Silent Sinners in a Church Filled with Shame

There comes a moment in every relationship where secrets begin to bubble up. At this moment, you have a choice to make – either you tell the secrets, baring your soul and hoping for the best or you shove them back down and never breathe a word because they’re shameful and not something that’s discussed with other people.

There comes a moment in the church where we are invited, as the body of Christ, to open up and be extremely real with each other. We are called to live life together, to build relationships. We are commanded to confess to one another. We are supposed to hold one another up and bear one another’s burdens.

In this, comes that moment of secrets. We are family. We are all one body. We are supposed to be open, honest, confessional, and forgiving. With this family, we are supposed to be choosing tell the secrets. We are supposed to be willing to bare our souls and take a leap, knowing that our family will catch us.

Instead, we are terrified. Every time we meet, we pull on our mask of perfection, hiding the pain, anger, and sin because it’s not something we admit to. It’s not something we talk about.

Failed/failing marriage?

We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we look at all the seemingly perfect relationships around us and shudder to think how they’ll judge us.

Depression?

We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we remember the advice we’ve often been given – “Just get your life right with Christ. You’re not trusting Him enough.”

Addiction?

We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we try to keep it tucked away when we’re with the church and hope no one looks too hard and sees it.

Lack of knowledge?

We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we nod and smile because we’re afraid of what people would think if they knew we didn’t know all the Bible stories or big theological words.

Miscarriage? Trouble getting pregnant?

We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we look at all the kids wandering around and hope that no one thinks something is wrong with us, that God is punishing us or telling us that we’re not supposed to have kids.

Problems with your kids?

We don’t want anyone the know because it’s shameful, and we never talk about those because we think it means we’ve failed as parents.

Abuse?

We don’t want anyone to know because it’s shameful, and it might be our fault and, and we don’t want people to think of us like that.

Anger?

We don’t want anyone to know because it’s shameful, and as a Christian, we’re supposed to be nice to everyone and not struggle with having kind words to share.

Loneliness?

We don’t want anyone to know because it’s shameful, and maybe that somehow means that we’re not close enough to God.

We are so caught up in the shame that comes with opening wide our chests and letting people look into our hearts. We are terrified of changing people’s perceptions of us. We don’t want anyone to know that we don’t have it all together.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about the culture of shame that permeates throughout the church. It is a stench that fills us whenever we gather. It reminds us to stay hidden because people just might not understand. It reminds us to pull on our masks and tuck our sins away so no one else sees them – not the church and not the world.

It’s a vicious cycle, really.

We think we have to show a perfect face to the world so they know we’re Christians and that we’ve got our life together because, if they know we sin, obviously our life hasn’t changed and God really isn’t worth anything. So when someone looks within the church and sees all the perfect masks, they think they have to be perfect to be a part of the church.

It goes around and around and around, encouraging more and more people to pull on masks in the name of Christianity. It fosters an environment of lies, discontent, and, more than anything, shame. Putting on a mask also doesn’t deal with a problem; it just covers it up and keeps it there festering.

Taking a mask off is a terrifying thing. Our churches traditionally aren’t very accepting of a lot of things. A lot of people who have their mask stripped off eventually end up leaving the church because they find themselves suddenly no longer welcome. “You’re not the person we thought you were.”

Even if it’s a really good church that recognizes that we are still sinners and still make mistakes, we never admit those mistakes to one another, so there is a huge amount of fear that comes with being real. “Will they still like me? Will I still be good enough?”

Somehow, the main question I always hear is, “Will God still love me?”

Darling, you cannot hide from the God we serve. He already knows what’s behind the mask, and He loves you anyway.

Christ died, not to remove sin from our life, but to pay the consequences for our sin. Yes, we fight a daily battle to align our will with His. Because we have died to ourselves and taken up His cross, we don’t want to sin, but we still do because we’re human and, as much as we love God and want to align ourselves with Him, our hearts don’t always get the memo and want destructive things.

This is a hard enough fight without having to maintain a mask at the same time. Just put it down.

“But we have to be different!” I’m told. “How will the world know we’re any different from them if we struggle with the same sins?”

Hope.

The difference between Christians and non-Christians is not that we somehow struggle with fewer sins. It’s not that we have our life more together. It’s not that we are happy all the time or sinless.

The difference is that we have hope. In the midst of our broken, sinful lives, we cling tightly to the hope that this pain is not forever. These sins do not have to define us. These things that we struggle with are not greater than the God we serve.

We are sinful people in the hands of a merciful God. And how He loves us. His grace swallows us whole. There is no shame when we rest in Him. His strength sustains us. He is always ready to pick us up, brush us off, heal our wounds, and hold our hand as we sally forth into the fray again.

