Yesterday, I shared a story from Humans of New York on my facebook page. Since I think probably all of you are my facebook friends, you may have seen it. But, in case not, here it is:
“Seven years ago, I was sitting on the ledge of a thirteenth floor window. I’d tried to quit drinking so many times but I couldn’t do it, and I’d finally given up. My mind was racing through all the shameful things I’d done, and I kept hearing this voice saying: ‘Jump you piece of shit. Jump you piece of shit.’ So I put my hands over my ears and started rocking back and forth on the window ledge. Suddenly I heard this small, still voice: ‘Say a prayer,’ it said. And I didn’t want to hear it. It was kind of like your mother knocking on the door while you’re watching porn. But then I heard it again: ‘Say a prayer.’ So I started praying, and I totally surrendered, and I felt an evil presence leave me. And I just kept saying: ‘I can’t believe you still love me. I can’t believe you still love me.’ Then I cleaned up my room, threw away my baggies of coke, took a shower, and went to work.”
I’ve been wanting to talk about shame for a couple weeks now. It’s something that I’ve struggled with, that many of my friends have struggled with, and based on this guy’s story, I’m thinking that people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and experiences struggle with.
I’m guessing that it’s also something that the woman at the well struggled with. Take a minute to re-read the story in John 4. Jesus is traveling along and stops at a well for water, where a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. I’m not going to get into all the cultural things about Jews and Samaritans, but suffice it to say, the Samaritans were not a well-liked people group. This woman probably carried shame simply because of the race she was born into. And, the fact that she was drawing water in the middle of the day suggests that she was trying to avoid meeting other people at the well – perhaps because she was also ashamed of what we soon learn about her: that she has been married 5 times and was currently shacking up with a 6th man.
When Jesus met her, though, He engaged with her in a way that did not leave her feeling shamed or condemned. Don’t get me wrong, He didn’t let her get away with her sin – He’s the one that introduces us to her past in the first place. Yet, somehow, instead of running away and avoiding her pain as has been her pattern, when Jesus spoke to her, this woman heard something that drew her closer to the only One who can take away her disgrace, the only One who can help her once again love herself, despite her past. This woman was so moved by her encounter with Jesus that she went and told her whole town about Him and as a result, many of them were also forever changed.
So often, our sin makes us run from God. It makes us abandon our quiet times because we just feel too guilty. It makes us try to bury the pain in food or busy-ness or, like the Samaritan woman, unfulfilling relationships. It makes us doubt that God could still love us and makes us want to stop trying altogether, even if not in quite as drastic a fashion as the guy in our Humans of New York story.
Yet, that’s the exact opposite of what God’s plan is! When we engage with Him as the Samaritan woman did, He doesn’t let us get away with our sin, brushing it under the rug, or pretending it doesn’t matter. But, He points it out in such a kind, gentle way, that instead of making us feel terrible about how bad we are, it makes us want to change – and gives us the ability to do so, just like our coke-addicted friend above. And, this change makes us want to know Him more, and to tell everyone else about it. This ripple effect is a perfect example of His strength being made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). He takes even our sins and uses them for His glory, working them for our benefit and for that of those around us (Rom. 8:28).
Are you carrying a burden of shame around with you? Speaking from experience, I know it’s so draining and depressing and exhausting. While I’ve never sat on the ledge of a 13th story, I can understand this guy’s sentiment of being so ashamed of what you’ve done that you just want to give up. But, let’s not give up! If God can heal a woman as broken as the woman at the well, lifting her shame and using her to bring many more people to freedom, He can – and will – do the same for us. Let’s not run away anymore, but give our shame and disgrace and pain to God and see what He will do.