Sarah was in church smiling, conversing with all her church friends. “If they only knew the mess in my life,” she thought every week, “they wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” So she kept pretending, and she was good at it. They all knew Sarah the Good Girl. No one knew Sarah the Alcoholic. No one could get close enough in a few hours on Sunday morning. If anyone offered to hang out for coffee during the week, she’d gladly accept, and then cancel because “something came up.” Don’t want people too close, they might see the real me. If only she could walk a victorious Christian life like her church friends, Rose, Tanya, and Beth. What is wrong with me?
Sarah thought she was the only one. Sarah didn’t know Rose fought depression and wore the same fake smile Sarah did. Sarah didn’t know Tanya suffered from post-abortive stress and was desperately trying to earn love from a God she believed she could never please. Sarah didn’t know Beth was on the verge of having an affair because of the pain from her abusive marriage.
In fact, Sarah had more in common with her church friends than they knew. The one thought all four had in common was, “If they only really knew me, they’d hate me like I hate me.” They all four thought the other three had it all together.
Then one day, quite by accident, the dam broke. Eating donuts in the kitchen before the church service started, Rose whipped out a picture of her day-old grandson. Caught unusually off-guard, Tanya burst into tears before she could get control of herself. Today was the due date of her son, 20 years ago, who was never born. They went out in the hall around the corner to comfort Tanya and get some privacy. As Beth hugged Tanya, Beth’s sleeve was pulled back just enough for Sarah to notice a bruise. As Tanya’s tears wet Beth’s cheek, Beth’s make-up ran just enough for Sarah to see another bruise the make-up was covering.
“OMG,” thought Sarah. “I need a drink.” What is happening here?
The truth was, the Holy Spirit was showing up in their friendship, and it wasn’t pretty. But it was good. The four friends starting meeting for coffee to support each other and share their struggles. They were all shocked at each other’s struggles, not with condemnation or rejection, but because they truly had no idea their friends were in such pain. They all thought they were the only one.
Shame is such a liar. It tells us we are uniquely and fatally flawed. Fatally, because there’s no cure for us, we’ll always be this way, so we’d better hide it the best we can and not let anyone see. And uniquely, because we’re the only one who feels this way. What a pack of lies.
Shame’s lying house of cards is built on a foundation of isolation. It came crashing down that day, when these four church friends shared their pain and fears with each other, all expecting to be rejected, but all finding loving acceptance instead. The four friends received that day the best gift from the Holy Spirit, true loving community. They let Authentic Christianity replace their fake religion, and they could never go back. And all it cost them was the risk of being vulnerable.
Their community didn’t change their situations, but it changed them, and it changed their response to their situations. It gave them something they didn’t have before—hope. They did not have to walk through it alone. And there was a fifth person there in all of their get-togethers—Jesus. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
We receive healing when we let ourselves be loved to life by others in the Body of Christ. So often letting someone else into our struggle is 90% of the victory. Honestly sharing our sin, our pain, our fears, with a few trusted brothers or sisters in the Body of Christ so often breaks the majority of shame’s power.
Everyone doesn’t need to know your secrets, but someone does. Find that trusted person, a brother or sister in the Lord, and break shame’s isolating hold on you by confiding in them. We all desperately want to be known, and at the same time are terrified of being known. We hide with all our might, desperately longing to be found.
When the masks and methods we’ve used to hide stop working, and things are crashing around us, often it’s the Holy Spirit doing that, because he’s exposing something he desperately wants to heal. God is for us. We don’t have to earn his love, we already have it.
How about you? Does this resonate? Do you have a safe Christian community? We’d love to hear your story. Have you been loved to life? I have. And please share this if you think this would bless someone else.