Freedom Stories are back, sweet sisters! After a summer of refreshing and refining on the focus of this space, I wanted to be intentional about sharing stories that align with our monthly themes. This month, as we’ve been learning about shame I knew we needed a testimony of someone set free from shame and self-condemnation. Immediately, Rebekah came to mind. This godly woman is a writer, podcaster, and all around encouraging person of faith. She frequently encourages me through her own story, which she shares some of here. I pray her words and God’s grace alive in her would encourage YOU today, friend!
This is Rebekah’s Freedom Story.
I grew up in the church, the granddaughter of the sound guy of the church we were attending, and even had my birth announced from the baptistry the Sunday I was born. I was saved at the age of 8 and actively involved in children’s choir, youth choir, church musicals at Christmas time, Bible drill, and mission trips.
But I didn’t truly know the gospel. Not like I do today.
When I was 14, my family and I became involved in a Christian ministry that, looking back, was extremely legalistic. I, as a bibliophile and someone who thirsted for theological knowledge, was ripe for the picking and quickly fell headlong into their very legalistic teachings on God’s supposed expectations for His daughters. I was also ripe for the picking in terms of the shame that is regularly heaped onto the shoulders of legalistic people everywhere.
In the two years leading up to this new season of my life, I had attended youth summer camp with our church’s youth group and experienced those proverbial mountain-top experiences. I returned from youth camp determined to be in my Bible every single day. But what happened both years was that I was good about that for maybe a week. Then I would miss one day of Bible reading, that one day would turn into two, and before I knew it I was right back where I started – only reading the Bible on Sundays at church.
I experienced so much shame as a result of this. Over and over, I would determine to do better, only to “slip up” yet again. I got to the point where I thought it was hopeless – I just could not stick to my commitment of having a daily quiet time, no matter what I did.
It was this shame that my legalistic season followed on the heels of. To add to that shame and self-condemnation were the lies of legalism which will tell you that unless you are dotting all your i’s and crossing all your t’s, then God will be displeased with you. I used to have this subconscious view of God as Him being up in heaven with His proverbial arms crossed, a scowl on His face, as He looked down on me in displeasure any time I fell. In all my efforts to be perfect, I was, in essence, actually drifting further and further away from God’s true heart as my wrong view of God led to my not wanting to be near Him.
The thing about legalism is that, with it, comes a terribly judgmental heart. You adhere to legalistic teachings and then begin to look down on yourself and everyone else who does not live up to them.
The result was that, in my feelings of shame and self-condemnation, I began to view others through that same lens, and put feelings of guilt and shame over onto them as well. It got so bad that I began to think that I could not even interact with, let alone befriend, people who were different than me. I didn’t have any friends who weren’t Christian, let alone friends who were of a differing political viewpoint or lifestyle than myself. What I did not understand is that God’s love is unconditional, and that that meant that my love for others could be, as well – regardless of what viewpoint they held to.
Loving someone does not at all mean you agree with or approve of every single last decision they make or thing they do. But, in all my feelings of shame, I just could not grasp that.
In my head I knew the “Romans road” gospel. I could have shared that presentation in my sleep, but I was not living and walking in light of its truths and implications. I was viewing the gospel as something that was merely good for my eternity, not so much for my here-and-now life.
But that, friends, is the reality of the gospel: it does have amazing implications for our eternal destination, but it is meant to make a difference in our everyday lives, too! It is meant to free us from shame, guilt, condemnation, and wrath. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, yes, but He never condemns us. We are sinners, yes, but Christ took our guilt upon Himself on the cross, and we have no business still carrying it around as a burden strapped to our backs.
I understand this now, but I didn’t then. The Lord had to take me on a journey to, bit by bit, and little by little, come to a full-orbed understanding of the implications of the gospel. And what He used to do that was Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:14-8:1.
I had been familiar with Romans 8:1 (Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus,) for some time. But I had never paid any attention before to the context of this verse, which led me to have the mistaken idea that perhaps the lack of condemnation was dependent upon me doing everything I was supposed to and nothing that I wasn’t. As soon as I backed up and first paid attention to Romans 7, however, this mistaken idea was totally shattered!
At the end of Romans 7, Paul is lamenting his ongoing struggle with sin. He is sharing with the believers in Rome that he knows what he should be doing, and he knows what he should not be doing. And yet, it is those very things he shouldn’t be doing which he is doing. And those things he should be doing? Yeah, he isn’t exactly doing those. And yet! There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.
Praise God, amen? This realization freed me up in more ways than I can even begin to count. I no longer walked in shame and condemnation, because I knew that any shame and condemnation I was feeling were coming from the enemy and were a slap to Christ’s face. I began to grow in my intimacy with God, because I no longer felt like cowering in a corner so that a vengeful God wouldn’t find me and scowl down at me. Instead, I was dancing in His grace, resting in His love, and relishing His mercy. I was at peace, knowing I was forevermore at peace with God.
