Overcoming Shame and Regret

 

How do we overcome shame and regret?

I’ve been a Christian since I was four. But that didn’t stop me at different times of my life from doing some very un-Christian things. And some of those things, though in the distant past, still try to haunt me–and for a while they did haunt me.

Maybe you know what that is like. Maybe there are some things in your past that you just can’t seem to shake. Maybe you have memories that are full of  shame and regret. Maybe there’s  a voice in your head that still whispers at you, “You’re  not _____ enough.

Maybe you wonder if you could ever be free.

I’m not an expert on the subject. But there are a few steps that have helped me. And they are the first steps I share with others when they ask for help.

These steps of course aren’t magic pills.  Rather they are practices that over time will open you to the healing that God has for you.

 

1. Confess your sins

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

You’ve probably already done this. Probably a number of times. But just in case you haven’t, know that confession is the first place to start. The French medieval monk Bernard of Clairvaux  once wrote, “God removes the sin of the one who makes humble confession, and thereby the devil loses the sovereignty he had gained over the human heart.”[1]  Confession shines light on the darkness. It begins to break the chains of slavery. It pours living water onto our inner burning coals. That is why confession of sin is always the first step to freedom. Start with confession to God. Then, as James writes, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). If you don’t have someone to confess to, start with a pastor, or a trusted friend.

 

2. Stand on God’s Promises

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Confession may be the place to start (and a great step to keep repeating), but it is only a place to start. Often, even after much confession, we still struggle to believe that we are truly forgiven and no longer deserving of shame and regret. When this happens the best thing we can do is proclaim the promises Jesus has made to us. The famous 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon reminds us, “Every promise of Scripture is a writing of God, which may be pleaded before Him with this reasonable request, ‘Do as Thou hast said.’ The Heavenly Father will not break His Word to His own child.”[2] What are  some of the promises of God? Here’s a link to get you started.

 

3. Embrace Your New Identity in Christ

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Personally I find this to be the hardest step. I find that everything in this world wants me to forget that I am a new creation created in Christ Jesus. That I am now a son of the King, an adopted heir of a new kingdom. The reason for this is because, as Professor Neil Anderson states, “The major strategy of Satan is to distort the character of God and the truth of who we are. He can’t change God and he can’t do anything to change our identity and position in Christ. If, however, he can get us to believe a lie, we will live as though our identity in Christ isn’t true.”[3]  And if we believe the lie that our identity has not changed, we will continue to live with all the shame and regret of our old self. The good news is that Jesus Christ has given us a new identity (in fact, many new identities) and real freedom comes when we accept and embrace our new identity in Christ. (Who are we in Christ? Click here for a list.)

 

4. Find Support From Other Believers

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

For the longest time I thought following Jesus could be done on my own. But now I am convinced that every believer needs to be part of a community. Because the temptations, attacks, and stresses of life are just too overwhelming for us to handle on our own. We need help from others. We need support from others. C.S. Lewis put it best: “The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.”[4] We need at least a few trusted, mature believers whom we can count on for encouragement, wisdom, guidance, and accountability. Without such support we will surely fall back into our old ways and beliefs and we will never be untangled from feelings of shame and regret.

 

God did not intend for feelings of shame and regret to be a part of your life. Thankfully he made a way for us to be free from them. Like I said before, the above steps are just a place to start. But hopefully you find them helpful. If you would like more guidance or just someone to pray for you, use my contact form and send me a note. I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.

 


 

[1] Commentary on the Song of Songs

[2] Streams in the Desert: 366 Daily Devotional Readings

[3] Victory Over the Darkness: Realize the Power of Your Identity in Christ

[4] The Quotable Lewis

Why We Struggle With Perfectionists

 

When Meredith and I were first married, Meredith was hard to be around.

Meredith was good at a lot of things which I was not. She had higher standards for herself than I had for myself. There were ways in which she appeared perfect. And it appeared she liked to live out of that perfection.

But the problem was not her, or her perfections. The problem was me.

Perfectionists get a bad rap in our culture. And I’m one of the reasons why. Because to me, and especially when I w640px-Wine_grapes03as first married, perfection seemed stupid. Perfection, it seemed, was just an impossible standard to strive for. So why bother?

