“I would never….” We say this so confidently of ourselves and so judgmentally of others. “I would never lie to get what I want. I would never cheat on my spouse. I would never hit my child. I would never pad my pockets with money sent to the ministry. I would never drink and drive.” And yet you did. I did. If it wasn’t one of these things it was something else. Whatever your “never” was, it probably had the same effect on you as it did me: shame, hiding, and humiliation, along with regret, self-punishment, and hopelessness.
I want to share a true story with you. It is one of hope, restoration, and redemption. I think it’s one we need to remember. Let me paraphrase:
“I may not be perfect but this I do know, I love you and I will NEVER abandon you. I will die before that happens.”
And yet you did abandon me (temporarily). In fact, you denied knowing me not once, not twice, but three times. I don’t say this to shame you. I knew you would. I even told you I was expecting it. You didn’t realize how close by I was when you denied that we were friends, but our eyes met in that moment and you knew I had heard. It was too late to take back the words you had just spoken. You felt caught and humiliated. You were pretty sure I was angry, disgusted, and disappointed. You were pretty angry, disgusted, and disappointed in yourself so you assumed I would be too. I wanted to say, “It’s okay. You are not a failure. You are not a traitor. You are scared and I am too. I love you. Everything is going to be okay!” But I didn’t get a chance to say any of that, not right then. You were embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid so you ran and hid. You told yourself you were despicable, the worst of the worst, unforgivable, a traitor. For many days, you were tortured by your thoughts. You couldn’t sleep, you couldn’t eat, and you couldn’t imagine that I could forgive you, love you, or that anything good could come from this. My friend, you were not unforgivable, you were unforgettable. I had always treasured you and always would. I didn’t see you as an enemy deserving of punishment but as family worthy of forgiveness. Our relationship was far too valuable to just discard. I knew your failure was my opportunity to show you how perfectly loved you were even when you felt most unlovable. I also knew that only this kind of love would heal you, relieve you of all your fear, and restore joy and hope for your future and our future.
Yes, your pride was hurt. You had been pretty sure of yourself. You thought you were courageous. You considered yourself loyal. Then you realized that you were not as strong, not as brave, not as loyal as you thought you were. When push came to shove, you weren’t able to stand. In fact, you fell. Flat. On. Your. Face. It was not pretty. In fact, you got pretty scraped up. Your face was covered in mud. You were humiliated. Humiliation is not what I wanted for you. Humiliation is not the same as humility. I wanted you to know and believe that there was absolutely nothing that could separate you from my love! I wanted you to receive my forgiveness, accept my embrace, and move forward with compassion for yourself and others. Receiving what you know you don’t deserve takes humility. If you want to hold and enjoy grace, you have to let go of what has disgraced you. Grace heals and holding on to shame destroys you.
I want you to hear something: You turned out to be even more courageous, loyal, brave, and kind than you imagined. You heard me right! It’s true! It took courage to admit to others, “I really messed up. I had three chances to get it right. Fail. Fail. And fail again.” Wasn’t it a great surprise when they looked at you with knowing eyes and felt your shame too! In admitting your failure, you gave them courage and permission to admit their own and you found deeper fellowship with these guys then you had ever known. You hugged each other. You offered words of hope and encouragement, “He always knew we weren’t perfect and He always loved us.” You didn’t stay in that place of shame. You dared to hope, to receive my embrace and my forgiveness. You realized that if I forgave you then you should forgive yourself and you did! Now that is true courage.
You are loyal. You were just afraid. I was too. You never left me really. Sure, you struggled but I saw your heart. You were never far from me. You were following me, even if it was from a distance. You had even tried to protect me that same night. After you forgave yourself, after we ate that fish together on the beach you never left my side again. The leaving was only in your mind anyway. Our hearts had always been linked.
You are strong. You stumbled. But you got back up! It would have been easier to stay down but not only did you get back up, you helped and encouraged your brothers and sisters! Every time one of them felt like a failure, you remembered how terrible your pain and shame had felt and you comforted them. You lifted that shame right off of them and shame is a heavy load to lift! And you also remembered the reunion we had! It was amazing! We embraced, we laughed, we talked, we wiped away each other’s tears, then we feasted on that fish! It was pretty delicious if I say so myself! You bragged on your brothers, how they had shared your grief and had not alienated you. You told me how comforting it was to know others understood and identified with your shame.
You told me you never dreamed how hurting could also help. But now you could see that your hurt, your shame, your fear had led you to a deeper understanding of my grace and my love. It led to a deeper compassion for others. Your hurt had not destroyed you but had made you kinder, wiser, and humbler. Your hurt led you deeper into my heart and there you found comfort and a love that was greater than you thought possible. You had always thought I loved you for your strength but you found out that I loved you in your weakness!