My son, Justin, gave me a book a couple of years ago. Reverence, by Paul Woodruff, has been forming my life in some incredible ways. Professor Woodruff’s basic thought is that reverence is one of humanity’s virtues. And although he acknowledges that reverence can be focused through one’s view of God, he insists that all of us would be better people, whether or not we believe and trust in God, if we will draw three elements into our daily living.
Those three elements, Awe, Respect, and Shame, are interrelated and truly do create an aura of “remarkability.” Awe for a power that is greater than us. Respect for others in the context of our awe. And Shame as a constant check on who we are.
I’ve shared the book with students as a guest in one of their graduate courses. Twice a year, I sit with a dozen or so of them and we talk about the way that reverence plays in our lives through these three elements.
Shame is the element that draws the most criticism in these discussions. I suppose the reason is that Shame is pictured as a burden. Because of that, it does seem to be ill-fitted to make up our virtue of reverence. Although I have spoken strongly in favor of its inclusion, I think I have too quickly slid into a comfortable spot of thinking that I should start with Awe as I pursue reverence. (By the way, despite Dr. Woodruff’s assertion that this doesn’t have to be about God, for me, it’s all about God.)
And so, for a few years, I have been caught up with the notion that I must establish Awe as the cornerstone. In truth, it is the cornerstone. Yet, I battle with myself constantly.
I missed the importance of confronting my Shame.
The beauty of the life that God has given us is His unfaltering willingness to forgive me for my failings. He doesn’t want me to fail. And I certainly don’t want to. Yet, what I have missed is the mystical power that accompanies my ability to recognize where I don’t measure up and then to bask in the glory of a Creator who loves me anyway.
That’s why I can hold him in Awe. That’s how I can come to recognize His true power. That’s the only way that I can even begin to understand His love.
So today, I’ve concentrated on my Shame. With a renewed desire and energy to do better tomorrow, I am beginning my path to reverence. And as with everything God has given us, the path is filled with the fullness of Him. My view of my Shame gives me hope.
Awe and Respect will happen. Shame forms us. Thankfully, with God our Shame doesn’t have to overpower us with guilt. He holds something better for us. Shame is my opportunity. Shame is a place where I begin.
God offers us continual reconciliation. Through Shame, we gain the wisdom and the motivation to reach out and grasp what He offers.