Actually Shem and Shame have a lot to do with each other. You’ll see why in a minute. One word is Hebrew, the other English. Bet you’re excited for a Hebrew lesson today, right? Okay, hold tight this will come together quickly—I promise.
SHEM –> שֵׁם
Shem is Hebrew. In its script form, it looks like a crown. It’s pronounced SHAME. Okay say that out loud so you stop pronouncing it like “hem” or “gem”. The word “shem” (again pronounced “shame”) is scattered all about the Old Testament. There’s really no English word to perfectly translate—the closest and simplest English word would be “name.” Hey, shem – shame – and name rhyme.
So back to that translation issue. Shem means more than just the literal translation of “name.” Gathering some synonyms to describe shem would result in words like:
Basically, it’s “who you are” and your “worthy self.” Perhapse you could say it’s the crown you wear. Back in the BC days, if someone marred your shem—well it resulted in shame. Your reputation was ruined because your shem wasn’t worthy anymore.
Now let’s talk about the English word shame. When you have shame you feel:
Shame is terrible. Awful. Shame wrecks us, and causes us to feel unaccepted. No one should live with it. And I mean NO ONE. One of the best definitions of shame I’ve seen is this: “Shame is the intensely painful FEELING or experience of BELIEVING that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” ~ Brené Brown, I Thought it was Just Me (2007)
Simply put, shame has no acceptable place in our lives. Yet we secretly live with our shame(s). And the longer we live with those little messy scary monster shames in the dark, behind the closet door, and lurking under the bed—the more they become a part of who we are. These are parts we’re afraid others will discover.
The longer it lurks as a secret shame, the more and more real it becomes.
And then one day we discover our shame becomes our shem. It becomes a permanent part of our being. As much your name defines you, you also let your shame define you as:
- Dishonorable Fame,
- Improper Character,
- Hurt Reputation,
- Who You Are.
THE REAL TRUTH: that shame… Is. Not. Your. Shem.
… it never was supposed to be.
…you were never supposed to feel this way.
…you were never meant to have your shame be your shem.
Period. Removing the shame from your shem takes work, and it’s all possible.
STEP ONE – COURAGE FOR LIGHT
The first step is getting the shame out of hiding. And it takes huge amounts of courage. Shame is a weird thing that thrives in the darkness. Just like the monsters I knew existed in the closet when I was little, so it is with shame.
While the monsters were not real, I absolutely believed them there. And the longer I sat in darkness, the bigger and scarier those monsters became. I’d sit in fear, terrified, sweating in my pretty Lanz nightgown.
It wasn’t until I gathered enough courage to leap from my bed and run to flip on the light-switch that I’d realize the monster really wasn’t there. And so it is with shame. Exposing it to light changes everything.
STEP TWO – EXPOSING
I’m not a therapist, but I know this: exposing shame must be done carefully. When you expose your shame it creates a place of vulnerability. This exposing can make you feel as tender as baby skin. And as helpless as a baby in need of nurturing and care.
Sometimes the very right and best person to tell your shame to IS a therapist. Especially if you lived with it for years. That is deep pain that really needs the guidance of someone who is trained to deal with the complex issues surrounding long-term-shame.
Sometimes it’s your very best friend or spouse who accepts you with all your flaws and still treats you like a super-hero rock star. This is someone who has earned your deepest trust—and never looks at you with pity in your weaknesses. Sometimes it’s a pastor. But know this, it’s always Jesus.
A SAFE MONSTER-SLAYER
Let’s say you’ve just realized you got some wrong stuff attached to your shem, but you have no idea who that safe person is to discuss your shame with. Let me suggest starting with Jesus. Because He is safe. And all He’s gonna do is love you right back.
It’s amazing how much can start to happen on a healing level when openly admitting our shame to God. It’s not like He didn’t know… But saying it to a trusting God brings light into places you thought the monsters lurked. How this works is beyond me. I only know that it works. And it worked for me.
Think of the woman at the well. Filled with shame over her shem – what people called her and what she was known for (5 husbands and shacked up with a new guy). Or the woman who bleed for 12 years. She too was filled with shame over her shem. People deemed her unclean, it was what she was known for.
In both cases, Jesus knew. But He didn’t use those labels with those women. And whatever you’re coming to Him with—no matter how messed-up you think it is—He certainly doesn’t see you with the shameful shem you gave yourself. He’s always seen your name (shem) differently. He saw it the way it was before your first breath was taken. That is as an honored child of God that is known and loved and accepted.
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Ps 34:5
You. Your Honorable Crowning SHEM. Loved. Accepted.