motivate you.1 Let’s be honest; if our shame is hitting the fan, we tend to justify it, ignore it, or allow it to consume us. But if we stop long enough to reflect on our shame, it can become like a signal indicating a need for change, humility, or spiritual growth.

If we let Him, God can use our mundane experiences of shame as occasions for grace.

This means every shame experience has the potential to be a signpost that reminds us of our need for a Savior. Think about it. If we allowed every experience of shame to lead us directly to Christ, what chance would shame have? In Christ, shame becomes its own undoing.

When we bring even mundane experiences of shame to God, He invades and illuminates them with His extraordinary grace. They are, as we are, redeemed.

Toxic Shame versus the Holy Spirit

Toxic shame is a weapon used by Satan to condemn, control, and incarcerate. In absolute contrast, the Holy Spirit’s work in your life leads to repentance, forgiveness, and liberation. May these truths from Romans 8 remind you of the power of the Spirit of God in your life and enable you to live in freedom from mundane shame.

The Holy Spirit:

  • resides in you.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. — Romans 8:9

  • releases you from captivity to fear.

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again. — Romans 8:15a

  • reminds you God is your loving Father.

You received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. — Romans 8:15b

  • reassures you of your future with God.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. — Romans 8:17

  • requests God’s help on your behalf. (That’s a simple way of saying the Holy Spirit prays for you. I just really liked how the r verbs were rolling out.)

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. — Romans 8:26


Dear God, sometimes I am a big old mess. I’m so thankful I don’t have to try to be otherwise in front of You because You know me so well and You see all of me. When I experience shame in my daily life, would You help me learn and grow from it? If I’ve acted shamefully or sinfully, would You help me quickly make corrections, not because I’m trying to be perfect but because I want to overcome shame. I need Your help to do all these things. I worship You, God, because You are so powerful and good that even shame cannot remain as shame in You. Thank You for loving me. Amen.


  1. Amy Poehler, Yes Please (New York: Dey Street Books, 2014), 71.
Excerpted with permission from Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame by Aubrey Sampson, copyright Zondervan.
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Your Turn

Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about allowing the Holy Spirit to redeem our toxic shame. ~ Faith.Full