Psalm 32:1–5 (ESV)
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
Once upon a time, just a few years ago, I weighed about 315 lbs. I didn’t always weigh that much, but age and bad habits had caught up with me. I’ve always been above average in size. I played football in high school, really enjoyed it, and showed some promise to play at the college level. The problem was that I played on the offensive line, and only weighed about 230 lbs. My freshman year of college, I was told by my coach to gain 40 lbs or I’d never play. So, a dedicated regimen of boiled eggs, baked potatoes, peanut butter milkshakes, and working out 4 days a week had me bulked up to 270 lbs by the end of that first year. I could eat whatever I wanted, and it really didn’t matter. I was working out a lot, was getting pretty strong, and was still in decent shape. The problem showed up when my playing days were over. I kept eating, but stopped working out. Before long 270 turned into 285, and 285 became 300, and 300 became 315.
I never learned how to control my eating and happen to be cursed with a metabolism of molasses. But then something else set in. I looked in the mirror one day, and I didn’t like what I saw. My knees were starting to bother me, and I didn’t feel good. I became ashamed that I had allowed this to happen to me. So, I kept eating. I mean, what was the point? I was already over 300 lbs, what’s another slice of pizza? Or two? Or six? In for penny, in for a pound as they say. Pass the cheeseburgers.
Shame told me that I was hopeless. There was no reason to try because the hole I was in was so deep that there was no way to get out anyway. Pass the cheeseburgers.
Shame is a powerful weapon. It drives us away from God instead of toward him. Shame drives us toward greater sin, and is the tool by which we become more enslaved. But God does not want us living in shame. Shame is the lie that keeps us from God, like Adam and Eve in the Garden. He calls to us, but we hide. God’s grace provides a way out.
Of course, we don’t want to make the mistake that God cares nothing for our sin. He certainly does, and forgiveness is insufficient if it isn’t accompanied by justice. But instead of shame, God does want us to feel conviction over sin. Whereas shame turns us from God, and traps us in our sin, conviction reminds us of our sin, and turns us to God.
Conviction is what finally allowed me to be honest with myself in 2009. My achilles tendon rupture in 2006 was the first warning, but it took two years before the injury recovered enough to really exercise. I knew from then on I was going to face one health problem after another if I didn’t stop living in shame and start taking my health seriously. Over the course of the next 8 months I dropped 82 lbs and was feeling very good at an in-shape 222 lbs with a nicely low body fat percentage. My wife thought I was THE MAN, which means I WAS THE MAN. I hadn’t weighed that little since I was in the 10th grade!
During my weight loss odyssey I felt better. I slept better. I prayed better too. The weight I was carrying around the middle and in my soul was lifted somewhat. It is hard to explain, and I don’t want to read too much into it, but I’ve come to think that the relationship between the body and the spirit is much more complex and interconnected than we normally acknowledge. I believe it was Francis Schaeffer that once said that a man’s spiritual life would be greatly improved if he only got a good night’s rest. If he said that, I think he was right.
Holy Spirit directed conviction has a way of turning us toward the grace and mercy of God, but shame cripples us and turns us inward, hiding from God and hiding from the reality of our sin.
A funny thing happened to me last November. Thanksgiving came around and I started eating, and I didn’t stop until February. I had stopped working out too. Twenty-five or 30 of those lost pounds are back. The shame came back too. That feeling that I am only this, and there is no hope I will ever be any different than this. Of course, this is a lie told to keep me trapped in a bondage of my own creation. These are chains of my own shame.
I don’t know what it is that causes you shame. I doubt we are that much different, and I know your shame is lying to you too. Whatever it is that you carry is a burden that Jesus through grace and mercy wants to lift from you, but why would we rather hide than expose our brokenness to God? The answer to that question is different for each of us, but that hiding is poison to the soul, and I for one am ready to be free to find reconciliation and forgiveness with God and with man. How about you?