Have you ever felt the weight of a burden so heavy, that the pressure from it leaked out in various expressions? For me, it often takes the form of desperate, unheard cries, or detaching myself from the pain until I becoming totally emotionally numb. Have you ever experienced the unrelenting despair of carrying a hidden burden in shame for extended time? It can be devastating, crushing, unbearable.
I have spent most of my life hiding the shame I felt. Actually, hiding the shame of my shame is more accurate. At first this way of coping was fairly inconsequential, but I eventually did this to the extent of shutting off almost all feeling. My shame was finally hidden, and I was safe from others, but left me with only remnants of life inside. Not even the people closest to me knew the turmoil eating away at my life.
A few days ago I had a very significant day. I had the blessing of spending time with a dear friend catching up on life. And those festering, shame-covered wounds? I led her to them. Yes, it felt risky, but I have known her long enough to be confident of her character. I trust her. I cannot describe the respect with which she responded. Her face showed not the disgust I feared but compassion and a desire to understand.
“What has changed that made you be able to talk about this now?” my friend asked me, knowing how difficult that was for me to share.
“I’m not really sure. All I know is that layers of shame have slowly loosened from my burdens. My failures, my fears, my past–they are all becoming untethered from the grip of shame that held me so closely.”
This snippet of our conversation reminded me of John 9 right after Jesus had healed a man born blind. Jewish leaders questioned the previously-blind man as to whether or not Jesus was a sinner. The man replied:
Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. (ESV, John 9:25)
I don’t know why Jesus has allowed me the healing from shame to be able to be transparent with my closest community. I don’t know why He has allowed me to experience such grace, such acceptance in my dearest friendships. I don’t know why the LORD has chosen to give me freedom now and not years ago, nor do I understand why He has offered it to me and not yet others. The depth of my God’s mercy I do not understand, but like the blind man I testify to all who will listen: one thing I do know is that I once was paralyzed with shame, and now I’m free.
Let me be clear: I’m still dealing with some consequences of being driven by shame, but they are gradually fading. It is a process which has contributed to my growth in maturity and in sanctification–a fancy word which means becoming more like Jesus Christ. I have found freedom in allowing the chains of shame to be loosened from my burdens. The Holy Spirit really does bring liberty. He has been good to me. Finding freedom has not meant abandoning values or convictions. My morality remains the same, even though it can seem easier to follow whatever my heart desires in the moment.
To my surprise, my friend expressed that my example of vulnerability had encouraged her; it gave her courage to continue processing through personal struggles, trusting that God will use it to bring redemption. “I? Inspired you?!?” I thought. God really can use anyone or any circumstance.
Life still hurts–it still can be almost unbearable at times. God doesn’t promise that pain will go away (in this lifetime). I also still have a long ways to go before I would say I’m truly living in freedom. The new path that I’m on promises to be difficult and it could perhaps bring even more pain than the shut-down and shame-protected (how ironic is that pair of adjectives?) version of myself. Nonetheless, the freedom from being fully known and loved is worth the pain of mistakes and failure.
I pray that your journey will parallel mine in the quest of liberty from shame. I ask my Father that you will experience the depths of freedom which I am beginning to see. Do you have experiences of freedom? What’s your story?