“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