How To Free Yourself From Guilt And Shame
I recently saw the movie “The Heart of Man” (which I highly recommend). I won’t spoil it for you here, but the idea in the documentary was to convey the goodness of God through the telling of separate individual testimonies. These stories included struggles with identity, sexuality, adultery, pornography and abuse.
Toward the end of the film, a young lady sitting near me began to cry deeply. I found myself fighting back my own emotion. Not because the film was sad, but because I can relate to the struggle – the struggle of intellectually knowing my sins and mistakes are covered by the blood of Jesus. The feeling that that The Lord is not pleased with me and not always feeling His love, because deep down, His love is often overshadowed by my guilt and shame.
The Struggle Is Real
What I loved so much about “The Heart of Man” was the spectacular way the directors captured the essence of God’s goodness. That alone was worthy of tears, because the film helped convince me of His goodness in ways I was previously unable to do so within myself.
That got me thinking about the whole idea of self-worth, self-esteem, guilt, shame and condemnation. It is a more complex beast than I realized; I had underestimated its power in my own life. But I now understand its disempowering capabilities more than ever. I understand why so few live their lives to the fullest of their potential and calling. Many of us have been sold on the lie that we aren’t good enough. Even if we don’t think about it consciously, we feel it subconsciously and emotionally. Life has a way of bringing it to the surface.
Consciously, many of us would say we are valuable. We are worth breathing air and a beating heart. But if we got really honest with ourselves, many of us probably don’t feel worthy of God’s love. Many of us may not even feel worthy of human love. In other cases, some may worry that they won’t ever be good enough to acquire the level of love they desire. We become fearful of ideas like karma – that our worst behavior, our dark secrets and the ugly sides of our lives will come back to haunt us. We refuse to forgive ourselves, as condemnation feels like rightful payment for the acts of our sins.
Lord knows I have struggled with this in varying ways my whole life. I’ve been on the mountaintop, and I’ve had my dark valley days. There have been times I have felt the presence and love of Jesus, and times I doubted it completely because I felt like I wasn’t worth the freedom He gave me. It was never, or will never be about my deserving that gift.
What Are We Worth
I’ve come to the conclusion that freedom comes when we accept His grace, goodness and love by giving ourselves permission to stop condemning ourselves for our sins. We must do this no matter how justified we feel by holding ourselves captive in our prison of guilt, shame and condemnation. After all, why would anyone willingly live in a prison?
There was a scene in “The Heart of Man” where one of the individuals giving their testimony described a dream they had. They were in a prison cafeteria, sitting at a table; Jesus came over dressed in prison clothes and sat down across from him. The man asked The Lord why he was in prison. The Lord told him he could leave anytime. There are no cells, and there are no locks on the doors. The man was living in his own prison, yet the Lord was with him inside of it.
Many of us live in the prison of illusion that guilt, shame and condemnation create. The Lord is never intimidated by such things. He loves us where we are, despite that we may choose to be there.
His Glory In Our Shame
What my journey through guilt and shame has taught me is that I can let anything empower me or deflate me. It is the perspective I hold about what I have done, and could do, that makes all the difference in the world.
Our struggles, sins and mistakes are stepping stones to becoming our true selves. Our struggles and shortcomings are how we grow in His glory. Peter denied the Lord three times before He became an Apostle. Saul killed Christians before he became Paul. If we can learn to see His Glory in my own guilt and shame, we can all take the empowering position of growth and understanding.
Do I feel disappointed in myself when I miss the mark? Sure. But I don’t allow myself to live in the prison of guilt, shame or condemnation anymore. My mistakes hold their own beauty, as odd as that may sound. It is in our mess that we create our message, and in our tests that we create our testimony. We don’t have to fear the worst of ourselves. His love for us just is. When you feel guilt and shame, remind yourself that His love has already taken you to a new place. The old is gone, and the new has come. You are infinitely loved. Stay focused on His beauty becoming alive in you, and not the past behind you.