As I write this, I’m sitting in front of the altar in the sanctuary of my church—the church I attend and the church where I work. Twenty-four hours ago, I told a pastor and close friend that there are some days when I walk into this building I call home and feel like I can’t be here—shouldn’t be here. I’m too broken, too bruised, too shattered. But this is a sanctuary—a literal refuge for the hurting and the lost.
Twenty-four hours ago, I felt so far from God, wondered where He was in the trauma of the past, where He is in the process of the present. I feel so ashamed I them, ashamed for what they made me to do myself in that bathroom. And I don’t know how I can ever move past it, how I can ever turn the shame over; it’s all I have to hold on to.
Dear friends, a lot can change in twenty-four hours. A lot can change when you’re starting to focus on another side of God, the side of God who felt shame—the Good Friday God. This is the God who was stripped and beaten, hung on a cross, left by the highway to be ridiculed and mocked, who died a shameful death, a sinner’s death. Who died a death undeserving of the life He lived, a death so that I—we—may live.
And dear friends, I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours sitting with this Jesus, this Jesus who knows what it’s like to feel the deepest of shame and still decided to do it for us.
I was texting a friend late into the night last night, grappling with being raped and it not being my fault, it being out of my control. Grappling with the fact that I felt abandoned by God, disowned, banished from His presence. And sometimes I wondered if that still wasn’t the case—if I was too used and broken to be of any use.
And then God told me to get in my car and drive. So, I drove for three-and-a-half hours to only God knows where. But somehow, someway, probably only through God himself, I ended up in the church parking lot, where I started sobbing. I got out of my car, laid under the proverbial cross and just surrendered: “Not my will, but yours be done.”
You see, I’ve spent the last eleven years holding on to my past, my shame, because without it, I don’t know who I am. It’s the only ground I have to stand on, and even crumbling ground is better than no ground at all. So, I held on. Held on for dear life, letting go of the small, inconsequential details of my story, but refusing to let go of the big ones—the secrets that only a few people will ever know.
But the thing about secrets is that once you let them out into the open, they lose their power. What I did to myself in that bathroom—what I was forced to do to myself in that bathroom—is my biggest shame of all. And yet, sharing that with people that I trust, that have guided me on this journey and continue to guide me, released its hold on me.
Shame is a liar. A darn good one. It tells you you’re worthless when you’re really worthy. Tells you you’re dirty when you’ve really been made clean. Tell you you’re broken when you’ve already been healed.
Dear friends, I laid prostrate under the cross at 3:30 on the morning because for the first time in eleven years, I really felt God move—start to do something in my life—start to wiggle the Shame Tree loose.
But the story doesn’t end there. Almost exactly twelve hours later, I lay at the prayer rail in the sanctuary of my church, my place of employment, my home. I lay at the altar and sobbed. Sobbed because I was hurting in a way that no one should ever hurt. Hurting in a way that I can only describe as someone pulling a tree out of your chest (you know, like that Grey’s Anatomy scene).
God did something in my life this afternoon, a huge thing, something that I’ve been terrified for him to do since I started this journey: he pulled the Tree of Shame out of me. Enough is enough. This isn’t your shame to carry. It never has been. I already carried it for you when I carried that cross to the place where I was crucified—where I died for you.
And now, the shame is gone. Eleven years’ worth of shame gone in an hour and a half. Eleven years’ worth of shame that has left a Jesus-shaped hole inside.
And friends, this is where the magic happens. There are two sides to the Good Friday God: there’s the shame-filled one, the one who was humiliated and hung on a cross. But there’s the one who died, who lay in the ground for you.
He lay in the ground for you.
He lay in the ground for me.
And no shame that I have can ever compare to the love of the one who carried the world’s shame.
As I was being raped, they asked me, Where is your God now?
My God is here. I found him. I found him, and He took the shame that He already carried before I was even born.
He took the shame that was only his to carry, never mine, and He—he has set me free.