Does “happy” = “good”?

This post is about why I think they’re different (I’ve written about something related here too):

Talking with a couple of close friends last summer helped me articulate a question that has been a theme in my life for the last year: is doing well the same thing as being happy?

Honestly, I’m in a tough season. I’ve had mental illness flare ups that I thought were gone. I’ve Come Out to close friends (what a consistent adrenaline rush that is!). I’ve started establishing healthy rhythms and spaces to be in close community. As I have started to accept my vocation in celibacy, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to thrive as someone who is single in a culture where most intimate friendships are connected with marriage or romantic relationships. I still feel the need to be a part families where I can just do life with other people honestly. Because this way of life is pretty uncommon, I have been feeling the weight of cultural neglect of practical space and provision for people like me.

Day to day tasks have required a level of determination (I’m living with chronic depression, depersonalization/derealization, anxiety) that feels impossible with my seeming absence of vitality.

Oh Lord, how I desperately need Your mercy. If I am able to get through this next hour it will be because of strength You provide.

You know what? Somehow I’m still able to work; somehow I have resisted to the temptation to hermit myself from the rest of the world. Time after time I have felt the Lord somehow give me the strength to get through each day, each minute. The few times when I just couldn’t go on, He held me through whatever happened. I’ve made it to this point so far, and I count that as the grace of God.

So haven’t been happy, per se, but I do see some good that is growing out of difficulty. Seeing the Father do everyday miracles, growing in endurance, taking steps toward health–these are all good even if I’m fighting to just get up each morning. Sometimes whole-hearted devotion and life-worship looks like choosing to brush your teeth in the morning when you just. feel. like. you. can’t. go. on. It’s saying “God, I don’t feel like I can do this. But out of my love for You, I’m willing to try.”

While I may not be as blissfully carefree right now as I might prefer, I am well because I’m growing in tremendous ways, moving toward something greater. And I am thankful. This season has been difficult and painful, but it has been good. Life is more than a pursuit of happiness and pleasure. In the thick of life, I cling all the more to the Hope of the Gospel, because following Jesus is worth it.

“A Letter to White Evangelicals from a White Evangelical” by Cole Brown

Cole Brown wrote an article last week confronting a tragic trend among white Evangelicals. He challenges us all to be further transformed by the Gospel of Jesus with humility and courage.

If you follow Jesus, please consider his words. And if you don’t follow Jesus, then pleaseeven more soconsider the hope and grace of Jesus’ salvation!

Please, oh please, join me in listening to the hearts of our brothers and sisters! Let’s learn to listen humbly to those who experience injustice, be it from racial prejudice or other forms. Regardless of our political positions, we as the Church need to change the way we handle the issue of racial injustice. We can’t afford to dismiss others’ stories just because we have not experienced the same perspective and pain.

Stubbornness & Black Beans, Laughter & Shame

I didn’t want to cook, but I needed to eat right away: I had a meeting soon and felt the threat of hypoglycemia drawing nearer. My recent grocery shopping procrastination meant that I had very few options for dinner. With my determination to expend as little energy as possible into my present culinary endeavor, I pulled out of the cupboard corn tortillas and a can of black beansI’m going to make tacos. I can’t help but laugh about this decision now. Oh, but I don’t want to have to cut up anything or do any dishes, so I guess I’ll just have them plain*. Yeah, that’ll be fine. I just need to get energy into my body, anyway.

Mistake #1: Did I bother to add anything to my tortillas other than the beans–seasonings or toppings? No. No, I didn’t. Not even salt.

Mistake #2: Do I even like black beans? No. No, I don’t.

I put four corn tortillas on a cookie sheet, spread black beans over them evenly, and popped it in the toaster oven for a few minutes. The oven was my heating method of choice so that the corn tortillas might gain a little strength without having to warm the two ingredients separately. I sat down with my plate, pleased at my quick and efficient method of meal preparation. Then I took my first bite. Gag. Oh, this is not good. These are very not good.

Mistake #3: The tortilla rim left untouched by the beans was stiff and dry. The dryness itself was nearly enough to make me choke, even without the added complication of my gag reflex caused by my first two mistakes.