Do I still sin? Of course I do! Does the Lord still discipline me for that? Yes, as any loving Father would! But I no longer despair when that happens. I no longer mourn in the same way, thinking I have disappointed God. Because you know what? It is absolutely impossible to disappoint Him! We sadden Him when we sin, yes, because He wants what is best for us and sin just doesn’t make the cut. But He isn’t disappointed. In order to be disappointed, He would have to have high expectations of us that we could disappoint. But He doesn’t! Psalm 103:14 says, “For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.”
The freeing truth is that God is not shocked or disappointed when we sin. He knows full well the sin nature with which we all still struggle on a daily basis. And when it happens again, and we do something we know we shouldn’t (or don’t do something we know we should!), He is still there to love us, pick us back up, and help us walk the right path again.
Friend, I don’t know what part shame may have been playing in your story. But I have a feeling it is there somewhere. And to you, I would share Paul’s beautiful words in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Embrace your freedom, friend! Christ died so that you could have it. Lay down the shame, guilt, and condemnation, and pick up Christ’s freedom, love, and grace instead. Be free, sister, as Christ already made you to be!
Rebekah Hargraves is a wife, mama of two littles, blogger, podcaster, and author whose passion is to edify, equip, and encourage women in their journey of Biblical womanhood, particularly with an emphasis on the gospel and its implications for everyday life. Rebekah‘s first book, “Lies Moms Believe (And How the Gospel Refutes Them)” released the fall of 2017, and the “Lies Moms Believe” Companion Bible Study came out March 30, 2018. You can find Rebekah on her website, Hargraves Home and Hearth, on Instagram, or on iTunes via The Home and Hearth podcast.
P.S. Want to read more Freedom Stories? Check out 35+ stories of other inspiring women like Rebekah here.
All this time, I’ve been trying to pluck the dead leaves and prune back the branches of shame. But there comes a time where we need to dig deeper. I have to uncover how the tree might have gotten there to begin with, before these symptoms of shame infiltrated my thinking.⠀
Recently I started thinking about the root system of my shame. I don’t think any one of these factors is the direct catalyst for my struggle with shame. Rather, there are some deep roots that started young, and newer roots coiled in through later interactions and unhealthy patterns of thinking about myself. ⠀
Between the old gnarled roots and the aggressive new ones, this root system became a tangled mess below the surface. I can pull the dead leaves off all I want, but I need help from a tender and gentle Gardener to scoop away the dirt and excavate the deeply woven labyrinth of roots:⠀
•legalism (emphasis of law/rule-following over grace)⠀
•lack of understanding of God’s love for me⠀
•projections of blame/shame from others⠀
•sharing hard parts of my story and receiving judgment⠀
•isolation and running my past failures on a repeated loop in my mind⠀
•fear that my past will define my future⠀
•fear of being unloved by others if I share all of myself⠀
•absorbing the full responsibility from situations where I had only partial or no responsibility (“it’s all my fault”)⠀
•inability to forgive myself⠀
•difficulty accepting God’s forgiveness and the work of Jesus on the cross⠀
Once He pulls back those roots and helps me lift them from the ground, we can make space for soft soil and new seeds. We can plant authentic connection, forgiveness, and new thought patterns in line with Truth. ⠀
Together, we can plant seeds of true freedom from my shame. I’m praying for this freedom for you too, sweet friend, so that we may live like this:
“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.” -Psalm 1:3
Earlier this month I announced I would write on the topic of shame. Little did I know that we would be walking through this together. I uncovered a new layer of trauma in counseling and I can’t stop going over the tendrils of shame that still try to sink their way into my thought life, my relationships, and my daily outlook.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to write a Biblical, grounded way to define shame but I can’t quite craft a succinct definition that captures it. Instead let me tell you what it feels like (maybe you can relate).
It’s heavy. Pervasive. Dark.
It feels like an erupting volcano that spills its hot breath and messy lava over everything in its path.
It feels like piles and piles of laundry I can’t quite stay on top of, so I succumb to the pile and just lay there in the mess.
It feels like a knotted ball of string in the core of my gut, growing and getting more tangled as I try to ignore it.
It feels like treading water in the middle of deep ocean waters, with tired arms and legs and no land in sight.
It’s chaotic. Suffocating. Toxic.
While I’ve been wrestling through this place, I’ve thought of you many times, friend. I’ve thought of you wading through the lava mess, trying to untangle yourself, on the other side of this very same ocean. I want to call out to you and say, “we’re in this together.”
Shame doesn’t want us to link arms. It isolates us and keeps us in fear, secrecy, blame, and judgment.
But here’s what Brene Brown says about shame:
“If we’re going to find our way back to each other, we have to understand and know empathy, because empathy’s the antidote to shame…The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too. If we’re going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is going to be that path.”
