Recently, my oldest daughter was required to read the story The Scarlet Letter for literature class. I remember reading the same book when I was in high school. Many of you are probably familiar with the fictional story of Hester Prynne. She was the main character from this story set in the 17th century, who was publicly set before the townspeople and shamed for her sin of adultery. She was also made to wear the red letter "A" on the front of her dress.
I can only imagine the feelings that would go through a woman who not only had to stand before a jeering crowd in public humiliation, but also had to wear this symbol for the rest of her life. It was a symbol that would instantly identify her to every person she would ever meet. Shame is a powerful force. I think that even today, both men and women feel that they must forever wear their past mistakes upon their chest to somehow pay for their mistakes.
For the past several months, one portion of a verse from the Bible has been replaying itself over and over in my mind. It is this one that says, "You shall know them by their love." (John 13:35) I know I am sadly lacking in this so many times, but I'm asking God to cause me to grow hugely in this area.
I have been thinking of this verse and knowing that God is trying to show me the bigger picture. Other people will recognize us as a true Christian by our love, and especially our words and actions of love. When we can look at a person with the love Jesus has for them, at the place they are at right now, and demonstrate love towards them, then they will know that we are His disciples.
In our church, a beautiful ministry has started of helping women who have had abortions. It helps them in dealing with guilt or shame, tormenting thoughts, and sorrow from their past. It is also to help them experience the total forgiveness and restoration that Jesus offers. I am so grieved at some who have no compassion for women who have gone through an abortion. It would seem that they believe a woman should wear a scarlet letter to forever identify her past mistake. But Jesus looks at her so differently. He has tremendous compassion on her.
Jesus showed His compassion when He met a woman, who, the Bible says, was caught in the very act of adultery. She was then placed alone in front of a crowd of people. (I wonder what passed through her mind as she stood there? She had no one brave enough to come and stand by her side.) The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were quick to identify her and quick to begin her punishment. But Jesus' reaction was different. Jesus never looks at just our outward appearance and actions. I think He looked deep into her heart and saw all the brokenness that she had ever experienced and the total lack of self worth that she believed about herself. He bent down and began writing in the dust of the ground. When they continued to question Jesus on what actions He was going to take, He had one answer, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first one to throw a stone at her." The Bible says that those who heard Him, began to go away one at at time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left with the woman. Jesus told her that He did not condemn her and to go and leave her life of sin. He did instruct her to leave that life, but He didn't demean her or make her feel as if she had no value.
Perhaps you feel you wear the letter "F" for failure. I think we all have moments when we feel like failures as a parent. Maybe you feel you failed at a marriage, school, or a job. But that isn't your identity. It isn't who you are. God hasn't stamped you as a hopeless case.
What makes the gospel of Jesus Christ good news is that we don't have to carry our past with us any longer. I believe that is also important in our interactions with one another. We can't treat a person as "less than" because of their past. His love has redeemed me..now it is my job to let someone else know that His love will redeem them and wipe away the hurts from their life.
What is shame? The dictionary defines it as a painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace. Shame can literally consume our lives and dictate our steps. It can make us believe that we have no value based on what we have done. If you have lived under a cloud of shame for very long, it can seem impossible to ever break free from it. But Jesus sees where you are right now and longs to show you how He feels towards you.
The dictionary definition mentions guilt as part of shame, but they are actually two different issues. My husband is a pastor and often says to our congregation that guilt is feeling bad about what you've done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are. It is an identity issue.
What can be done then? Psalm 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." and Isaiah 1:18 says, "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow, though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool."
You don't have to wear an invisible scarlet letter. The Bible says that if we confess our sins (what we have done wrong), He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1 says, "If you walk in the light as He is in the light, then you have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin." If you think about this verse, it is making a correlation between walking in the light (transparency) and fellowship (relationships) with one another. A safe, close friendship where we can be transparent, can help us not to hide in shame any longer. The goal of shame is to keep us in hiding. But making a decision to step out of that belief will help us be healed.
My heart breaks over anyone reading this who is struggling with feeling they have no value. I so often have felt the same way. It is only recently, really, that the Lord has opened my eyes to how He really feels towards me. He will do the same for you. I've never experienced an abortion, but have had friends who have gone through one. Their lives have been forever impacted. But they have experienced healing and restoration.
Today, talk to Jesus openly and tell Him how you feel about yourself. If you have guilt over a past mistake, He is able and willing to forgive you. But if you are experiencing shame or you feel you are constantly living under a cloud of shame, then allow Him to heal those painful and broken parts of your heart that you have been protecting for so long. He doesn't look at you in those feelings of shame. You have tremendous value to Him.
You are not marked for life. His love is reaching out to you wherever you are right now.
*The ministry I mentioned can be reached on www.facebook.com/restoredbygraceministries
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