There are few pages in my story that I’d rather not revisit. I love remembering, reliving, retelling all that God has done. Even some of the most sorrowful and broken parts of my life have been so redeemed that I delight in remembering what was…and the beauty that’s replaced it. Betrayal. Loss. Loneliness. Those are words I can deal with. But then, when I turn in my story to pages of weakness, failure, and shame…I just want to rip those out and burn them. Yuck.
We all have those times when we just totally “blow it.” And those are the times I’d just rather forget. For me, one of those times was in college. I was sad, struggling, and emotionally all over the place. And I hate thinking back to that time. I hate thinking about who I was and the effects of my sin and weakness. Fail. Fail. Epic Fail.
It’s especially embarrassing, because sin and failure always happen in the context of relationships. People see your weakness. People see your sin. People are hurt by both. This exact thing happened to me in college, and with one particular friend, the ugly side of my flesh really came out. In jealousy and insecurity, I hurt people.
Since then, relationships have been restored, apologies made. And yet, I’ve had such a hard time looking back to those days. I even kind of distanced myself from that friend. Sadly, when that friend passed away recently, I didn’t even want to think about it, because I still felt the sting of failure and shame. That’s the relationship I ruined; that’s the one I failed.
Today, although God has healed so much, I’m still such a work in progress, and I was reminded of that this week. When I see again the places in my heart that are still broken, or the same old insecurities rise up, my flesh wants to fall back into the clutches of guilt and shame — over today’s and yesterday’s mistakes.
But this week, God reminded me of Galatians 5…freedom in Christ.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
-Galatians 5:1 (NIV)
See, the thing is, this yoke of slavery not only incites our sinful nature, but it creates the need to deal with the sin on our own — to inflict shame, guilt, and punishment. My refusal to let go of past failures, and my refusal to fully receive the forgiveness that God and my friend offered me, is the result of a life bound by the burden of the law.
You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
-Galatians 5:4-6 (NIV)
This kind of grace and freedom is not easy to accept. It’s humbling in the worst way, and reminds me that I can’t ever be good enough. It reminds me that to live in real relationship, I have to allow my great God and Father — and my dearest brothers and sisters — to extend grace and cover the ugliness of my own sin and failure. I don’t want them to have to do this, and yet, at the same time, I know it’s in that depth of love that God heals and transforms.
All of this has challenged me to relook at my story. It’s made me realize that all this time, I have been looking at the pages of my story out of the eyes of my flesh, instead of the freedom of the Spirit. Instead of seeing the forgiveness and restoration freely offered to me by God, I’ve refused to fully accept the gift and have instead chosen to wallow in my pride — which in this case, results in only shame.
And as long as I look at my story and see my weaknesses as failure and shameful, that’s exactly how I’ll view the weaknesses of others. The things that I detest in myself, I will also detest in others.
A good friend this week told me this illustration, about how when the slaves were finally emancipated in America, many of them did not know what to do. They didn’t know how to live as free men…so sometimes, they reverted back to what they knew. Sometimes they still acted like slaves, even though their freedom was already claimed and received.
I think that’s how we all are sometimes. But God has so much more for us. God offers to us the freedom to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven, to see our story and others’ in the light of faith.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
-Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)