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

True Identity

The other night I went with our high school students to watch How to Train your Dragon 2. As I watched the movie, I was reminded just how significant the question of identity is to each of us.

In the movie, the main character Hiccup seeks to answer the question, who am I?  He wonders if he could become the new village chief, even though he is nothing like the current chief–his father. He wonders where his spirit of curiosity, peace, and exploration comes from. In Hiccup’s mind, understanding who he is will determine what he should do.

For Hiccup, even though he is told to look within himself,  the answers to his questions of identity come from outside himself. Through the encouragement and wisdom of his family, friends, and community, he discovers who he is.

The movie reminds us that we all desire to know who we are.  That who we are will drive our actions. And that the answer to who am I? is actually found outside of ourselves.

This is the way God made us.

God made us to desire an answer to the question who am I? God made us so that our actions would be dependent on our identity. And God made us to search for our identity in things and people outside of ourselves.

Why?

God made us this way because it is his desire to give us our identity. And it is his desire that our actions be dependent (or motivated) by our God-given identity.

What is our God-given identity?

For those who have been adopted into the family of God through Jesus Christ, God says to them:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:9-12:)

Notice, first God reminds his people who they are:

(1) Chosen race, (2) a royal priesthood, (3) a holy nation, (4) God’s possession, (5) God’s people, (6) receivers of mercy

Then he encourages them to act in manner that flows from that identity…

(1) Abstain from passions of the flesh, (2) keep your conduct honorable, (3) do good deeds.

Of course, the verses in 1 Peter are just a small sample of our God-given identity. In his book, Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ, Neil Anderson provides us with a fuller picture of  our identity in Christ.  Take a moment and watch this video inspired by Anderson’s book:

Click here for a print version of “Who I Am In Christ”

Because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, we no longer have to wonder who am I? We are free from this existential crisis. In Christ, we are given an identity that is bigger, stronger, and more worthwhile than anything we can find in our family, friends, or community. In Christ, we are given an identity that will last forever.

In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our acceptance by God. In Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our security of self. And in Christ, we find an identity that guarantees our significance in the world.

Only in Christ do we discover who we were truly made to be. Only in Christ do we discover our true identity.