I think one of the things that causes me to feel more alone than anything else is shame.
I did what the vulnerability folks like Brene Brown have advised us to do – tell the truth and be free from shame.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I admitted the truth. That, in and of itself, is a huge burden lifted, if for no other reason than the Holy Spirit has finally stopped convicting me to bring the secret out into the light.
I know God accepts me. I know I’m covered by His righteousness. I know He loves me. But sometimes I just don’t feel it. Part of the reason is because I feel alone.
My sin, which make no mistake was abuse, however I bear a certain responsibility, was soooo serious, so heavy people didn’t know how to deal with it. What frustrates me is I really don’t think we in the church know how to deal with the depths of depravity in our own hearts. I think we do denial well, I know I do and still struggle against. Our lives often consist of blips and minor sins and little white lies, things that can be fixed or covered easily. And that’s what we do, we cover, deny, and our hearts get hard. Denial rather than honesty becomes a pattern.
I wish the church would stop trying so hard to look like they have it all together…. Would stop coming up with simple formulas to make your life better… Would stop fussing about politics and homosexuals… And just start being honest. Yes, I’m preaching to myself.
Maybe I’m just dealing with the consequences of my major, BIG sin, maybe I’m just a worst screw up than anyone else, certainly you may think that, but God doesn’t rank sins. Some reveal our depravity more obviously, but we’ve all sinned, we’ve all turned from God and tried and failed miserably to do it on our own. We’ve all got filthy rags, and I suspect there are many that have sat on the pew next to me just as afraid to tell what they’ve done as I was.
So why don’t we just stop pretending. Why don’t we start by confessing and loving and forgiving.
Because that doesn’t seem safe. Sometimes it isn’t.
A little while after I confessed and repented my church leadership told me my name and sin would be revealed to everyone at a congregational meeting. This was despite the fact that my counselor and another counselor, both well known professionals and spokespersons in our national denomination, called what happened to me as abuse not an affair. On a side note, the SNAP network (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests) advises that victims names be kept confidential, so that if others have been abused they won’t be afraid to come forward.
According to my leaders, people needed to know what the ex-pastor did. They said they needed to know what I did, too. The ex-pastor confessed and was deposed from the ministry. I don’t know what they hoped to accomplish by having that damn meeting. They said gossip control. Since when was the church supposed to be in control of what was talked about outside of the church? Since when did the church stop being a place where confidentially was sacred? I’m still so angry about this. You know why? Because who in the world is going to come forth and confess when people handle sin this way? Yes, we need to be able to be honest, but everyone does not need to know everything, and most certainly not by force when someone has repented!
Why don’t I just give up on the church? Because there are a few who were brave and admitted their own struggle with sins and loved me and treated me no differently.
And I still believe God loves the church, and I’m called to do the same, no matter how hard it is at times!
I do believe what the vulnerability people say, shame dies when you stop hiding and keeping secrets, but I think a place where others accept you and love you despite your sin is ABSOLUTELY necessary.
Steve Brown likes to say your sin is your best friend when you know that you have it.
Martin Luther writes to Philip Melanchthon on August 1, 1521:
“If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly you too are a mighty sinner.”
I know for a fact, being a mighty sinner myself, that Steve and Martin Luther are not telling people to live a life of sin or uphold others in sin, because sin only leads to death. Rather, they are calling Christians to acknowledge their sin.
Sin is fun for a very short season, but it kills the life God wants us to have. I abhor what I did. I’d never advise anyone to do it!!
Knowing we are a sinner causes us to know we need God, and that is the path to freedom and life.
I think about my own sins, brokenness, and weaknesses that I was weighed down with ten years ago. It seemed that the Christians around me didn’t have the problems I did. If they did they certainly weren’t telling me. Rather, I heard about clean sins, not reading their Bible enough, not having a quiet time, not having enough faith, those things we all felt comfortable enough talking about in church.
I didn’t think I could tell anyone about the dark struggles I was having in my soul. But then into the picture entered my ex-pastor who abused me. He didn’t mind hearing about all those dark and dirty things, he even told me his own, and a very unhealthy dependence began. As I was asked to keep secrets, the shame I was trying to get rid of just grew.
We are surrounded every day by people who are broken, struggling, sinning, in pain and in need. When are we going to see that going to church, putting on a church smile, keeping it all together, are not what is going to save the world? Rather, we can make a real difference by confessing our sins, big, little, clean or dirty and LOVING ONE ANOTHER DESPITE.
We can start by just being honest. I told a lie, I gossiped, and I didn’t want to pray I really wanted to watch a Lifetime movie instead. That’s real. That’s what provides an environment where people feel safe enough to tell the truth.
Acknowledge your sinfulness and thank God for His forgiveness. Please stop trying to hold it all together. It doesn’t help. Yes, after all this I’m preaching to myself.
Please, Lord, bring people into my life who know they are sinners, and who won’t be so shocked that I am, and who’ll even go a step further and be vulnerable enough to tell me about their own sins, so I’ll know that I’m not alone.
Please, Lord, give me the courage to be this kind of Christian, too.