When I Rejected God’s Forgiveness

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“Hi, I’m Miah, and I struggle with guilt and shame.”

Sometimes restoration has to start at the very bottom of the muck.

For as long as I could remember, I struggled with guilt and shame. This was probably a combination of perfectionism, fundamentalism, and a need to please others. Many days (and nights) were spent wracked with guilt. The first sign was a tightening in my calves. I willed myself to think of something else, anything else. Then there was the cold dread rippling across my skin, followed by nausea. I would remind myself of the Sunday school message that Jesus died for my sins. But I didn’t believe that I deserved his love.

Guilt can be a great diet. It can tear you apart.

I thought that guilt and shame were what being a Christian was all about. You accept Christ as your savior. God sends the Holy Spirit to convict you. Then you live with the knowledge that you are a terrible person. Each mistake adds up. I asked for forgiveness again and again, but I never felt forgiven.

God’s love felt like cold, clammy hands wrapped around my heart, reminding me that I was a failure.

Every time I received a compliment, I thought, If only you knew what I’ve done. I’ve lied to my friends and family. I can’t let go of my anger. I don’t deserve your praise. My shame increased until I dreaded going to bed every night, sweating and trembling. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would be rejected if people really knew me. But most of all I feared that God rejected me. I never felt forgiven.

Then one day the pain hurt enough that I decided to risk trying a program at my church called Celebrate Recovery. I had avoided going for years because that was where the people with problems went – not Christians who were doing everything right.

In a dark auditorium, I watched in awe as, from the stage, person after person admitted their failures. Things I had never heard before. Things you would NEVER say in church. I have an STD. I had an affair. I went to jail for theft. I abandoned my child.

And I saw that they were at peace. Happy, even. They told their stories without shame on the stage and were applauded for sharing.

Afterward, we all gathered in small groups. I sat in a circle of about 30 women. These women didn’t have a platform and a microphone, but they too shared, often with tears, their fears and failures.

It took me 4 weeks to speak up in my group. Everyone else’s words were accepted – what if mine brought condemnation? I wasn’t quite sure what I struggled with. I wanted to get it exactly right.

Then I finally introduced myself: “Hi, I’m Miah, and I struggle with guilt and shame.”

Those words were the beginning of a new life.

Even though I had been taught about grace, I never really believed in it. I had internalized the message that good Christians don’t make mistakes. I ought to be able to do everything on my own strength. If I ask for forgiveness, I will be rejected. I had been keeping a scorecard of my mistakes, rejecting God’s forgiveness because I didn’t want to need it.

 

Image Credit: Miah Oren Photography

Miah Oren

Miah Oren

Miah is the author of The Reluctant Missionary, a memoir about the two years she spent overseas teaching English. She writes about learning to let go of perfectionism and embracing God’s plan for her life. She lives in Dallas where she dreams of someday having another cat.
Miah Oren

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  • Hi Miah. I’m a a believer in Jesus Christ and I struggle with control and and self-esteem. Thanks for sharing. 🙂 p.s. I’m glad you’ve found your people and God’s grace.

    • Miah Oren

      Hi Debby. 🙂 Thanks! Me too!

  • This is so many of our stories- especially those of us who grew up in the church. I was just talking to someone else about this, and how hard it’s been for them to really believe the gospel. May we let His grace wash over us and believe that we are wholly loved despite how we feel and that we don’t need to prove anything through our perfectionism. We are wholly loved and fully free.

    • Miah Oren

      Yes! I’ve been noticing this lack of knowing that I am wholly loved. So hard to believe, yes so healing to accept.

  • Suzanne Terry

    Love this piece, Miah. And I love that picture.

    • Miah Oren

      Thank you! And thanks for driving me out to West Texas to take that picture!

  • Oh Miah, I share these struggles to this day. I wonder if they will ever actually go away, these perfectionist tendencies and the need to appear like we have it all together. You put beautifully what so many of us experience and give hope in the process. Thank you!

    • Miah Oren

      It’s so hard! I write things like this to remind myself again and again 🙂

  • This was me–that cold clammy feeling in my chest, and the panic and shame about my performance that absolutely blinded me to God’s amazing grace. Thanks so much for sharing this, Miah.

    • Miah Oren

      Thanks Heather! What a relief to be rid of this 🙂

  • Wonderful words Miah! It’s a very hard thing to grasp that Jesus loves us as we are. How empowering to hear all those people admit their struggles. We should all keep doing that.

  • Great post! Confession is powerful – the only way to free ourselves from guilt and shame are to confess and bring things into the light!

  • What I think is such a mistake in many churches is that we are taught that we are forgiven, but then we are told to live a perfect life or God won’t be pleased with us. But that type of moralistic teaching puts all the pressure on us and we just seem to sink further and further down, because we can’t do it on our own. We try so hard and then feel like failures. Jesus tells us a different story. He died and rose so we could be forgiven, intercedes for us before God and has given us the Holy Spirit. What was freeing to me was the realization that I don’t have to keep striving to be better to make myself “good enough” because Jesus has already taken care of that. Nothing can take away His love for me no matter how far I stray. He is waiting with open arms to forgive. Now if we can only forgive ourselves… Miah, thank you so much for sharing your struggles. You speak for so many of us. Blessings to you! May we all find the peace that forgiveness brings.

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