Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Weighted Down By Sin & Shame


Almost as early as I can remember, I was an absolute professional at sidelong glancing. I was chronically ungrateful.
 
I became a Christian in college and felt liberated from my sin and joyous because in the people of Christ Church I had my people; I felt like I was truly home for the first time in my life. But my bad habit -- that sidelong glancing -- rather than being rooted out, sent up some taproots.
 
Anger grew at God for not placing me in a Christian family. Further, bitterness grew at God for giving me my specific parents {insert laundry list of grievances alongside true neglect and emotional abuse} . . . they were not the caricature of what I thought a perfect, sinless Christian family would be.
 
Though they had many, I was blind and ungrateful for their genuinely good qualities.

I wanted to totally reject them. Mentally, I misapplied the verses in Scripture that talk about being willing to leave your family and follow The Lord. I wanted to ignore that commandment to honor your parents. I sought counseling for how to "deal" with my family; instead Doug Wilson helped me understand that I should love and be grateful for them, and could still seek to honor them -- with a simple guideline to follow their requests as long as those requests weren't unbiblical: for example go home for Christmas break per their request, even if I wanted to go skiing at a friend's in McCall instead.

Family life had been a confusing balance of horrible and wonderful. Though my dad was not perfect, life with my mom had been especially rough: for us kids, both my dad and later my stepdad, and extended family, too. Also one aunt in particular was disruptive. Thankfully, I was close to one of my grandmothers, though I leaned toward having a skeptical view of older women.

That view changed drastically, because at Christ Church I was surrounded, welcomed, and befriended by smart, hospitable, confident women of all ages.

Further, at Christ Church I was taught about high standards for women to pursue personal holiness, value financial integrity, seek excellent education, develop a biblical worldview and context for culture, business know-how, along with developing a love and interest in homemaking, hospitality, children and, someday -- after enjoying and cultivating a contented spirit while unmarried -- a husband. For six months I soaked up all this good teaching and fellowship. I bought heaps of books and dove in.

For those first six months, I progressed in my Christian walk, but much of this great teaching only sunk through my thick skull after my slow decent, finally falling those last inches tremendously on my face during my senior year.

As a new Christian, I had tunnel vision, and although I only knew of three young married couples at church, I wanted to join their ranks and join my husband's family and pretty much abandon mine.

Ungrateful and blind to their good qualities, I made a little escape-your-family checklist in my head. It began and ended with marriage.

So, pathetically, I dated the very first guy from the University of Idaho that expressed interest in me -- he met the minimum criteria of also being a Christian (a new one attending a different church).

Almost immediately I regretted it. I didn't respect him, and I wanted to get out, but I felt trapped by a standard of my own creation -- not a biblical requirement/standard: only ever date one guy--your future husband.

Being shy and aloof in high school had been a huge protection. I never dated, partied, smoked, or drank; instead I was absolutely self-involved and self-important, and ungrateful.

So although nobody at church ever asked me if I was  brimming over full of purity with no lascivious sins, I was sure that if I broke up with this guy, that would be the worst. I would have failed a requirement that did not existed.

So here I was: a new Christian, baptized and initially joyful -- growing more and more depressed each day because I was clinging to my sin: I knew I was unequally yoked; I was much smarter than him in several ways, and actually liked his company less the longer we dated, and the longer we dated the longer we were doing stuff.

I got counsel from a friend from church, and broke up with the guy. Further, I was assured by another friend that all sorts of issues like mine had been experienced and confessed by my fellow parishioners. But rather than fully renounce my sin, I embraced pride, and I convinced myself that I needed to salvage things. For 2 1/2 years I went on to have liaisons with him and began drinking -- something I'd seen my parents do often. Though I was living with Christians from three different churches, I was sneaky and avoided accountability. These liaisons were degrading: when we'd been originally been dating he and I were a couple, we were on an assumed-on-my-part path to marriage; now I was just some desperate ex trying to win him back by being flirty and buzzed and available.

I was a huge mess. I couldn't deal with myself. At one point I was sure God didn't want me, but at that low point happened to be reading through a stack of C.S. Lewis titles recommended by a church friend; The Screwtape Letters spoke to me, "If he thinks God doesn't want him then you [the junior devil] have already lost him to Christianity" (that's a paraphrase, btw).

