I’m about to get real…and honest. If you’re looking for a nicely packaged, sweet-smelling pretty Christianity, you won’t find it in this post. I’ve actually been wanting to write this post for awhile but couldn’t quite put a solid structure on it. But thanks to a couple of articles that have come across my radar awhile back and an article and unfortunate discussion thread I saw today, I was reminded of this post that sat as a draft for a couple of months. So I thought it was time to address something that I experience on a regular basis and know that pollyanna puffy cloud or otherwise trite formulas don’t quite cover it.
I came across this article a couple of months ago from the Resurgence blog, Jesus Over Shame. Jen Smidt writes of her battle with shame that she finally stuck a flag in the ground and marked that territory with Jesus.
If you are carrying the weight of shame, Jesus is calling you to give that burden to him and rest in the new identity he has given you. Because of shame, you may feel unqualified to speak truth into areas where you have influence. Whether you’re a Bible teacher, a neighbor, an employee, or a stay-at-home mom, you lead others. Don’t allow shame to silence you, but instead live in the freedom of Jesus’ grace, which eradicates shame. Don’t use shame to motivate yourself or those you lead. Point people to Jesus, who conquered shame.
Christian, from this day forward, choose Jesus over shame, every time.
That’s sounds quite simple, doesn’t it? After all, Scripture tells us that “there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ” (Romans 8:1). And we must take serious that our sin debt has been paid by the one time sacrifice on the cross (Heb. 10:13). And my personal favorite, “he has cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (Col 2:15). In Christ, we are certainly new creations (2 Cor. 5:21).
But I found myself uneasy about Smidt’s prescription. There was something kind of dismissive about it. It made me feel that those stabs of shame that frequently prick at my soul are there because I’m just not giving it to Jesus. If only I’d do that, then my problems and my pain would just go away. Well, I am and I do, but maybe I’m just not spiritual enough.
Or maybe I am and something else is going on. Unfortunately, I think this glossy finish Christianity ends up putting more shame on the the already shamed in feeling like their not good enough Christians. The problem is that life is not that simple, especially when you have holes in your life where sin and destruction had once been that leave visible un-restored areas. When I read this article from Kendra Dahl, Redemption for the Scars, I realized what it was. You see, even though Jesus took the shame of my sin, bearing it on the cross, then what happens with the consequences?
This could relate to our own sin or even the sin of others. In the author’s case, she tells of her past abortion, sexual immorality and having a child out of wedlock. Things turned around for her though. She repented, discontinued sinful patterns and entered a godly marriage with a man who loves her, by her account. You would think that these reversals and acceptance of the shame Christ bore on our behalf is enough. And still, even though things have been corrected it still pops up.
So imagine how much more prominent this shame is for those who circumstances have not been corrected and their life is an open book of past grievances. What if Dahl had remained a single mother? What of that nice Christian woman whose husband abandoned her to raise her kids alone? Or that godly couple with a wayward teen? Or that single person with reminders of past failures?
None of these scenarios preclude individuals who embrace God’s acceptance and unconditional love through Christ. Feeling that sting of shame doesn’t mean that person is unknowlegable about their Christian identity. But it does mean that life can be a bit more complicated than our formulas or dismissals will allow, especially when reminders slap you in the face. Reminders are powerful daggers. You can be chugging along just fine, then BAM! Something comes across your radar that pulls the shame to the surface as Dahl notes;
So many of us in the church bear invisible scars. And while over time they may fade into the background, they still bleed for some. They are a constant source of turmoil as we face haunting memories and fight to believe that there is enough redemption even for us.
And as I discovered today, when Christian leaders unwittingly draw caricatures of those whose life hasn’t lined up perfectly to an ideal Christian model (two-parent godly home; church going family, believing, well behaved kids, home-schooled or Christian schooled), it can have the impact of driving a nail right through those areas that haven’t lined up so well. Sadly, the ones who have not experienced mis-aligned lives have no clue of the impact this has.
I’ll also note that God uses shame for conviction of sin that leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:10-11). But that is different than experiencing the sting of past failures or failures of others that leave marks on our lives.
So does Jesus take away all my shame? Surely he bore our sins and paid the penalty once and for all (Heb. 10:10-13). Believing in him secures our not guilty verdict. Surely, we can be refreshed in the security of his love and acceptance. In Him is redemption and forgiveness of sins and we should rejoice in that. But practically speaking, that doesn’t mean shame goes away. As one of my co-workers once said “the struggle is real”. Can we get real about the struggle?