Yesterday I had a conversation with one of my dearest friends that was…I’m searching for the right word…Revelatory? Life-changing? Eye-opening? Shut everything out and ponder this for days? Yes to all, and maybe even more.
She and I are a bit more mature (face it, we’re middle-aged) and we’ve walked through some really rough times together. We tackle the tough stuff, laugh and cry our way through it and always, always, always turn each other toward God and His truth. Our relationship is one of those I treasure most in this world.
By the time you reach our age, you start to realize that you’re never actually going to have it all together this side of heaven. One of the questions we frequently face is: Why do I keep committing the same sins over and over and over again? And the way that question is usually spoken conveys a pack of lies that I think is very common to the belief system of all mankind: God must be so sick of me by now. He’s bound to stop forgiving me for this. He knows that I know it’s wrong—how can He still love me when I willfully keep doing the things I do?
So the situation at hand is that we both struggle with our weight; her problem was brought on after having two beautiful babies later on in life and facing some of the worst post-partum depression I have ever seen. Me? I was always the fat kid. Her youth was that of a beauty queen; mine, that of the funny, chunky chick who was likable but never had a date in high school, and very few since.
You may not agree that our weight issues have anything to do with sin; that’s okay—the principal applies to any sin, so just substitute yours into this story. As for us, we both believe that our bodies are the temple of the Lord and as such we should be taking care of them. And we also believe that gluttony, ugly word that it is, is a sin.
So the lament went something like this:
Yesterday, I was so good…I spent a lot of time with the Lord, I went for a long walk, and then last night I blew it. I had pizza and wine. I should have stopped at two pieces, but I didn’t. And today I went and got a cheeseburger and fries for lunch. Why do I keep doing this when I know that the Lord has spoken to me about not drinking, and about cutting out the fast food and junk that destroys my body?
I could picture her beautiful face as she confessed it; eyes downcast… countenance of shame and despair… the belief that she had once again disappointed the loving God who had so beautifully created her… fear that He would soon give up on her. It’s a countenance I have faced in the mirror quite often.
I recognized that voice that was really doing the talking—it’s one I’ve listened to for years and years. And as I began to try to encourage her, I felt the Holy Spirit take over the conversation, because there’s no way I can take credit for the words that came out of my mouth:
That’s shame I hear talking, and not the voice of God. Let’s look at this: we were created for a feast—the wedding feast of the Lamb. God gave us tastebuds. We need food to sustain our bodies. These are facts and they’re good. Unfortunately with the fall of man, we have destroyed good food and replaced it with a lot of crap that does more harm than good. So you had a cheeseburger and fries today? Instead of beating yourself up and hiding (from God) in shame, can you just say, “Lord, I shouldn’t have done that. Please forgive me?” And then choose grilled chicken and veggies for dinner tonight?
What was the first thing that God said to Adam and Eve when He came to the garden and found them hiding in shame from their nakedness? He said: Who told you that you were naked? And THEN He asked them if they had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Look at the order of the questions: He didn’t ask them about the sin first, He asked them about their shame. Shame is what made them hide from God. The sin (action) is forgivable and God promises that if we ask, He will forgive. And the beautiful thing is that He never set a limit on how many times He would forgive. But the shame? That’s a condition of the the heart and that seems to be what God was first concerned about.
Pick a sin that you commit over and over and over again… After the third or fifth or hundredth time, you probably think that it is just who you are and you’re never going to get past it. God’s probably given up on you by now. So you stop asking for forgiveness. You stop seeking Him out. And relationship dwindles. Shame wins over relationship. It’s a cheeseburger on the throne rather than a loving God.
But, no matter how many times we commit the same sin, when we keep going to Him for forgiveness, that accountability and love and grace makes us start to see the yuckyness of the sin and it becomes less and less attractive to us. It loses its hold on us. And relationship wins over shame. A loving God is on the throne.
So are you going to choose shame over relationship, or relationship over shame?
Although our conversation continued, I’m stopping there. It doesn’t matter what the sin is—I deal with way worse sins in my life on a daily basis. But I’ve come to trust that feeling of yuck in my heart that makes me immediately say, “Lord, I’m sorry I said those nasty things.” or “Lord I’m sorry I watched that horrible show.” or “Lord, I’m sorry I hated that person.” …on and on and on.
And the feeling of beauty that replaces the yuck when I do that: priceless.
That’s relationship over shame. That’s freedom. That’s power. That’s a countenance lifted. That’s a heart of love and grace for others. And that is a beautiful life. The choice is ours; are we going to choose shame over relationship, or relationship over shame? It’s a simple concept, but it’s definitely a life-changing one.