Today I read something that reminds me of my research on shame all those years ago. Hannah Whitall Smith writes about sin and how, instead of collapsing under discouragement that “all is lost,” we come to God in repentance and start fresh again on the journey.
Yet so many of us live as if it’s “game over” when we make a mistake or find ourselves entangled in sin. We hide in shame. We don’t talk about it. We stop connecting with people because of our shame. I’ve seen this behavior in my own life and in the lives of so many students in my role in campus ministry.
Sin is, indeed, serious. I would never undermine its destruction and pain. It’s so great that Someone died for it, to bring us to God, to make us holy before Him. We stand condemned and guilty apart from Jesus. But in Christ, our guilt is gone.
But shame lingers. We keep punishing ourselves for our failures.
If you find yourself punishing yourself and believing you’ve destroyed everything by your sin, Smith helps us think of it as that which “momentarily disturbs” your journey on the path of sanctification. Smith says it like this: “We may for a moment turn aside from the path, but the path is not obliterated by our wandering and can be instantly regained.”
In parenting, we “start fresh” after arguments, disobedience, or bad attitudes. We repair any damage and get right back on the path. We don’t hold grudges or punish ourselves for our shortcomings.
We turn back to God, and we instantly regain the path. He makes everything right; He points the way back; He can turn our wandering into something beautiful. Day by day, we return to Him in confession and repentance. We don’t live in shame. We live in intimacy with a Savior who already forgave us and knows we are much worse than we can even imagine. Yet, He loves us!
He walks beside us on the path, and He’s never surprised by the fact that we’re human.