How is it possible that a Christian woman who strove to live her whole life to follow Jesus and who could write a research paper and preach countless sermons on the grace and salvation of Christ could not seem to let go of shame?
It does not matter whether the shame was over some major sin or whether it was over feelings of inadequacy and the failure to live up to a standard of perfection. All that matters is when you feel overwhelmed by shame — when its weight seeks to crush your soul.
Have you ever cried out repeatedly for this burden to be removed, had people pray with you over the burden, and been able to name it and its cause but still not been able to let go of it?
Sometimes, the greatest challenge of a Christian is not in knowing the truth because we often know it; it’s in the living it out — the believing it. As I have written in countless blogs over the years, what we believe is actually what we live — not what we profess with our mouths but what we profess with our lives.
I remember that Sunday, worshiping the Lord — my heart overwhelmed by His Presence. Within that atmosphere of the holy awe of God, He began to speak to me. What I first saw with my spiritual eyes was Jesus holding out His hands to me. I then “heard” (in my heart) Him speak to me: “[my name], are you not tired of carrying your pain?”
I had grieved plenty for my sin. It was not a question of repentance. A wise friend pointed out to me that I seemed to feel like I had to really grieve — to really prove my repentance. She recognized that I was putting the work of forgiveness back on myself — by my ability to repent or the measure of my repentance. Subconsciously, I was thinking that somehow I had to reach some high standard of repentance before I could be free. Of course, I new theologically this is not true, but what I knew did not matter as much as what I actually believed and lived.
I was trapped by my shame — overwhelmed by the pain of my imperfections. The only thing good enough was perfection to me, and I could never measure up. In fact, I failed abysmally at this standard and thus walked with crushing shame. The crazy thing is I knew the truths behind all this! I knew not to idolize perfection, and in fact, I had experienced breakthrough in this area before. The thing is, I still had more breakthrough. I still had an area where I could not experience freedom because I was still not ready to let go.
I thought I was ready. I cried out to God for release from this burden on several occasions, but I did not understand the root of my bondage until Holy Spirit revealed it to me. That Sunday when He showed me His hands and asked me if I was tired of carrying the pain, He showed me that I was carrying the pain of my failures because I was trying to punish myself.
When there is an area where we cannot seem to walk in victory, there is always going to be a lie at the root of it and often an area of pride surrounding this. Why do I say this?
- Because truth overcomes: “… and the truth will set you free.”
- Because pride sets us in opposition or resistance to the work of the Holy Spirit and to the work of grace (God’s power and righteousness made available to us) within our lives. “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
If you are struggling in an area of consistent failure, ask yourself what the lie is or where there is pride attached to that area.
Without realizing it, I was trying to “serve penance” for my failures by holding onto my shame. I wanted punishment so I refused to let go of my guilt. This was all happening without me even realizing this is what I was actually thinking and that this was truly at the root of my problem.
Pride was all over this. Pride will always cause you to resist forgiveness, grace, freedom, and the kindness and goodness of God and others. Pride is independence at its heart and the desire to be your own savior, your own protector, your own provider, your own perfection. It will lead to this odd combination of hating yourself because you are unable to measure up to your own standards of perfection and yet operating independently from God and others.
Note: Independence from God and others is often related to the mistrust of God and others. That mistrust often stems from hurts experienced. Lies entered our minds on the heels of that trauma, and we accepted those lies in our pain and confusion.
Once I was finally ready to truly let go of my shame, I was able to simply surrender it to Jesus. As simply as that, He took the shame and pain from me — never for me to see the shame and my failures again. Instead, what He spoke to my heart was that He would bring “beauty from ashes” and that He would redeem it all. Someday, He would show me what He had forged from the ashes.
Friend, I know that I was led to write this today because someone is reading this today who needs to be set free from an area of failure. I don’t care how big or how small the failure is, the only way to be free is to be set free. “Whom the Son sets free is free indeed.”