How to Turn Down the Noise of Shame for Students

It was going to be perfect. Perfect.

I could tell my pastor was wildly pumped about what was about to happen. Our Outreach Sunday service benediction was a huge cast of people coming from all over the room singing Queen’s “Somebody to Love”.


But then it happened: reverb, static, interference, feedback, and the best of us in the crowd couldn’t help but be totally distracted. We forgot the stage and stared awkwardly at the sound booth (not helpful, I know). The painful noise became the song, and the story of the service was sadly, altered.

The noise got in the way of the message and the moment. Shame can become just as loud and distracting in the lives of our students – loud enough to drown out the truth. Sometimes it can become so loud other people hear it through shame-motivated behavior.

The truth is, shame and guilt are not the same thing.

Let’s get a working definition here from researcher Brene Brown: Guilt: I FEEL bad about something I’ve done or failed to do. Shame: Because of something I experience, do or fail to do, I believe that I AM BAD and therefore unworthy of love/belonging.

Shame shows up a few different ways: Some of us hide out when triggered and trapped by the messed-up beliefs that accompany shame. Some try to DO/people-please/“fit-in” our way out of the noise. Some of us come out ready to attack.

As youth workers, we can get distracted or offended by how LOUD their behaviors are that we miss the “Why” behind the noise. Shame’s sneaky that way. For so many of the teens we serve, shame-based beliefs are distorting the soundtrack of their daily lives, like static on the radio competing with your favorite song.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I have recently begun work with a new youth ministry. The question plays over and over in my mind – How do we help? I keep returning to two things:
1. Being actively engaged in working out where shame still sneaks in and distorts HIS redemptive story in ME.
2. Asking God for eyes to see his story at work, and ears to hear the noise – the distortion drowning out and distracting from the music.

We do life alongside teens, point them in the direction of His Truth, and then wrestle together as they work out their faith with fear and trembling, learning to daily tune out the noise.

Rhonda McGinnis
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