The Stories We Tell Ourselves II
“Masks can be beautiful on the surface, but steal the heart of joy;
yet stunning is the one who isn’t afraid of her secrets.”
– Jennifer Strickland
There’s a cycle – of putting things behind, only for them to return. There’s a gap that we jump from our old life to a new, not knowing that building a bridge can keep us from falling. The gap is shame; the bridge is self-forgiveness.
I am the new man. Cleaned to perfection. But the dirt stain once washed beams brighter on this silk white garment.
The new man grows out of a mere behavior modification; changing my every action until all my habits become good. It is genuine, it does not come out of emptiness, but a deep hunger to be transformed into who I was born to be.
But behavior modification can only run for so long before the fuel runs out, before my appetite for the things ungodly grows.
We change our behaviors and move on from our past, but we do not reconcile with our past self. We condemn our past self and walk away from the person we once were, not knowing that reconciliation is needed, that forgiveness is needed.
Because too often I shut out the memories, I hide back the mistakes done by me, the mistakes done to me and I pretend that my former life never existed; but that’s called faking it. And I refuse to perpetuate the idea that you should “fake it till you make it.”
I want to walk in the liberty that my past self is not just dead and forgotten, but is resurrected and alive in Christ; fully forgiven, fully restored and finally freed.
But I absorb every hidden stone; the indirect critic, the Pharisaic remarks and the voice that begs to call me unforgiven. If history’s giant towers so high above me, surely they can all see it too. Weakened by my inner shame, it calls me to run to isolation.
“If distress is the affect of suffering, shame is the affect of indignity, transgression and of alienation. Though terror speaks to life and death and distress makes of the world a vale of tears, yet shame strikes deepest into the heart of man…. shame is felt as inner torment, a sickness of the soul…. the humiliated one feels himself naked, defeated, alienated, lacking in dignity and worth.”
I hear Him say, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”
But I do not feel it. And the truth is, I’m barely believing it. I’m holding onto his truth with 60% faith, cause shame claims the rest.
But in the darkness of my shame grace lets me see His eyes. There is a gentle kindness in His eyes, a warmth that looks upon me with great love and affection.
“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”
Oh my soul, I know that look. This is far from a look of disappointment. That look that pulls me in close and holds every last part of me I can’t bear, cradling the stifling waves of shame that roar to stillness. The look that says “I will stay,” even in your rejection of Me. It says “I will never leave,” even when you deny Me. The same eyes that looked upon the man with the withered hand and declared healing, the same eyes that wept over Jerusalem’s hardened heart, the same eyes that looked at the rejected lepers and cleansed, the same eyes that looked up at Zaccheus immersed in sin and accepted fully.
These eyes see my pain, understand altogether and do not condemn my past. These eyes write poems of me and not one is disappointed by my weakness but rather longs to enter my pain and overwhelmingly conquer it for me. Because I am His poem and He wrote you and I to reveal Himself and make known the character of God. So the way I choose to tell the story of my past is a gift He has given me.
So I turn and look into myself with His eyes not mine: I look into myself and love what’s there. I look into His eyes daily and choose to believe that there is now no condemnation. I flee the dark thoughts of myself and break through on the wings of grace. I gather each thought, every memory and every action, that broke my heart and breaks it still and love myself through it. I gather them as the sower gathers seeds and plant them in the fault lines of my heart that once quaked my earth and pray for rain. If rain’s His mercy then in the midst of brokenness, gardens will spring and songbirds will wake. Maybe the cracks in my heart are where the most fertile soil for the sowers’ seeds lie.
So I am learning to forgive myself, learning to set myself free.
“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed;
Neither be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame;
For you will forget the shame of your youth,
And will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore.
For your Maker is your husband,
The Lord of hosts is His name;
And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel;
He is called the God of the whole earth.“
“I found God in myself
and I loved her
I loved her fiercely.”
– Ntozake Shang
Co-written with Sandra.
Check out part one here!