How to Move Beyond Guilt and Shame
NOVEMBER 7, 2023
I ran over my five-year-old. My precocious blonde spark plug jumped out of the van side door as I was parking in our circular driveway and I ran right over her. As a parent, I think that running over a child is at the top of the Most Horrible Parenting Scenarios list, year after year.
I’ve been in groups of young moms since then who make declarations like, “I forgot her socks when we went to church yesterday. Worst Mother of the Year Award right there!”, to which I coolly reply, “I ran over my child with our 12-passenger van.” That statement tends to shut down conversations of guilt and shame, like a mic drop at the end of a White House Correspondents’ Dinner. It’s not my intention to belittle another mom, but running over a child in the driveway does tend to put lesser parenting infractions into perspective. Pretty much anything I do from here on out cannot be worse.
As parents, we often feel pangs of guilt over forgotten lunches or ponytails pulled too tightly; these unintentional slips are the domain of parenthood, like Cheerios smashed into the car floor or 2 AM feedings. But what about when our choices on behalf of our children have larger-than-life lasting consequences, and we just can’t shake the guilt and shame that accompany them?
We have to tell ourselves the truth.
What’s the truth? We are hidden in Christ.
But what does that mean?
Being “hidden in Christ” means that when God looks at us, He sees Jesus. Think about the gravity of that statement for a moment. Hidden in Christ. Colossians 3:3 tells us, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
When I think about being hidden in Christ, I picture myself actually enfolded into the crook of his arm, face buried into his tender flesh, his righteous physical head and glory looking straight into the eyes of God, and my weakness, shame, guilt, and humanity hidden by his strength, dignity, purity, and deity. He is the opposite of me, and when God looks at me, He sees Jesus. He sees everything I am not.
I find this incredible. Actually, truly, unbelievably astonishing. Why would God allow me to be hidden in the One whose perfection cannot be matched by even the angels? Why would the One who cannot not be holy allow me to be covered, excused, forgiven, and replaced by the God of the universe?
Here’s where we tell ourselves another truth: God loves us.
As a girl raised in a Christian home, that three-letter phrase was not unknown to me while growing up Christian. I saw it proclaimed on bumper stickers in the ’70’s (“God loves you!”), on macramé key chains, and scrawled on Sunday school blackboards. It just seemed trite, honestly.
“God loves me, yes, I get that. Now tell me how to live and behave.” It’s the theme of most of my Christian life, and until I began to see what it meant to not only know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God loves me and how that affects every dark corner and shadowy space, I could not see that “God loves me” was more than a slogan for an outdated Jesus Movement.
You see, when we sit with the idea that God. Loves. Me. –all caps, punctuated full stop—we begin to awaken to the idea that this perfect, infallible, all-knowing, immutable, holy, breath-taking God has reached down to touch us with His love and that despite our failures, weaknesses, poor decisions, shame, and guilt, He loves us. Perfectly. Because that’s who He is.
What does it begin to look like, then, if we remind ourselves that we are hidden in Him and that He does, in fact, love us?
Everything changes. Everything.
We can be secure in that love and suddenly we don’t have to beat ourselves up for the mistakes we’ve made. We don’t have to sit with our failures and allow them to turn us into a marinated mush of humiliation and despair. Knowing God loves us gives us the freedom to move beyond remorse, self-contempt, degradation, and shame.
A black and white letter board sits atop the sideboard in our kitchen now. It reads, “There is more grace in Christ than sin in you” (Burk Parsons). I want my children growing up with that truth, side by side with the fact that God loves them, too. In our guilt and shame, mistakes, failures, and remorse, we must always tell ourselves the truth: Nothing we do or say can out-power the grace of Christ. When we begin to acknowledge that God sees Jesus when He looks at us, that He loves us, we begin to live a life transformed by the power of everything Christ did for us that day when He died on the cross.
Christ is the ultimate panacea for all our guilt and shame.
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