Relief!

So I knew I was saved from my sin. But though I had confessed my sin every time I had an encounter with my ex, and really truly thought I was done with it -- and looked forward to church and fellowship. By the following Friday night party night I would have guilted and shamed myself into thinking I had to try and win him back. I clung to my delusions of pride. I didn't understand forgiveness.

At last I prayed God would take away all satisfaction from my sin. I asked him to put me on a short tether, that there would be not even fleeting enjoyment in those sins I had confessed again and again. God heard my cry. He answered my prayer. A December Friday night was the last time I spoke to my ex in person, there was no more delusion,  no temporary satisfaction.

That very next Sunday night I saw Nancy Wilson at a college ladies bible study and asked for her time the next day.

I had two or three excuses to cancel our meeting, but I didn't bail. I was desperate to shed my pride and ask for help. I asked for church discipline. Specifically, I asked to be excommunicated because I couldn't shake my sin alone, and would do anything to be cut free from it.

I couldn't hadn't been able to escape my sin on my own. My path was misery, hell.

Nancy asked me what I thought church discipline and excommunication were. I didn't know; I'd never seen it at our church -- but I'd read The Scarlet Letter in high school. I told Nancy that I thought they'd call me to the front of church and tell everyone what I done and then I didn't know what else . . . and just please help me.

Nancy held me as I cried and reassured me that our church wouldn't ever do anything like that. But that my willingness to accept something that severe showed the condition of my heart. That anyway, church discipline was for people unwilling to repent. Not for people confessing and asking for help.

We talked about the extent of the sexual relations between my ex and me, and although the guy wasn't great, he hadn't taken advantage of me as much one might expect for a two-year relationship. Something for which to be grateful. We prayed that God would give me godly remorse -- meaning regret for the sin and repercussions, but accept full forgiveness, free of guilt, condemnation, and shame.

Nancy suggested I meet with Doug. That week I did meet with Doug, too, and he asked me questions that were specific to sex and my general standards and personal holiness. It was deeply helpful to me to discuss details even though it was physically hard to get the words out. Vocalizing what had and had not transpired was not shaming, or guilt inducing. Unloading details of my sin was like lifting heavy boulders and rocks off my chest -- yes, hard to lift them off, but with each released weight I could breathe more freely. I could climb higher out of that pit of despair.

Unlike abuse victims, I wasn't discussing how I had been taken advantage of, I was there because I had willingly maintained an unfulfilling relationship with someone who didn't even pursue me -- I pursued him for the false high of knowing he would drop everything to follow me into his room.

It was pure joy to know and see that the gospel was freely offered to me -- someone who felt so dirty, ashamed, and embarrassed. "Come ye who are weary" -- my sin had made me weary, but I could come to Jesus. I knew my actions were those of a complete loser's. But no longer would I be like that horrid dog in Proverbs, who returned to his own vomit.

After this I learned how to instead pursue fully embracing my Christian liberty, and enjoyed being a sister to so many fellow sisters and families at church. Before marriage in my late twenties, I spent several years looking forward to being a wife and mother someday, but delighting in all the fun adventure and travel and hospitality of being out of college, with a good job and frequent plane tickets. I had prayed for good, life-long friends and am blessed to be unconditionally loved and forgiven and lifted up in prayer by many dear, long-suffering friends.

Although Doug Wilson and Christ Church have brought great healing to many sexual abuse survivors, he/they have also been a haven for people like me, tormented by sexual sin and general confusion, who were consumed by guilt and shame -- bringing it upon themselves and then terrified or unsure how to let go of it.

When many of us first knee-jerk reacted, "That sin is too heinous! Put him to death!" We were lying about the efficacy of Christ's death and resurrection. No sin can separate any of us from the love of God offered in Christ. If you seek Him, He already has you. Confess your sins, and feel each boulder, rock, pebble lift, and then breathe. Breathe deeper. He who has been forgiven much, loves much. Exhale confession, be forgiven much -- inhale forgiveness.

There is no shame when you are cleansed by the blood of Christ. Dirty sheep made clean -- and sheep are by nature disgusting, so that metaphor is way more amazing than we give it credit for.