I took another bite. C’mon, it’s not about the taste right now. You just have to get through it, I assured myself. After the first–well, un-taco–I downed a glass of water. This is going to require pulling out all the stops. My nausea grew with every bite, but so did my determination. I was going to get through all of them, and I was going to do it well (whatever that means).

In the end, I did finish all of my food. I was so proud of my accomplishment that I walked around the kitchen in a victory pose.

Victory! I can’t believe I just conquered that. This whole un-taco thing was ridiculous. But, oh! This is also going to be hilarious. Who even am I? What was I thinking? 

~

I called my mom this morning to catch up. I relayed my ordinary, pitiful un-taco incident and its thankfully minimal resulting consequences.

As I was laughing through my story, I realized from my response to those mistakes, that I have grown.

Shame and I have been best friends for a long time. My tendency is to wrap myself in a robe of shame and hide all mistakes or even embarrassing moments. When I neglect to accept opportunities to laugh, I end up adding the experience to my reasons to feel shame. That. is. not. healthy. And while I still do have that tendency, I’m excited to see that I am growing and learning another way.

Plus, I am so thankful to be able to eat on a regular basis in general. Many people do not have that luxury, and that does not make me any better than they. I also have the undeserved privilege of getting to choosing from a vast variety of foods.

Friends, let’s not take this wealth for granted. Let’s be thankful for every single privilege and blessing, no matter how small. And let’s also remember to laugh! I’m learning that every time I allow myself to laugh at my mistakes, embarrassing moments, and ridiculousness, I am choosing joy over shame.

