Today is my wife Valerie’s birthday. I am so blessed to have her in my life. She’s an amazing wife and mother. This morning, I took the boys to church so she could have a break and unpack as we returned from Connecticut yesterday. It was a powerful service with a message I needed to hear about overcoming shame. Pastor Eran Holt, one of our youth pastors, delivered the message and, as he spoke, every word connected with my personal experience. He mentioned struggling with shame connected to his temper. The minute he told us how shame sounds, the voice was amazingly familiar. Shame says:
“You didn’t just fail, YOU ARE A FAILURE.”
“You don’t just have a problem, YOU ARE A PROBLEM.”
“You didn’t make a mistake, YOU ARE A MISTAKE.”
Pastor Eran used one of the most powerful moments in the Bible to illustrate his point and it is one of those moments that always gives me chills. He read the account of Peter’s three denials of Christ and the crowing of the rooster after the third. I always imagined Peter getting confronted about his faith and his hurried denials. We read this and think, no, not us, we wouldn’t deny him.
Yet, there are those comfortable following Christ at a distance.
Shame creates this distance. It keeps our eyes focused on the ground as we carry our baggage. Shame tells us we are not worthy of God’s love, even though he loved us before we knew him, before we were formed in the womb. Shame weighs us down. Some find identity in their pain. As a writer, I’ve felt the sting of failure. I spent every year after losing my job in 2008 telling myself I was a failure. I looked at Val and the boys and the voice of shame shot to my ears. It told me I wasn’t a good father and I failed as a provider and a protector. I wasn’t emotionally connected. Every bill that we struggled to pay was like another chain of shame hung around my neck.
Pastor Eran provided two ways to overcome shame:
1/ Look Up: The direct answer to our shame is the cross. It was the ultimate sacrifice to free us from conviction. The Holy Spirit is our defender, our advocate, and he steps to our side and frees us with grace. The sacrifice was made years before we were created and it is new each morning. Raising our eyes to the cross is not always easy as the weight of addiction, failure, struggle, and pain can be unrelenting. As Jesus said, his burden is light. Look to the cross and be reminded of his unfailing love.
2/Let Go: Drop the bags. Lay your shame at the foot of the cross. Know that God has plans for you, that your mess can be your ministry, that you can be used to change the lives of others. Know that you are not defined by your struggles. The hardest part of this is when we take our pain as our identity. We see ourselves as failures, addicts, and mistakes, not as free and beautiful children of God.
One mantra I’ve always held as a writer is to just keep writing. Failure and rejection provides a chance to create a newer and better story, find a better idea, and make a better product. Life is full of learning opportunities. Our mess can be our ministry. God can recharge our lives and give us a fresh start. He will provide and his grace is new each morning. We can be free of shame, drop the chains, and keep our eyes on the cross.
So, as you go into this week, recognize the voices you hear. Identify shame and block it out. Remember to look up and let go and experience the grace that is waiting to transform your existence.