Maybe it’s time we the church start acting a little bit more like that.

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I Don’t Want to Be Eaten By a Saber-tooth Tiger

I don’t know how to describe this. It’s one of those things that is a mix of emotion, color, and a couple random words.

Forgive me if I ramble. I don’t know how to put this in simple words. This is me processing this and allowing you to read my brain.

You’re welcome, Darling Creepers.

There’s an experiment where scientists put a group of people in a room with music playing softly. They encouraged them to talk among themselves and do whatever. Then they turned the music up really gradually. The people in the room never noticed the music turning up. It got so loud, during the experiment, the people were shouting to be heard, but they didn’t notice they were shouting and they didn’t notice that the music was louder. Finally, someone realized it was super loud, and they all found themselves in agony over how loud it was in the room.

That’s kind of how my life is right now. In this exact moment. I think.

Almost two years ago, my life was overshadowed by black. It was a black like what you get when you’re in the deepest parts of a cave.

That kind of black is scary. There is absolutely no light for your eyes to see, so your brain freaks out and starts imagining you can actually see things.

If you hold your hand in front of your face, your brain will say you can see it. But you can’t. If you touch the outline of a jagged point on a rock, your brain will paint a faint picture of it for you, but it really has no clue what it looks like. It could be that a saber-tooth tiger has crawled in the cave and yawned, and you’re really petting its tooth. You think you’re touching a rock because that’s what your freaked out brain is telling you, but you don’t really know if it’s a rock or a saber-tooth tiger tooth because you can’t actually see, no matter how much you think you can.

This is one of the reasons people go insane if they’re left in that kind of darkness too long. It’s also why they fall into deep, dark holes even though they thought they saw a safe way.

The point is, in a darkness that deep, you can’t trust what your brain is telling you you’re seeing. It’s too dark for your brain to really know what’s going on.

When your life is in a darkness that deep, your brain lies to you again.

“You can’t tell anyone how you feel; they won’t understand.”

Lie.

“It would probably be better if you just stopped breathing. Whatever way you could come up with to manage that would be fine with me.”

Lie.

“Maybe if you cut a little deeper next time, everything will feel normal again.”

Lie.

It’s so dark, your brain is making things up because it’s freaking out, and, it all sounds so convincing, you want to believe it. Bad idea. A lie is a lie, no matter how cleverly it’s dressed up. Even if it’s coming from the brain you trust.

The safe, hard, steady rock you think you’re touching is really a yawning saber-tooth tiger and, as soon as it closes its mouth, it’s going to bite your face off.

So, who do you trust when your brain is a freaked out, lying, traitorous organ?

Well, purely by accident, someone came along and reminded me that I wasn’t alone in my darkness. They brought me a flashlight.

I refused to use it for a really long time, but I looked up today and discovered something.

My world’s not black anymore.

Like the people in the experiment, my discovery of this change was sudden, shocking, and strange. And it happened without my consent or overt desire for change.

Looking back, I can see where my world has lightened. I can pinpoint moments where my world changed colors, ever so slightly, and I never noticed.

I can also pinpoint the moment it started changing. It was when someone brought me my flashlight.

It wasn’t that I turned it on, and I could see again. I didn’t do that. Remember, I refused to use it.

In that moment, I learned I wasn’t alone. And I learned there were other things I could trust.

My eyes were lying. My brain was freaking out. I was hearing things that wanted me dead.

But I still had all my other senses.

They say that, when you go blind, all your other senses enhance. I think they’re right.

My brain was telling me the tooth was a rock, but my nose knows what stinky, saber-tooth tiger breath smells like. I trusted my nose and learned to walk away.

My brain said there was no one there in my darkness, but my hands met other hands around me, reminding me I wasn’t alone.

My brain was telling me lies about what I should do to myself, but my ears heard quiet whispers of love that grew as I listened harder.

And I took a step.

I think that, with every step I took, my life got a little brighter, but I was so busy being distracted by everything else going on in my life, I never noticed the change.

It was gradual, and I don’t think I’m completely out of the cave yet. I may never be, but now I remember that the sky is brilliantly blue and leaves are full of seventy million shades of green. I remember that darkness doesn’t always win, and I can trust my life to Something much larger than me.

I can’t always see. I can’t always trust my brain. I can’t always believe the terrible words in my head.

Yeah, sometimes I walk back into the darkness because the light hurts and, quite frankly, I don’t always like touching people.

I do know, however, that there is no darkness where Light comes in. I know that, when the depths of the cave steal my voice, the Spirit inside me intercedes and interprets my senseless groans into cries for help. And I know the Light comes. Not all at once, but slowly, as I let Him come, as I walk toward Him.