Let’s let our craziness out a little if that means we can share our joy with one another in the process.

~~~

* = I really do know how to make actual tacos. My anti-energy-usage stubbornness was just getting in the way of that process.

Piano, Life’s Complexity, & Storytelling

It was last spring that I had the alarming realization.

I was preparing for my senior recital, the capstone of my time as a music major  emphasizing in piano performance. Here’s my problem: I was playing through a lively piece by Debussy when I lost all my confidence in the difference a between playing loud versus soft. Sure, I could hear the difference, but playing it was a totally different story. The longer I sat on my piano bench trying to remind myself of the elementary musical principle, the more disconcerted I became.

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My problem was not the loss of ability to strike the keys louder or softer, but rather that my maturing musicianship had increased the complexity with which I could play. I could now orchestrate in my mind the interrelated elements of playing even single note: color, shape, velocity, tone, approach/release of the key, articulation.

Telling myself to play this note loud and that note soft was like looking at a color wheel to find the bright color and the dull color. Which hue? What saturation? Do you see my predicament?

The reason that this was frustrating–other than the fact that I realized it all at once–was that I wanted to just follow the written directives on the page in all their detailed glory. Instead, my mind was forcing me to involve my own interpretation of the written music in the process. Ironically, any playing at all involves interpretation, I was just blind to this at first. When I was just beginning piano, I always wanted to play everything as – pre-cice-ly – as – I – could. I was mechanical in my playing (that’s probably why I so enjoyed Bach). But you see, that too is interpretation. I am a reforming literalist. I like to see things as black and white. If only life would cooperate!

Music has countless dimensions. For a beginning pianist, there are just 3 main dimensions–notes, rhythm, dynamics. In order to holistically progress, a musician needs to develop their sensitivity to an increasing number of these dimensions (several of which I mentioned above). I was aware that I had been growing in these areas for quite some time; the surprise factor that day was the loss of simplicity that I craved.

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My point is this: Life is complex. People are complex. Situations are rarely black-and-white.

I read recently that the difference between good and evil seems to be growing increasingly blurry. Hold on–let me clarify. I do believe in an absolute difference between the two. I believe that God is Love Himself. He is Grace, Mercy, the infinite Good One. There are also actions, events, situations which are thick with darkness by nature. No, the boundary between good and evil remains firmly intact. It is how these situations affects our lives when viewed through the lens of time which is difficult to distinguish. As long as we don’t completely surrender to bitterness or anger (or self-pity or despair… but you get the picture), pain eventually prods us toward maturity. The Lord’s grace redeems even my brokenness to purify and strengthen me. I hate pain. But growing requires pain.

For example, I went through a burnout/breakdown from school leadership, music ministry at church, and unhealthy friendships by the end of high school. My life felt unbearable, and my health is still faces repercussions from that chapter. On the other hand, though, the experience taught me the consequences of poor boundaries. Being forced to slow down and say no to opportunities likely prevented me from a life-long pattern of mistakes. It made me more empathetic, confident of my skill set, and passionate about supporting leaders. It is true that I made many unwise choices, but can the situation be fairly assessed as being either good or evil when both have resulted from it?

I’ve been rethinking my Story. How can I best describe my desperation, my successes, my journey to be found by Hope Himself, and my passions, all while doing justice to the complexity of each? Can we present intricacy simply? How do we make sense of our life’s events? This is one of my current endeavors. Just as with playing piano, every narration involves interpretation. I desire to tell an honest, transparent, and edifying interpretation of my life, my subplot in God’s Story. Perhaps put most simply, this is my story:

I have tasted the despair of the world’s emptiness and embraced the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The LORD is my hope, my light, and my salvation; I live for Him.

That’s the simplest version. My difficulty comes when I expound on it. I easily grow frustrated when representing entangled complexity, but I suppose it is appropriate that the process of shaping my story is a journey in and of itself.

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Now, back to Debussy. Because I needed to stop philosophizing, get back to earth, and utilize my practice time, I eventually absolved myself from total perfection concerning his dynamics. After all, even his written directives were an interpretation of how he gave his song color and life. That reveals something both beautiful and difficult about stories, musical, verbal, and otherwise. Stories cannot be reduced to objectivity. 

As I set aside my obsessive drive for perfection and allow the beauty of tension, I encourage you to consider the hue and saturation of life’s colors. Life is not black-and-white. Let’s give people the space to surprise us with the complexity of their personalities and experiences. Let’s listen well to those around us and be honest about our journeys. Please, let’s be gracious with one another as we seek truth, grace, peace, relationships.