Ann Voskamp’s words echo Brene’s:
“Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.”
So that’s what I’m doing this week. I’m telling my stories in safe places. I sit in my counselor’s office and tell her these new revelations to my past. She says, “Now it’s not a secret anymore.” We’re unknotting the ball and laying it down string by string.
I cry to my husband about my overwhelm, and then we dig into the laundry pile together (this is actually literal- I can’t stay on top of the dirty laundry ha).
I call my best friend and leave her a long voicemail filling her in, as I step out of isolation and the lava cools at my feet. She responds and says that she hears me and she loves me.
Friend, I may not have a perfect path forward for you to get rid of your shame. I’m just figuring it out myself right now, too. But what I can do is shout to you from my side of the ocean.
You’re not alone. We’re in this together.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:12
When we wrestle with shame, we feel like our brokenness is the whole story. Shame says, “Your past defines you. You are too broken to be loved. You will never be whole or healed.” Shame tries to keep us trapped in the dark.
Years ago, after I experienced the most painful parts of my story, I felt like the main character in The Scarlet Letter. I was stuck in that darkness, and thought everyone around me could see my sin, shame, and trauma on display. It made me want to hide from others, and I didn’t feel welcome in God’s presence or with other Christians who seemed to have it all together. I thought I was destined to wear a “V” for victim, a “D” for divorce, and an “A” for anxiety for the rest of my life.
But friend, shame does not tell the whole story.
Your wounds and scars and baggage do not define you. The present struggle you are wrestling does not define you. The biggest brokenness you feel when you think of yourself? THAT does not define you.
As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us. He binds up the brokenhearted. He restores the years the locusts have eaten. He brings beauty from ash and brokenness. He proclaims freedom. He sets the captives free.
There is nothing too dark or too heavy or too broken for Him that He cannot redeem. The Bible is full of real people God re-defined instead of letting their brokenness tell the whole story.
We get to be like Jacob with his sinful past who was newly named “Israel” and blessed by God as the father of a nation. God re-defined Jacob and used him as the foundation of a favored people.
We are able to stand firm like Joseph, who said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). God sustained Joseph and rescued others through him.
We can comfort those who mourn and stand by their side, like Ruth did for Naomi. God restored Ruth’s broken heart and brought her a sweet redeemer in the form of Boaz, and even used her in the lineage of Jesus, a true Redeemer for the rest of us.
We can cry out to God in our shame, our pain, our brokenness like David throughout the Psalms. God forgave David in his repentance, and still used David’s story and his heart to show others how to walk through the light days and the dark.
We can be like Paul, who stepped into humility after he met the Lord and brought truth to others. God transformed Paul’s heart and gave him a powerful testimony that allowed him to speak to others from a place of true awareness of his need for a redeemer.
What if instead of hiding from God in our brokenness, we instead prayed that He would meet us there and transform the way we see the hard parts of our story? What if we prayed for Him to use our brokenness, however He can, to bring hope to others and bring glory to HIS greatness? What if instead of covering up those parts of our story, we shared with others to let them know that they’re not alone? In your honesty and vulnerability with yourself, God, and others, I pray that you might be released from shame, darkness, and feeling like you will never be free from those heavy burdens. Because, dear heart, when you set those things into the light, the darkness cannot have as much power here.
Let’s not give shame the final say.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” -Romans 8:1 ⠀
When I wrestle with the weight of shame, my past says to hide. It says “you are not welcome here.” It chokes and stifles. It makes me feel like I’m covered in grime and stains that cannot be scrubbed clean. Shame says my baggage will prevent me from moving forward or getting through the door. It says, “this is who you are; this is the whole story.”⠀
I want to refute that, in the name of Jesus. ⠀
Because we are in Christ, shame is no longer part of the equation. ⠀
Where shame stifles and chokes, God’s Truth breathes life into us. Where shame whispers lonely, God says loved. Where shame hides our secrets in the darkness, God tells us to talk them over in the light. And freedom is found there.⠀
Will you join me in throwing off that cloak of shame? He already washed us clean, so we can stop rolling around in old dirt. He calls us to new life- the shame of the past died with our old selves. He calls us redeemed, so we can re-claim our stories in Him.⠀
Friend, I am praying that we would know that freedom, all the way down to our toes and in the marrow of our bones. If you’re anything like me, and you’re still dragging around the baggage and chains of the past can this be the month where we drop them at the door, once and for all? ⠀
As much as shame wants us to think we’re too broken, this is not the whole story. But we have to let go of the shame first. Because if anything, the SHAME is holding us back. ⠀
Your story is welcome here, and I can’t wait to see how the rest of it unfolds. Together, let’s step through the door into freedom, friend.
