Sonship Identity and Standing in Dignity as a Child of God
Everyone feels fearful or hurt from time to time; conflicts and misunderstandings are a part of life. And with these expected misunderstanding there are basically two ways we respond: shame and condemnation, or guilt and accountability. Understanding these help you work out your sonship identity and start standing in dignity as a child of God.
Ron had a terrible day at work. His boss accused him of a mistake on a major project and he feels his job might be in jeopardy. Defeatedly he comes home wired, tense, and longing for the refuge of his comfy chair and TV. Just as Ron is about to sit down his wife immediately blasts him with, “Honey,the car won’t start,” and “By the way, your good-for-nothing son is failing math.” That does it. Ron instantly loses it; he raises his voice in a bitterly sarcastic way with his wife and becomes down right caustic with his son. Angrily he stomps to his son’s room and uninvitingly opens the door. “What’s the matter with you boy, are you an idiot? I told you to lay off those video games and study more. Mom says your failing math.”
Shame and Condemnation
In a shame-based family system like this example, individuals respond to conflicts in shame perpetuating ways. There’s a constant underlying message of devalue, not just communicating you did wrong but that you are wrong. These types of individuals have lived with the excruciating pain of shame instead of profound dignity, so they spend their time protecting themselves from all this by never allowing anything to be their fault. Since it is impossible to never be wrong, everything must be subject to finite judgment and charged accordingly. This ‘moral monitoring’ means that even the littlest mistakes such as forgetting to floss, not rinsing off a dish, not taking your shoes off at the door, etc., can get you “a look” that communicates, “What’s wrong with you?” The Pharisees in the Bible were this same type of folk. Their hearts were never open to mercy and the smallest infractions were subject to their harsh censure.
Shame is a hidden belief about self that “I am flawed.” This belief is triggered anytime something goes wrong. Therefore, life’s challenges can’t be seen on their own merits and viewed simply as a problem to be solved, but instead, in their minds, someone must always be to blame. They think subconsciously, “I can’t allow it to be me, so it must be you!” So when a son is failing math, the boy doesn’t just need more study time or perhaps a tutor, he needs to suffer for his insolence!
Personhood and Abuse
Personhood is the quality of being an individual person and as a person, worthy of dignity. The origin of shame is abuse that violates and diminishes personhood. This is done through crossing mental, emotional, and physical boundaries by attacking another persons’ right to choose what they think or what action they’ll take. This plays out in seemingly innocent statements like, “What’s the matter with you?” “What were you thinking?” Or it could be as crushing as a backhand across the face.
Healthy Guilt and Accountability
All of us make mistakes sometimes; none of us are perfect. The natural provision for that is healthy guilt and accountability. In other words, if I have made a mistake, guilt is appropriate. Guilt is a painful feeling that I have violated one of my values. It is a remorseful awareness of having done something wrong. Healthy guilt leads me to take responsibility, walk in accountability, and make acceptable repair. If someone has acted inappropriately toward me, accountability has to do with honoring the other as a person yet not covering the consequences they face for their actions.
Unconditional love and healthy guilt allows people to make mistakes. When there’s a base of unconditional love and healthy guilt to resolve conflict rather than shaming behaviors to handle what bothers us, people can live in healthy community and growth takes place. We begin to live as a true son or daughter of the King — our sonship identity.
Growing in God’s love should move us toward treating others with dignity, even those we very much disagree with. The question of another person’s worth or dignity should never come into play; we are all created in His image, thus worthy of value. This has a huge affect in our walk with God. If I treat others with condemnation, I will not be able to escape feeling like God treats me that way. If we are to learn to walk in a depth of obedience to the Lord and understand our sonship identity, we need to check our hearts for any shaming we may be doing and be willing to take responsibility for our own faults and mistakes. When we know we are loved unconditionally, no matter what, we will stand in the dignity as a child of God.