May you find joy today from the Creator of Beauty.

“The Last Word” – A reflection of hope from Cheree Hayes

I encourage you all to check out Cheree Hayes’s most recent article called “The Last Word.” Cheree is a thoughtful, humorous, and wise teacher, mom, writer, mentor, friend.

From local school shootings to ISIS, she offers an honest reflection on seeing hope amidst such sickening injustice.

What does it mean to feel loved?

Today I walked to a local park to finish reading Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality. It was a refreshing and thought provoking book, and I encourage you to read it. 

Toward the end of his book, Don recounts a time when he learned to stop beating himself up mentally and to accept love from others. Don couldn’t let his girlfriend’s love for him sink in no matter how hard he tried to believe her. Finally, someone told him that his problem was that he based his value on what his girlfriend thought rather than God’s infinite love for him. Even though the girlfriend really did love him, she could never satisfy his deepest craving for acceptance. Once Don realized that God Himself loves and values him, he stopped obsessing over the matter. His whole outlook–and ability to relate to others–changed positively. 

On my walk back home from the park, I thought about what Don had said and how it relates to my own life. Like him, I have such a hard time feeling loved by others. I can know it cognitively, but my heart just won’t buy it. And the more I think of what it really means to be loved, the foggier my understanding becomes.

I’m afraid that we English speakers have so exhausted the term love that we have drained much of its weight. We throw the term around in terms of material consumption, of aesthetic or musical preference, of platonic and romantic relationships, in conversations about tolerance; the list goes on and on. “Love” is an overarching umbrella term that we use frequently rather than more specific descriptors. I’m guilting of slapping on the ambiguous term all the time too, probably due to laziness or habit even when more specific words would communicate with greater depth. Maybe we should put a hiatus on the frequency with which we use of the word love until we can recover its meaning and occasionally use more specific synonyms instead. 

So what does it mean to feel love, anyway?

Realizing that it is helpful to unpack different aspects, I started a list on my walk back home of different ways I could feel loved:

  • I feel known: seen, heard, understood
  • I feel cared about
  • I feel provided, sacrificed for
  • I feel honored
  • Someone has shown me compassion
  • Someone has shown me mercy
  • Someone has shown me patience
  • Someone enjoys my presence
  • I feel accepted
  • I feel respected
  • I feel protected
  • I feel like I belong

Putting the “loved” phrases more precisely helps its truth actually reach my heart. Do I feel “loved by God”? Sure. I don’t know,  I guess. But do I feel accepted by God? Do I feel like I’m understood, that I belong

Wow.

What a difference that makes in my heart! When I understand that I am loved, I live totally differently. I will go out of my way to serve others; I quickly extend grace; I forgive with patience (this line of thinking, by the way, is what Donald Miller discovered in the chapter I described). Honestly, though, Too often I selfishly protect myself long before even considering anyone else; I become consumed with my own desires and needs. But friends? God is still faithful, and I’m thankful that He gives me another chance.

So what can we do?

Accept love. Accept the deep riches of God’s love for you–His compassion, mercy, acceptance. Accept the love that your family and friends extend to you. In receiving it, you bless them in return.

Extend love. When we’re accepted, we should respond by recognizing the good we see in others, communicating our care for one another, and serving with actions of sacrifice.

Let’s love. And let’s live like we’re loved.

I Too Was Burned By The Church

I know I am not the only one who has scars from those who call themselves Christians. This. Should. Not. Be.

I had given up on the Church*, on Christians. I had almost given up on God, my faith, my life’s value. But somehow, for some reason I can only attribute to the mercy of God, Grace Himself gave me the strength to try again. The Lord alleviated my skepticism long enough for me to open my heart one last time to give the Church another try.

Note: I am open to discussing my experience growing up in that church, but I always hesitate elaborating on the details unless they would be beneficial to the listener. So for now, please bear with my vagueness. My point here is what has happened since I left that local congregation.

What I saw in a new local church (I have since become a part of this family) shocked me. People actually loved one another. These Christians really believed what they said. They really sought the truth, fought hypocrisy, and sacrificed their lives for others. It is in the context of a church family that I have begun to feel the soothing waters of restoration. Yes, I still have panic attacks in church when we sing certain songs as they trigger my past experience in church. But I also know that I am slowly healing. My anxiety is less severe and my episodes less frequent than even a year ago. In order to begin this kind of forgiveness and healing, I have had to face my pain head on. It has meant allowing myself to grieve, counseling, and actually becoming an active member in the Church again.

I. love. The Church. And believe me–that really is a miracle.

Of course the Church still makes mistakes right and left–it’s made up or people, after all! But the Church is what Jesus chose to represent Him until He comes back. God is at work in His people! I have seen it, and I have been encouraged.

