Symptoms are important. They tell the patient that something is wrong and when properly understood can tell the physician what that something is. Every once in a while I get surprised by someone who is much sicker or worse off than I imagined. I find myself asking, “How is it they didn't feel this?”
I think of a 10-year-old girl who came to my office several years ago. She had fallen off of the monkey bars a few days earlier and had occasionally complained of arm pain. Her mother was only a little concerned but brought her in to see me just to be sure she was okay.
I examined the child, poking and prodding and moving her arm and shoulder all around. Not a peep or a grimace of pain. Her exam was perfectly normal. I told the mom I could not make a good argument for getting an x-ray, but gave an order for arm and shoulder films just in case. I told her to get the x-rays done if she was not better in 2-3 days.
Three days later they were back. The girl still was relatively asymptomatic, but this time one thing was different. This time she brought an x-ray of her upper arm that showed the humerus was broken. IN TWO! Snapped. Completely broken with the bones a centimeter apart. To this day I cannot understand how she could have slept comfortably, much less allow a doctor to move the arm over her head. It is hard to recognize a problem when there are no symptoms!
Our society is in a similar circumstance right now. We have serious problems, but many people do not feel or recognize them at all. They are missing something crucial that would allow them to understand how sick they really are.
“To raise a child without shame is to raise one with no immune system against evil.”
“Shame is to the moral health of a society what pain is to the body. The sense of shame provides an indicator to the mind.”
Dysfunction is spreading through our culture, spreading because people lack a key means of recognizing it and dealing with it. They have lost a sense of shame. People are openly proud about behaviors which were once (and still should be) considered shameful.
I can think of many examples, such as the young man who came into my office for a check up, and when I asked about his sexual history, proudly declared that he was sexually involved with several girlfriends at the same time. Taken aback by his unabashed boasting, I clarified his response, asking, “So you are not saying you have had multiple partners in the past, you are saying that you currently have multiple women you are sleeping with?”
He extended his fist to give me a knuckle punch as he laughed and turned the word “Yeah” into one of three syllables. “Yea-a-ah, dude!” He had no shame.
I have seen similar sentiments expressed on Facebook, in blog posts and on television. Casual sexual encounters, vulgar language and other immoral behaviors are displayed as badges of honor instead of markers of shame. It seems that our world has fully embraced the view that no behavior is inherently wrong. If it feels good and brings pleasure in the moment it should be proclaimed and celebrated.
The freedom promised by the shameless pursuit of pleasure is false freedom, as it traps people in lives where it is impossible to experience the joy and peace that come from living life as God intends. Instead of running from and denouncing shame and embarrassment, we should train ourselves to cultivate a healthy sense of shame that will sound the alarm when we foolishly go our own way.
God wants to heal our diseased hearts, and appropriate shame can lead us to seek the cure. Ask yourself- "Do I feel the symptoms of my sinful heart, or am I becoming hardened to shame?" The answer is important.