The Light always beats the darkness.

In this moment, I’m in The Dark Place. I define myself by how smart I am, and I just did terribly on a final. It drastically affected my final grade in the class, and I’m beating myself up over it.

I also know I won’t be here long. Right now, The Dark Place I’m in is so much lighter than The Dark Place I was in a month ago.

All that to say, I’m constantly moving. My life is a mix of forward and backward steps. I’m not always headed in the right direction in the fastest way possible, but I am always headed somewhere.

Ultimately, I’m making my slow trek back out in the sunshine. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to have really bad days, but I think that’s okay. Ultimately, I’m going in the direction I need to go, and I’m learning coping mechanisms and how to hand things over to God and better ways to communicate with people while I’m going.

I think, even though I’m in The Dark Place this evening, I’m still headed in the right direction. I’m not walking by myself, and I’m not about to get my face eaten off by a saber-tooth tiger. That’s progress.

Firm Foundation

Anyone who knows me well knows I struggle with depression and a bit of social anxiety. It’s a dark shadow that lurks somewhere in the back of my brain, waiting for the right moment to come and smother me.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t fight the depression. It consumed me. The shadows filled my soul and were the only thing supporting me. That was a bad time.

I don’t know how much you know about shadows, but I know quite a bit. They’re insubstantial. They don’t really support anything. They block the light. They leave you cold. They smother you. And, once they’ve taken over a place or person, it takes a really powerful light to get them to vanish.

Dear 6 Beautiful Readers, because you actually read what I write, I thought you might know me well enough to learn that about me.

Technically, I have Major Depressive Disorder. I know that the depression is the result of a neurotransmitter imbalance in my brain. My norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin levels can get really messed up. But I can’t leave it at that.

If I convince myself that I’m only struggling against a neurotransmitter disorder (something I can’t do anything about), I give up. And I can’t do that. I tell myself that it just can’t be helped, and that’s when I get myself into trouble.

I don’t take meds – I probably should, but it’s never really come up. Even if they were offered, I would probably refuse them. I always forget to take medicine, so it wouldn’t do any good, anyway.

I have learned, however, through my fight with this, what exactly I have to do to bring the light back into my life.

It got summed up so well for me today. It all comes down to your foundation. Today, at church, the preacher talked a lot about Luke 6:46-49. It goes like this:

46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?
47 Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like:
48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built.
49 But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

Basically, if you don’t have a strong foundation, when the bad things in life hit you, you’re going to collapse. But, if you put your strength in the Lord, if you make Him the Cornerstone, if you build your life on His Word, if you surround yourself with like-minded people, you can pull through.

My belief that my God is strong enough to handle absolutely anything keeps me going. I ground myself in The Word and His promises of protection, healing, love, compassion, mercy, and grace. I know that, when I take a flying leap into His arms, He’ll hold me close and shelter me from the storms. He is the ultimate light. There is nothing brighter than Him. The shadows flee at a hint of His presence.

For me, community is a major part of my foundation. This is made very difficult by my social anxiety. Depression, however, is something you can’t fight alone.

I’m really private about it, though. I have trouble telling my friends and the people who support me when I need help. That’s not a good thing. I know I can’t do it on my own, but, for some reason, I always try to.

Even when I don’t go to them and explain what’s going on, though, I can still draw strength from them. Surrounding myself with fellow Christians, people who can help me stay on the right track, is imperative for my survival.

Sometimes, though, the depression sneaks up on me. I get really stressed or exhausted or run smack dab into one of my triggers, and I’m in the middle of it before I know it. That’s why it’s so important to already know The Word – to have that foundation firmly in place.

At that point, I don’t have the strength or inclination to open up a Bible. I don’t want to pray. I don’t want to reach out to the people around me for help. I don’t want to leave my bed. I don’t want to eat. I don’t want to see anyone’s face.

I do, however, have a part of my soul, firmly rooted in The Word and God’s Truth, that absolutely refuses to give up. It sends whimpering, plaintive cries up to heaven. It knows I can’t stand on my own feet, so it begs my Father to pick me up and hold me close. It whispers the verses I’ve memorized in my ear so I start to remember who and Whose I am. I believe that’s the Holy Spirit, strengthened by the food I feed it.

This is my foundation. This is what I build my house on. It provides me with shelter, and, when the storms knock my house down, it’s what I rebuild on. This is my shield. This is my protection. This is how I fight the darkness in my life.

My depression is more than a neurotransmitter disorder. There is hope. It is something I can fight. I ground myself in the truth of my Savior, and the darkness cannot hold on. It vanishes.

Psalm 91

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.

If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

14 “Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
15 He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”