Are You a Prisoner of Your Shame?

This entry is part 22 of 33 in the series 99: a journey
A head-and-shoulders picture of Andrew Chirch with water in the background

I’m Andrew Chirch, an Interfaith advisor and coach. 99 is a special weekly podcast series where we meet for 9 minutes to regroup, re-center ourselves, and prepare for the work ahead.

Subscribe here to listen on your favorite podcast app, or you can use the player at the top of this post. A transcript is below.

You are more than the worst thing you have ever done. You are more than the worst thing that’s ever happened to you.

This week’s episode is about forgiveness…. and not just any forgiveness, but a particular kind. In what little I know about Arabic, in the language there are these notions of expansion or moving outward and contraction – or moving inward. Each is infinite.

The forgiveness of today’s journey is the inward kind.

Now, it’s possible that you, listening to this are the one exception to what I’m going to say, so in case that’s true, know that, for the rest of us, there is often that ONE thing for which we can’t forgive ourselves, no matter how hard we try. Or sometimes, there’s that one thing that happened to us that we cannot let go of. Sometimes we cannot forgive the person who hurt us AND we have feelings of shame ourselves for our part in the matter.

Whichever the case… I have one question:

What would forgiveness look like?

What would it mean to forgive myself for the worst thing?

Would it mean that it didn’t happen?

Would it mean that it was ok?

I’m weak? I deserved it? I’m unworthy of trust? of love? of another chance?

My friend… I have news for you: With all the love and respect in the world, you’re not that important. 😉 !!!

What makes you so bold as to believe that you’re the ONE person who has to be defined by the worst thing? or that you’re the ONE person who has to EARN your right to be loved? That’s simply not how this works!

You are not defined by the best thing you’ve done – or that’s happened to you. You’re not defined by the other. Guess what?

You. Are. Forgiven.

There, I said it.

The dictionary on my computer says forgive means to “stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake:”


Stop feelng angry.

Toward myself – or something that happened to me.

What if I’m not angry? What if it goes way beyond that? Like what if I just know that I’m lazy? or lustful or greedy… do those things count?

 It’s interesting to me to break apart the word forgive…. The prefix “for” meaning like “first in order” or number one or the best. Think of forecast or foreshadow or foresight.

And then the word “give” just sitting there… Give… What do you give? When I think of giving, I think of gifts…

For Give

First Give

First gift

What do you need to give yourself? If you aren’t quite sure, maybe it woud help to reframe it… Are there things that you look for others to give you?

Megan Wagner, a fiery and amazing teacher at Chaplaincy Institute in Berkeley, California taught that in spiritual psychology, there is an idea that the patterns we find repeating in our lives come from unmet needs in ourselves.

Maybe we can’t keep friends, or jobs. Maybe I always find myself being critical of romantic partners and eventually breaking it off.

This notion is that these patterns happen because we’re trying to fill a gap – to meet a need to replace some part of ourselves that isnt up to par or is damaged or is missing.

Maybe the reason those jobs or romantic relationships don’t work out… the reason others continually fall short may have nothing to do with them. It may be that no one can give us the thing we must first give ourselves. First Give. Forgive.

A couple of quotes for you:

“We cannot change the past, but we can change our attitude toward it. Uproot guilt and plant forgiveness. Tear out arrogance and seed humility. Exchange love for hate – thereby, making the present comfortable and the future promising.”  – That was the poet, singer, and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou.

And the theologian Lewis Smedes said, “Forgiveness is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”


Come out prisoner.

Let yourself go.

I, your self-appointed defense attorney demand payroll on grounds of compassionate early release from this cruel and inhumane sentence you have given yourself.

In sentencing yourself to life in prison without forgiveness, you have sentenced the world to being just a little bit darker than it ought. Your unilateral decision to hold on to guilt and cling to the past keeps your light from burning bright for all to see by.

What if you allowed yourself to feel the love you seek from others? What if you didn’t need to feel incomplete or broken anymore? What if maybe, just maybe, You. Are. Enough?

There’s only one way to find out you know…

For this minute or this day or this week, will you practice forgiveness of yourself?

It doesn’t erase the past.

It simply unbinds you from it. Uproot that guilt and try another way, no?

Join me as we set all the prisoners free and then burn the jail to the ground.

You’ve got this, my friend!

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