I. Messed. Up. I mean, I have definitely messed up before, but this most recent time felt significant. Maybe not because it was my worst offense, but because I fell significantly short of the standard I had set for myself in light of calling myself a Christian. I thought about my lapse in judgment for several days afterward and found it difficult to focus on much else. Whenever I tried, my mind would eventually find its way back to that ugly moment and I’d be stuck there for a while, feeling terrible about myself. I was right where the enemy wanted me—I was ashamed.
Shame is a familiar feeling for me, maybe it is for you too. I’ve said and done things in the past I am not proud of. Those things, though behind me, take center stage in my brain any time I mess up. Even as I write, more and more memories of personal failure have come to mind. Each ghost from my past presents more compelling evidence that I am truly a terrible human. I know I’m not really a terrible human, but when I’m in shame, I’ll believe nearly any negative thought that flits through my mind.
In my physical body, shame manifests in several different ways. It often shows up as a pit in my stomach, a weight in my chest, and frequent trips to the bathroom. Sometimes, when I feel ashamed, my mind gets stuck and a loop and I replay the moment over and over in my mind like a GIF, marveling in disgust over how truly gross a person I can actually be. Have you noticed the overarching theme of self-loathing? It’s pretty pitiful. Perhaps you can relate, but I truly hope you can’t.
Naturally, I spent a lot of time in the bathroom that weekend mulling things over on my porcelain throne. TMI, sorry. During those short, but frequent trips, I thought about a lot of things, but mostly about how lame I felt and how poorly I had behaved. In between my porta potty pity parties, I also asked myself questions, like what on earth was I thinking and at what point in our interaction did I decide that would be a good idea to act on. You see I didn’t just sin solo—I sinned with my friend.
Almost immediately after we did the deed, we were gently and directly called out. It didn’t take two seconds for us to recognize our error. My friend bore the brunt of the rebuke, which made me feel like the prince in Fleischman’s story The Whipping Boy, standing by while my friend took my lashes as well as her own. Without going into any details, because they are completely irrelevant, the situation was handled graciously, which was maybe more than we deserved. We confessed our sin to each other, we repented together, and she forgave me. I still felt miserable.
A few days later, I was lamenting my drama to another friend over an almond milk latte on the impromptu outdoor patio with a tarp so loosely secured, it came within inches of my body whenever a gust of wind made its way between the tables. There was just enough noise from the road and the tarp to muffle our conversation, which was a gift because I was mortified to be confessing my sin and shame to her. It was also cool enough outside that my delightful latte transformed into a lukewarm frothy mug of separated blah. By the grace of God, our surroundings did not deter me from stepping into the uncomfortable space of vulnerability. In that space, I shared my heart and she listened.
As I shared the details of my situation with her, she chuckled, not because she found my plight amusing, but because something I said betrayed a false story I believed in my mind. Somehow, probably because I’m still more terribly self-absorbed than I care to admit, I believed this incident was perhaps the first time two friends, two Christian friends, had ever gotten into trouble together. HA! A likely story.
It turns out we were not the first, nor would we be the last pair of Jesus followers who missed the mark. I guess that means we wouldn’t be making history as the first dynamic duo of bulls in a digital china shop—as if that would be some sort of significant personal achievement. As we laughed together at the absurdity of that story and sipped the dregs of our disappointing coffee, we remembered and settled upon an important truth.
Here’s the truth—under the love and grace of the Father, as demonstrated in the person of Jesus, I am not a horrible terrible human and neither is my friend. We simply erred together. I may have said or done things in the past I am ashamed to admit, but those things do not define who I am today, nor do they define my friend. We are all in process, making steady progress by the grace of God, with some bumps along the way.
She also offered me this gold nugget of wisdom: we can choose to bond over our shared sin and allow it to erode the foundation of our friendship, or we can decide to link arms in our shared repentance and restoration to each other and to the Father, who loves us both—even when we’ve been jerks. This was a completely new thought for me and in hindsight, I could see this in action in both destructive and productive ways.
After we said our goodbyes and I got into my car, I shared that gold nugget in a voice text with my sweet friend. I genuinely hope this ends up being a turning point in our relationship for the better. It’s easy to dwell on what we did rather than intentionally recall what Jesus has done. The harder and better work is for us to allow Jesus’s work in his life, death, and resurrection to be sufficient, even in this difficult moment. This is how we speak the truth to each other in love—we remind ourselves of the truth found only in the gospel.
By this point, it’s likely you’re wondering what on earth we did. I’m not going to tell you. Rest assured, it was not our most sanctified moment. The specifics don’t truly matter anyway. What really matters is this: no matter what you’ve done in your past, there is truly nothing that will shock the God of the universe. God has seen it all, heard it all, and borne it all on the cross for your sake and mine. The door of restoration and reconciliation will never be closed in your face, no matter what skeletons are hiding in your closet. All we have to do is knock, and the door will be opened to us.
It might shock you to discover that under the right-wrong circumstances, as I have described in incredibly vague and not-so-revealing detail here, I can be a real jerk. If you are surprised, consider why I describe myself as a “recovering snarkaholic.” It’s not merely some clever turn of phrase I decided to embrace. It’s the way I used to be, the way I still am, and the way I earnestly endeavor not to be all at once. It’s the endless journey of every Jesus follower ever—the journey of becoming.
Has there ever been a time when you allowed a shared sin to erode away a significant relationship? Is Jesus inviting you to knock on his door of reconciliation and restoration? I’d be honored to hear your story—you don’t have to share the details. They don’t matter anyway.