Stay When It’s Easier to Run Away: Shame, Fear and Doubt
Running away is a natural instinct. The flight response is a real reaction when we feel in danger and unsafe. It is no surprise then that our reaction to shame, fear and doubt is to run away instead of stay. Staying in situations when we feel ashamed, fearful or doubtful is counter-intuitive and counter our natural instincts.
Yet this counter-intuitive response- of staying when it’s easier to run away- is exactly what I believe God desires for us in our relationship with him. I say it’s easier to run away not because what we are running to will improve our situation, but it’s easier in the moment to defer the consequences, the reality and the truth of our situations or decisions.
Shame, fear and doubt can creep in easily in this life. There are countless opportunities to make mistakes, to be faced with faith-shaking circumstances and to second guess that God is with us. In the Bible we meet characters in the old and new testaments that live out examples of running away in the face of shame, fear and doubt. We have plenty we can learn from them and apply to our own stories.
Before we dive into these stories, there is a question to consider about our own stories.
“Where in my life am I running from God? What would it look like for me to choose to stay – give my questions to God and trust him with my shame, fear and doubt?”
Consider your response to these questions as we look at three accounts in scripture of Adam & Eve (shame), Elijah (fear) and Gideon (doubt) of temptation to run away from God when the going got tough in their lives.
In Genesis 3 we encounter Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. As the story goes, they chose to eat fruit from a tree that God told them to not eat. When they took the bite of the fruit their eyes were opened, their choice allowed sin to enter the world, and their nakedness was exposed.
In the exposure of their nakedness for the first time they felt separation from God, they felt shame. Shame of their choice. Shame of their humanness. Shame brought about by sin. Shame is the tool that Satan uses to keep God’s people small. To keep us feeling like we have made too many mistakes, or the mistakes we have made have been too big for God to forgive.
Genesis 3:9-10 says, “Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”
Adam and Eve sinned. They felt the shame of their exposed sinfulness and so they hid. God comes looking for them. And asks them a question he already knew the answer to: “where are you?” This question was more than a question of physical location, it was a question of heart, mind and soul. God was willing to meet Adam & Eve in the middle of their hidden mess.
Satan wants us to believe that we are not usable for God’s kingdom because of the shame of our sin. That is what Satan wants – us to be separated from God. But what does God want?
I believe that God wants us to seize the opportunity to be reunited with Him. He wants us to see that yes, we are sinful, we make mistakes, but there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:39) Nothing can keep God from chasing after us – even our own hiding in shame.
Shame is one reason we run from God. Fear is another reason. When we find ourselves in the middle of a situation we can’t see a way out of and none of the options before us look hopeful or promising we give way to fear. Fear causes us to set aside everything we know in our minds and hearts to be true of God and his word. We allow the grip of fear to hold us and so we flee.
Elijah, prophet of the Old Testament, an amazing example of faith, also had moments of fear captured on the pages of scripture. Elijah, even though he had been used by God, bringing messages to the people of his day on behalf of God, ran when faced with potentially losing his own life.
Elijah was given a message that Jezebel was going to take his life. We read in 1 Kings 19:3a;
“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
Fear drove Elijah, a man used in power and might of the Lord, to run away.
And then we read in 1 Kings 19:9, “There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
This scene sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s a different version of the same question that God asked Adam and Eve when they ran and hid. God is asking a rhetorical question – one he already knew the answer to, but needed Elijah to confess his fear – that he believed the power of Jezebel to kill him was greater than God’s power to save and rescue him.
I’m sure that was a hard realization to admit. Yet it is in the realization that He chose to believe human power was greater than God’s power is the start of restoration. Shame and fear can drive us to run away from God, but so can doubt.
In Judges 6:14-16a we encounter a man named Gideon, whom God used to help conquer territory in the promised land. Gideon had seen many lands taken over by the Israelites at the hand and power of God working on their behalf. But before God used Gideon, he walked through a transformation from doubt to trust.
Judges 6:14-16 says, “The Lord looked at him and said, “Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?” He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” But the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.”
Gideon doubted God’s ability to use him to drive out enemies because of his place in the family and the size of his tribe. He doubted what God could do because of what he knew of himself. What God can do has nothing to do with us, our ability and place or position in this life. It has everything to do with God and his ability and power.
Gideon in this moment did not physically run away, but his mind ran away to a place of doubt. Doubt is another tool that the enemy uses to keep us from stepping into the places and actions God is calling us to.
The very possibility that God would hand Midian over to Gideon- “as one man” sounds insane. Yet with God, all things are possible. What if we, instead of doubting what God is asking of us, we surrender to it? What if we confess our feelings of inadequacy but don’t allow those feelings to hinder our obedience?
Shame drove Adam & Eve to hide. Fear drove Elijah to hide. Doubt drove Gideon to hide. Can you relate to any or all of these stories? What is driving you to hide from God?
Father God, meet us today right where we are, in the middle of our shame, fear and doubt. Will you help us to hand over and lay down our shame, fear and doubt to you and ask that you will help us come boldly confessing these things before you. Teach us Lord by the examples of Adam & Eve, Elijah and Gideon that we can put our full confidence and trust in you.
Help us Lord to believe that you want us to come toward you and not run from you and trust that you want to restore us, heal us, help us and not condemn us or shame us. As our fears, doubt and shame are exposed, will you cover them over with your truth, peace and rest. And may we believe fully that there is nothing that can keep you from loving us, even when we run away, you come running after us. In the strong name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Looking to break free from fear? Check out this one week devotion: Free From Fear