I didn’t want to write this post. There’s just something terrifying about this tiny 5-letter word that attempts to hold me hostage. Shame isn’t the flighty emotion of regret I feel after devouring an entire case of Double Stuf Oreos singlehandedly. Shame goes so much deeper than a sugar rush. Shame bleeds deep down into my core, into the places no one sees. Shame threatens to haunt me.
Confession: I struggle with shame.
I want to say I’ve overcome shame; however, some days it creeps back up, breaking through the concrete walls of truth I’ve purposefully set in place. While I haven’t mastered my struggle with shame, I know the One who has, and when I lock eyes with Him, I conquer it too.
Here’s what I must establish every day: will shame define me or refine me? I get to choose whether I will be the hero or the villain in my story. We all fail, we all mess up—it’s a part of being human. Mistakes are normal and it’s healthy to mourn decisions, but how can we move forward? How can we choose to not live in the decisions of yesterday?
I vividly remember sitting with my Mom a while ago on my journey, broken over a decision I had made. With tear-filled eyes, I looked at my Mom and asked, “How could Jesus not be ashamed of me when I am so ashamed of myself?” Without hesitating, she replied, “Emily, where in the Bible does it say God is ashamed of you?” Nowhere. Not in one single place. In fact, on every page I turn in God’s Word, I find Jesus conquering shame and whispering into the deepest crevices of my heart, “Emily, I know you and I love you. I see your sin and I love you anyways.”
Nothing in our story takes God by surprise. He knows us and He loves us.
“You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” Psalm 139:16, NLT
I’ve always felt like I connected with the woman at the well. I don’t know her name, yet I feel like I know her story, her journey, and her pain. In John 4, we meet this woman drawing water and having an encounter with Jesus. Jesus exposes her sin, yet not once does He say that He is ashamed of her or condemn her. In fact, He does the exact opposite. He sees her. He sees her for who she was and who she can become, and He loves her for who she is.
Perfection wasn’t a pre-requisite. Having all of life’s answers wasn’t required. Victory over shame wasn’t a determining factor. Jesus stepped into her world that day and offered her living water in the midst of her mess—He offered her Himself. That’s what I’m discovering Jesus offered to you and me on the cross and is offering to us every day.
When Jesus was nailed to the cross, He took each and every one of my sins with Him. He sacrificed Himself because He loved me that much. He scorned shame because He loved me that much (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus went the distance for me because He loved me that much. He went from Heaven to Earth to pick me up, brush the dirt off my face and say, “Baby girl, your sins are forgiven. I have wiped you clean. You are whole and you don’t have to live in this shame. I love you that much.”
Perhaps the biggest hindrance to overcoming shame is that we haven’t fully embraced what Jesus already did for us. If we hold onto our shame, what did Jesus die for? When I choose to grip my shame with clenched fists, I’m essentially looking at Jesus and saying, “What you did for me wasn’t enough.” The thought of that breaks my heart. And yet that’s what I’ve been doing, that’s where I’ve been living.
I don’t have a fancy checklist or easy 5-step plan for overcoming shame. It’s a battle, but friends, it’s already been won on the cross. So, what’s helping me with my struggle with shame?
- Admitting my sin and turning from it. Let’s not stand in the way of our own healing by holding our shame inside. Who are your people? The first and one of the most important steps I’ve taken on this journey is admitting where I’ve messed up to those I trust. To move forward, we must walk in the same grace we preach. (Check out Proverbs 28:13)
- Live freely. After admitting my mess-ups, I’ve asked those I trust to hold me accountable, and I’m choosing to not give sin the time of day, completely cutting out anything that takes me back to my places of shame. Perhaps that’s a relationship, maybe it’s a specific location or a song or movie. Identify those people, places and things and draw a line in the sand. (Check out Romans 6:6-14)
- Embrace healing in the name of Jesus. Remember our friend in John 4? She discovered freedom and victory from shame when she ran back to her town speaking His name. We stamp victory on shame when we apply Jesus’ name. (Check out Romans 6:22-23)
Friend, let’s close the chapters we’ve been trying so desperately to hide, forget, and scrub clean from our lives. It’s time to lace up our boots and fight for victory. He knows us. He loves us. And He’s already won for us. We are free.