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Following a devastating defeat in battle, Joshua becomes paralyzed by his defeat. In the following verses, it appears that Joshua becomes inflicted with toxic shame in the wake of this alarming loss at the small town of Ai.
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?” Joshua 7:6-9 NLT
It appears that Joshua and the people of Israel begin doubting God’s provision for their future. Joshua asks the LORD some tough questions (3 in fact). He begins to look back and second guess the progress that they have already made. Joshua has become paralyzed in the face of defeat in his life and his leadership.
This observation goes along very well with some important lessons that I am learning in my recent participation in a recovery group called “Journey to Freedom.” The participants of this group have been learning the difference between healthy shame and toxic shame. Healthy shame and the accompanying guilt and remorse for personal mistakes, disobedient steps, or willful sin can help us recognize our need for change. This healthy guilt or shame can lead to positive action on our part that will lead to repentance and life transformation.
On the other hand, toxic shame (that far too many people carry throughout life) is paralyzing and it easily leads to despair. It is one thing to recognize that we have made a mistake, and yet toxic shame leads an individual to begin viewing themselves as a mistake! Instead of saying “I made a mistake” … toxic shame leads a person to say, “I am a mistake!”
In the text above, we see Joshua down on his face praying…saying LORD, did you make a mistake in calling me to leadership? Did you make a mistake by allowing us to come into the promise land?
How about you? Which shame do you typically have in your life? Is it healthy shame that leads to action? Or is it toxic shame that leads to paralysis and despair? Toxic shame is what causes so many people to get stuck in destructive addictions. In fact, often in those times of paralysis and despair, it is so easy to try to self-medicate ourselves to try to deaden the pain of despair, which simply deepens the addiction, which leads to more paralysis and despair. Unfortunately, many people end up getting stuck!
As the reading continues in Joshua 7, the LORD calls Joshua out of his paralysis and despair, and he calls him into action! The LORD in essence says, “I didn’t make a mistake in calling you to leadership and leading you into the promise land.” “You aren’t the problem Joshua; the problem is that Israel has made a mistake. Israel has sinned! And this defeat is the result of sin in the camp … now get up and do something about it!”
Be determined to in your own life to not let personal defeat result in paralysis or toxic shame. Instead, be determined to learn from the mistake, get up, and take action!