But what has become clear to me in the subsequent years is that perfection is not stupid. It just makes me feel stupid.  In the case of Meredith, seeing her perfections just made me more aware of my own imperfections.

Now of course in reality Meredith has her faults just as I have mine. But if you’re a Christian then you’re in a relationship with someone who really doesn’t have any imperfections. You’re in a relationship with someone who actually is perfect.

Jesus, we are told, was/is without sin[1]. His earthly life, recorded in the four Gospels, shows this. He has no faults. He does everything right. And he holds himself and others to the highest of standards[2]. Jesus is, in every way, a perfectionist[3].

Yet we are called to abide in him[4]. That is, we are told to be close to him, to rest in him, to dwell with him, to enjoy him.

And if we’re honest, we’d have to admit that abiding with Jesus can sometimes be really tough. Sometimes we just don’t want to. And I wonder if the reason we don’t want to is because sometimes we just don’t want to be around someone who is perfect. Because the longer we’re with him, and the closer we get to him, the more we’re aware of  the depths and fullness of our depravity. And we don’t like it.

Of course, the awareness of our sin isn’t the result of Jesus pointing his finger at us. It is simply the result of being in the presence of perfection. Being with Jesus is like looking into a perfect mirror and seeing the full truth of our reflection. It’s hard to look at.

No one can be around Jesus for long and not see their wretchedness. All who follow Jesus come to a point where they, like Peter, tell Jesus to “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”[5] Those of us who struggle with the reality of ourselves are always tempted to run or push others away.

But Jesus would prefer another option. His desire for us is that in our wretchedness we lean in. He wants us to abide in him more.

He can desire such intimacy because he has already seen us as we are. Our weakness, our sin, our insecurities, our frailties, our dirt, our past, our thoughts, our selfishness, our lack of perfection from top to bottom is nothing new to him. He saw it all and still called us to “Come, follow me.”[6]

But of course Jesus, because he is Jesus, didn’t call us to stay as we were. He called us to repent[7], turn from our sin[8], and follow him so that he could wash us[9], renew us[10], and ultimately transform us[11]. He called us in order that he might make us perfect like him[12].

When we understand this, we’re no longer tempted to run from the Perfect One. But instead we will, like Charles Spurgeon, believe that Communion with Christ is a certain cure for every ill.”[13]

No one likes to see themselves for who they really are. To face the reality of our dirt and grime will always be uncomfortable. But such a revelation should not trigger us to run away. Rather, such a revelation should always be seen as an invitation for us to come and be made clean.

 

Oh that we would abide in you, Jesus, more and more every day. That we might see ourselves more clearly in your reflection. And may we, as dirty vessels, allow you to continue to wash us with your blood that we might become more and more like you, our Perfect Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

__________________________________________

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] Matthew 5-7

[3] Matthew 19:21

[4] John 15:4-9

[5] Luke 5:8

[6] Mark 1:17

[7] Matthew 4:17

[8] John 8:11

[9] John 13:5; 1 Corinthians 16:11

[10] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[11] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[12] Romans 8:29

[13]  Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening…

Charles Spurgeon on David’s thirst for God

“It is a precious thought that the divine power and glory are not confined in their manifestation to any place or localities; they are to be heard above the roaring of the sea, seen amid the glare of the tempest, felt in the forest and the prairie, and enjoyed whenever there is a heart that longs and thirsts to behold them. Our misery is that we thirst so little for these sublime things, and so much for the mocking trifles of time and sense. We are in very truth always in a wary land, for this is not our rest; and it is marvelous that believers do not more continuously thirst after their portion far beyond the river where they shall see the face of God, and his name shall be in their foreheads. David did not thirst for water or any earthly things, but only for spiritual manifestations. The sight of God was enough for him, but nothing short of that would content him. How great a friend is he, the very sight of whom is consolation. Oh my soul, imitate the psalmist, and let all thy desires ascend toward the highest good; longing here to see and having no higher joy even for eternity.”[1]


[1] Charles H. Spurgeon. The Treasury of David pp134-135, commenting on Psalm 63:1-2