Something that grieves and angers me is that not everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian really follows Jesus. That devastates me… for their sake, our sake, your sake. People have done some horrible things in the name of Christianity, some of these crimes horrendous. Since I stand as a part of the Church, I must therefore stand with the Church in its failings as well. I confess that in different areas we haven’t loved well in the past, in the present, and likely will make grievous mistakes in the future. These wrongs are without excuse. We have claimed to represent God Almighty, yet have acted totally contrary to what He would have done. And I Am Sorry. I am sorry that we have neglected you when we should have acted. I am sorry that we acted harmfully–intentionally or not–when we should have extended grace. How I wish I could reverse your pain! All I can offer is a listening ear and a heart eager to extend grace to the broken. I ask your forgiveness for the ways that my people have acted wrongly in the last 2000 years. Please consider forgiveness.

I have experienced so. much. grace. in my local fellowship. I deeply respect the leadership there, and I willingly serve them with joy. They have responded to me with such affection, care, and acceptance. When I was desperate, they offered me patience and support. Even when I “came out” to leaders as questioning both my gender and sexual identity, they responded with nothing but love. They really listened and desired to understand my needs, concerns, hurts.

I testify that though I too was wounded by those in the church, I have witnessed God’s presence, freedom, truth, and grace in His global community of followers since then. My local church community has, by their devotion to God and genuine love for others, helped restore my faith that God really is at work on earth.

If you too have been burned by the church–perhaps deeper than you can express or understand–please hear this: On behalf of the Church, I’m sorry for the pain we have caused. You are not alone in your pain. I want nothing more than for you to experience healing, grace, belonging. Please, consider my story. Through the Gospel–the good news of Jesus Christ–I have found hope and am being restored. Please, consider trusting in the great Restorer, for He is good.

Blessings to you all!

*When I use capital C “Church,” I refer to followers of Jesus across the globe who together comprise Christ’s metaphoric bride, His body on earth

Moving right through the thick of tragedy

It’s been a couple of weeks since I heard the tragic news.

My dad called me, his voice shaking. His best friend had called him and told “the worst possible news.” My friend Madison, his son, had died.

Madison. Died.

What?!?

My dad relayed vague details, and shared the situation’s increasing complexity: Suicide. Madison took his own life.

Shock, grief, numbness, terror, denial, sorrow. What a confusing few weeks it has been with emotions fluctuating from suffocating to starkly absent. I went home to be with my parents and siblings as they sorted through their grief.

My dad had took on all of the details and responsibilities for Madison’s dad, his best friend, and allowed the rest of their family to spend focused time together in grief until the memorial service.

There are pages and pages I could write about the last several weeks as it relates to the tragedy, but I will try to keep this brief. One of the most striking moments for me was in talking with Madison’s dad.

“Someone asked me how on earth I deal with a tragedy like this. And I said, ‘You have to move right through the thick of it.‘”

When Tragedy presumes its horrifying face at your door and shoves its way in your life, you are forced to make choices: Will you invite others into your pain? Will you suppress the deepest, most painful questions? Will you hide? Will you allow yourself to feel emotion or become numb?

These decisions  have to be made on a moment-by-moment basis. What I admire about Madison’s family is that they allowed others into their pain, allowed friends to grieve with them. They didn’t hide their fears, but expressed them appropriately. They allowed their community to mourn with them, to express love’s final mark: grief*.

My dear, dear friends responded with maturity in their sorrow, facing the situation head on. Let’s press on to maturity, friends. It requires courage, so let’s support one another in our weaknesses. For we. Are not. Alone.

Madison, we miss you dearly. You are loved beyond expression. But we grieve with hope that we will see you again.

*I borrow this thought from my insightful mentor

7 Thoughts on Tasting-the-Cost of Following Jesus

1. Choosing to follow Jesus is not just a one-time deal I’m in a season of life which has put significant forks in my path more frequently than usual. In this process I have uncovered many deep wounds which have been festering beneath the surface for quite some time. Every day–every hour, even–I am faced with an underlying choice: for what or whom will I live? If I do not think about it consciously, auto-pilot makes the decision for me. Choosing to follow Jesus means constantly surrendering and re-orienting my whole existence to His ways. Will I choose to follow Jesus Christ or satisfy my own desires? In the past, my response to this question has been to shove away any possibility other than strict obedience to what I believe God teaches in His Word–the Bible (I openly confess my history with and tendency toward strict rule-following and hypocrisy). Lately, though, I have allowed myself to feel the gravity of what I am giving up by following Jesus. Over-dwelling on it is unhealthy, but I think this process can also be done in a way that increases our intimacy with God. That leads to the next point…

