Today I’ve read not one, but two, of my friends blogs that wrestled with the weighty issues of shame and guilt.
Karissa, who I mentioned a couple of days ago, wrote about how growing up her faith often came with an ugly price tag called guilt. She ended up leaving the church she grew up in search of a faith that freed her from that guilt.
And Jermaine wrote about how shame gets passed around like candy sometimes, claiming that we’re speaking the truth in love, when really all we’re doing is passing out shame and judgement.
Life in the church can be harsh sometimes. We’re not perfect people, and sometimes in our quest to better ourselves we end up filling others with shame, guilt, and a whole bunch of other crap that “ain’t nobody got time for.” It’s not healthy. I don’t think we even intend to do it sometimes. But it happens.
I grew up in the same church background as my friend Karissa. Like her, I went to a small, conservative Nazarene church. We went to the same college, where we were best friends and roommates. And many of her experiences resonate with me. I can remember growing up and praying every five minutes or so for my salvation. I was sure I’d done something terribly evil in the past five minutes and needed redemption. (This coming from the girl who never smoked, drank, or tried drugs, and considered it complete failure if I got less than an A in class.) As a kid I was always striving for perfection. Honestly, that part of me hasn’t changed much. But I know that a large part of that is my firstborn perfectionist tendencies, not my faith.
I do want to be the best I can at whatever I’m doing. I want to be living a life that demonstrates love, grace, and compassion. I want to have an intimate relationship with God. But if those thinks were once driven by a sense of guilt, it’s been a long time since that held true. Somewhere along the way I dropped that shame and guilt like a dirty rag, and I moved on.
How did that happen? I’m not sure I could pinpoint some moment in time or new understanding that changed my world. I think it just gradually grew up into my faith, as I planted deep roots and learned the meaning of a tree’s flexibility.
There is a part of that growth that was planted by my mother. There were a lot of times my mom tried to push her ideas on me. Like when she told me I had no other choice than to attend college at her alma mater. And being the stubborn, strong-willed child that I was/am, I then proceeded to do the exact opposite of what she told me to do. But then there were these gems of moments when she challenged me to think for myself. And those moments were probably her best parenting choices ever.
I was 12 when I first had the opportunity to audition for show choir (that’s a glee club for all you non-midwesterners). I wanted desperately to be a part of it. But I was a member of a Nazarene church and it was against the rules. I asked my mom what to do. And instead of telling me, she taught me to think for myself. She told me to go read the Bible. To pray. To ask God, and then listen. And I did. And guess what? What I heard from God was not what I heard from my church’s rule book. Mind blowing experience for a 12 year old. But it was probably one of the most important faith lessons of my childhood.
In the end I auditioned and so began a long relationship with all things music, theatre, and dance related. And it didn’t break my faith in the church or the people who came up with those rules. I simply accepted that we could disagree sometimes and it would be ok. And I discovered a relationship that was about more than a rule book. More than getting things right and being perfect. I discovered a God who was so much more than a church who sometimes weighs us down with guilt and shame–but a God who still loved that church and worked through her.
And that’s exactly the kind of God I needed. A God who is so far above me and my failings–but still loves me and works through me.
So here’s to all my friends out there who are struggling with guilt and shame that’s been piled on you by some well-meaning Christian. May you find release from those chains. Freedom from a pain that doesn’t come from God. And the mystery of a love that surrounds you even in your darkest place.