Since January, I’ve been learning how to play piano. It’s slow going, but it brings me a lot of joy to be able to play and sing worship music (even in the comfort of my own home). Sometimes I play in front of others, but mostly it’s just me and Jesus in my dining room.
On Monday nights I’m the worship leader for a group at church, which usually means coordinating the song selection, facilitating practice, and leading vocally on some of the songs. Occasionally, as needed, I also jump in and play keyboard. It’s clunky and a little awkward and I often apologize for my piano skills over the mic because I am a perfectionist and want others to know that I’m aware that it’s not good. How silly.
The point of worship is to glorify the Lord, not ourselves. I have come to believe that the gift of worship leading is to help usher others into the presence of the Lord, and to help a community of believers come together to offer God our praise. But sometimes, I still make it about me. If I’m in my head too much, I end up thinking about the quality of our playing and singing instead of the quality of my heart. And that is pride at its worst.
This Monday night, I lost sight of the greater purpose of worship. During our team’s practice time, I self-consciously stumbled my way through the music. I just could not get my fingers to work right and I kept losing my place in the music. When my team tried to offer suggestions I kind of snapped, and had to step away in an almost-panic attack. I closed the door of the bathroom behind me and leaned against the door with tears stinging in my eyes. I prayed for forgiveness for my heart, for my lack of humility, for my desire for control. I came out and apologized sincerely to our team. They met me with the sweetest grace and encouragement. During worship time later that night, my playing was not perfect, but my heart was better. And I know the Lord was still there and He was lifted up. Not me. As it should be.
I came home from group that night and beat myself up. About my perfectionism, my pride, my control issues. I wallowed in the fact that I sinned against God and my teammates.
I sat for a while that evening so aware of my own sinful nature. I wandered down a shame spiral- starting to list the other areas of my life where I have messed up. I started drudging up things from last month, last year, 10 years ago. And this was over a fairly small grievance. The shame spirals are wider, deeper, and last much longer over sins that I perceive to be even more severe.
Do you ever do this?
Learning to Let Go
God extends forgiveness and grace to cover our sins AS SOON as we reach out and ask Him for it.
My friends extended grace and compassion to me. They forgave me and let me know that it was okay.
I have to remind myself that when I go down those rabbit trails of looking at my own sin and failures, I am not walking in the freedom that God has given me. I have a hard time forgiving myself and letting go of what has already been covered.
There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is godly sorrow over our wrongdoings, which is meant to lead us to repentance. When we experience guilt, it is conviction from the Holy Spirit. Guilt draws us to our knees to ask God to make our hearts right with Him and with others. Guilt says, “That specific action, thought, or word was not okay. Let’s go make it right with God and the people that may have been hurt by that.” Guilt recognizes our responsibility in wrong-doings and brings empathy along with it. And when we offer our sin up to the Lord, He makes us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Our sin is removed as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).
But shame? That is not from the Lord. Shame has a painful grip, and says to me “YOU are a mess. YOU are too broken for forgiveness. YOU are a bad person.” It takes my eyes off of others and brings them fully onto me. Shame separates me from the Lord and others, and often makes me isolate. I feel disgraced and find myself wanting to hide. While guilt spurs us to action, shame is chaotic and paralyzing.
Last night I was reading 2 Corinthians 3, and came across this verse:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” (2 Corinthians 3:17)
When I am sucked into a shame spiral, I push out the Spirit of the Lord. Because shame holds us captive.
When I encounter shame, I need to remind myself to invite the Spirit of the Lord in to remind me of His forgiveness. Of His grace for me. Of His ability to let go of my past.
And if He, the creator of the universe and a perfect Father can let go of my past, I can too.
I am learning to let go. To step out of the spiral and invite His Spirit of freedom to enter in. To remember that I can learn from these times when I stumble. To say “it is finished” and move forward with confidence that He is continually making me more like Him. To speak kindly to myself, with the words that He gives me as reminders of His grace.
If you struggle with letting go of your past or shame too, I want to share some verses and a prayer to encourage you today.
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” (1 John 1:9)
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” (Psalm 103:8-12)
“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame,” (Isaiah 50:7)
“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed,” (Psalm 34:5)
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” (John 1:12-14, 16)
You are not a god that is far away, looking down on me with a wagging finger of disappointment. You are a loving, perfect parent. You see me as Your sweet and precious child. You welcome me into Your arms. Thank You for the GIFT of redemption and forgiveness that we can receive through Your love and through Christ’s sacrifice for us. Lord, I pray for Your Spirit of freedom to be close to me. Help me to remember Your Truth about Your mercy and love. I pray for strength and courage to let go of my past. Help me to see that it is not helpful for me to drag around self-condemnation. I pray for Your guidance to learn to walk with confidence in the knowledge that I am wholly forgiven and redeemed. Thank You for loving me for exactly who I am. I pray that I could bring YOU glory in the way that I walk that out. I love You Lord.