2. Tasting the cost may involve grief A part of our relationship with Jesus is dying to ourselves. I don’t know how you feel about it, but in my experience, dying can hurt! Sacrifices looks different practically for each person, but it always involves the submission of our desires and decisions to the will of God. The Lord is good and desires to bless us, but His goodness to us might look different than we expect because our scope is so limited and His so broad. Sacrificing may mean moving to the other side of the world for the rest of your life, leaving behind all your family and friends for the sake of sharing the Good News. It may mean selling all your possessions and living among the marginalized. It may mean being killed for not renouncing your faith in Jesus. Whatever the cost entails, I don’t think we should not try to hide the cost. We need to be realistic about the grief it may involve so that we may be better prepared and that our commitment to Christ might be that much stronger.

3. Following Jesus may require suffering, but the cost is worth the hope 2 Corinthians has been a constant challenge and encouragement to me in my daily life since having the opportunity of studying it in depth. It’s one of my favorite books in the Bible. Let me highlight a couple of points Paul makes that are especially relevant to this topic of tasting the cost.

2 Cor 4:16-18 (ESV) “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

This blows me away. The heaviest weight, the most bitter grief that I bear now cannot even be compared to when I will be fully in the presence of Jesus. When weighing the pros and cons of how “worth it” the cost of discipleship is, my current suffering does not even register on a pendulum scale when compared to the future glory of being with Jesus. Compared to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” my pain only registers as “light momentary affliction.” Honestly, this is hard to grasp much of the time simply because of a distinction that Paul raises: we see our suffering, but our hope is largely unseen now. This is where faith comes in.

2 Cor 12:9-10 (ESV) “But he [God] said to me [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, of my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Trusting God does not mean ignoring pain. The pain can still feel excruciating. But I still have hope. That is why I do not lose heart; that is why I dare taste the cost of following Jesus. I share stories of my weakness because these are the stories from which God’s power and grace can shine brightest.

4. Honesty in suffering can reveal self-centeredness Sometimes the ugliness that comes out of my heart makes me scream. I absolutely hate it. I am learning, though, that while the Holy Spirit convicts, He does not condemn. While my tendency is to withdraw into self-hatred and despair, the Holy Spirit is gracious. He wants to be gentle. He wants to hold my hand as we face my brokenness. He does not make me face my sin alone.

5. It requires that we fix our eyes on Jesus A. W. Tozer writes that “faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” I really like that definition. It communicates that faith isn’t simply a one time decision to “ask Jesus into my heart,” but a continued relationship with God, for whom I lay down my life and from whom I find new life. I fix my eyes on Jesus. It is honestly a fight. Rather than an easy (metaphorical) glance upon His face, there are times like last night when it required intense focus in order to keep my attention on the Lord and His character. It took every ounce of my strength to have faith, because the weight of the cost felt so heavy.

6. Hard questions may surface. And that’s ok. I think it’s ok to look temptation in the face, just as long as we return our gaze back to Jesus, trusting that He knows what is best. A man I greatly respect once told me, “There can be no faith in the absence of doubt.” We call obvious, objective answers “facts.” Why would you need to trust in something that is plainly before you? There would be no room for faith. Instead, faith pushes through the doubt—incorporating both our mind and heart—and trusts that God’s motives are good, pure, and just. I love Mark 9:24 when a man cries out to Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” This should be our attitude, trusting God while we wrestle through life with Him.

7. Jesus is worth the cost Let’s be realistic about the cost of discipleship. Even more than that, let’s not forget that God is sweeter still. He is kind, as my friend recently reminded me. God is not just a distant, detached good deity. God is kind. I won’t fully understand the depth of His kindness until I see Him face to face, but I do trust that He is kind, gentle, compassionate. He sees my pain, and He understands. I cannot leave behind my faith. It is so much a part of who I am that it would be like cutting off an arm and a leg. I cannot forsake Jesus Christ or my relationship to Him. I value it more than my physical existence. All of my hope is anchored in the Good News of Jesus.  Having faith isn’t for the faint of heart. Being a follower of Jesus is costly. We don’t typically understand that the United States of America. In other parts of the world choosing to follow Jesus can literally mean you are forfeiting the rest of your life to being imprisoned, tortured, or brutally killed. My cost is not nearly as extreme as it is for my other Brothers and Sisters around the world, but we must take our faith just as seriously, because Jesus is worth everything I end this rather lengthy post with a song that articulates the cry of a desperate Jesus-lover who trusts that God’s “love is better than all the world can give.” I encourage you to still your mind and heart, and let this song resonate through your bones. I’ve attached the chord chart for you fellow musicians. 🙂

I once was paralyzed… and now I’m free (well, getting there)

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.

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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?