Shame and the Art of Lawn Maintenance

I love taking care of my lawn. The mowing, the fertilizing, the seeding – all of it. I get great gratification in making my grass shorter, my edges sharper. My lawn fills me with a sense of pride.

I probably can’t say the same for my neighbors. They don’t seem to care much about their lawn. Perhaps they accomplish that sense of pride in another way. Whatever. I know it’s not from mowing. It can’t be! Because they never mow.

One day I decided to “motivate” my neighbors into mowing their lawn, seeing as it had been weeks since they had done anything in the yard. So when I got to the front yard, the side that butts up against their property, I lowered the mower extra low and cut my grass extra short to show how extra tall their grass had gotten. I was hoping they’d see how bad their lawn really looked in comparison to my immaculately cared for landscaping and actually do something about it – like mow.

Guess what? It worked!

The very next day I heard the unmistakable whir of a lawn mower. I ran to the window and peaked out. There was my neighbor, sweating in the mid-August sun and cutting their lawn! Success!

What was I really doing? I was using shame to get what I wanted. I was shaming my neighbor into mowing their lawn according to my own desires and expectations. So let’s face it, I’m a horrible neighbor. But I’m now a neighbor who doesn’t have to look at an unsightly lawn.

We use shame all the time to motivate people. Those before/after photos on the P90X commercials are all about shame. Talk shows like Dr. Phil are all about shame. Pinterest! Pinterest is all about shame. You’re not a real mom unless you macramé the DIY picture frame to put your kids first-day-of-school pictures in.

But if shame is such a great motivator, why doesn’t God use it? You may think he does because you hear about shame a lot at church or in Christian blogs online. But when I read the Bible, I don’t see God using shame. He uses something else all together. And you can’t get out of the first story in the Bible before you see it.

In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve mess up big time. They do the one thing God told them not to do. And their response? They feel shame. They go and hide from God. But what does God do? He comes looking for them! Instead of shame, God uses love – the love of a father looking for his children. They felt shame and it drove them away from their creator. But when people feel shame, God comes looking for them.

When we play the shame game, no one wins. But we play it anyway, don’t we? We play it because of one solid fact: It Works! It worked with my neighbor, it usually works with our kids, and it definitely works with our employees. But just because it works doesn’t mean it’s actually good. Take a look at how God thinks about shame:

“Instead of your shame
you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
and everlasting joy will be yours.”

Isaiah 61:7

Instead of shame, God uses love – loving us through his grace and accepting us into his family! And it’s a double portion! Not just a little or one helping of grace. He piles on the grace and tells us to come back for seconds!

When we finally see that God’s love has released us from shame, maybe we can stop using shame on others. Maybe we can start leading with grace because it works too. But it works double time. When you’re shamed, you may start to behave better. But you behave better when you receive grace too. The difference is shame drives us away but grace draws us near. Shame terminates a relationship but grace increases our capacity to love and be loved.

When have you felt shame recently? Did you deserve it? How about the last time you shamed someone else. What could you have done differently?