15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,…” (Deuteronomy 30: 15-19).
I’ve been reading the Old Testament with my 8 year old, David Lawrence (DL), and I’m truly fascinated by the number of times the Israelites disobeyed God, did their own stupid thing, and paid a hefty price for their disobedience and stupidity.
Really unfortunate is that as I’m reading through the Old Testament with DL, I’m seeing a lot of similarities between the Israelites and the Stephanie of yesteryear (at least more yesteryear than current year, which, you know, shows some progress made).
In my younger days although I claimed to be a Christian, I voluntarily chose to disregard many of God’s commandments and instructions in favor of following my own path of destruction. Convinced that I alone knew what I needed and when I needed it and determined to be the master of my own life, I made decisions that ultimately led to pain and heartache that could have been lessened or even avoided. I often forgot about God until I was in dire straits or in the least kept him at a comfortable distance so I was able to continue living the less than righteous life I had chosen.
Yes, I can relate to the Israelites who wondered through the wilderness for 40 years because of their disobedience more than I’d care to admit. Even into my mid-thirties I felt certain I could control my own destiny if I could just fix everything that was wrong with me and everyone else around me. (Newsflash: I couldn’t).
Sadly, the Israelites (and I) didn’t heed the warning of death that was guaranteed to come should they (I) decide to follow a dangerous human path versus the divine path of God.
One of the many hefty prices the Israelites paid for their disobedience and stupidity was the Babylonian Captivity, also referred to as the Babylonian Exile (see Lamentations).
Since one of the definitions of exile is “a voluntary absence from one’s country or home,” I would say that I spent most of my youth (let’s say 18-35) in my own personal exile. (When you get to be over 40, anything below 40 becomes your “youthful years” says me).
Even though God clearly gave the Israelites a choice between life and death, they chose death time and time again, and so did I. My rightful and true home, my true place, should have been with God, yet I essentially chose exile by turning my back on God and making choices that distanced me from him.
The result of my voluntary exile? A wrapped package of regret and unforgiveness held together by a bow of shame, a deep rooted belief that I was unsalvageable.
Awareness can be a wonderful thing when used as a stepping stone that brings you one step closer to Jesus, but it can also become the first link in a shame chain. When I became aware of my desperate need for a close and meaningful relationship with Christ, a pretty colossal shame chain began to form. This shame chain held me captive for many years, each link a moment in time when I could have, should have, would have.
The regret for making decisions that I “knew better” than to make paired with an inability to forgive myself for making such poor decisions created an overbearing feeling that I was fundamentally flawed to my core, and I realized that although I knew my God is a God of mercy, grace, and forgiveness, I didn’t think his mercy, grace, and forgiveness was for someone as defective as me.
BUT…in a Celebrate Recovery step study I began to grasp the deadly effects of the invisible yet paralyzing shame chain I carried. Over the course of this step study I worked through Principle 6-“Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others except when to do so would harm them or others.” It was through making amends with God that I was finally able to forgive myself and accept his mercy, grace, and forgiveness that I discovered actually WAS/IS for someone like me with a past (and sometimes a present) riddled with poor choices and bad behaviors.
I wish I could say that I no longer bear a shame chain, but, well, Satan is crafty (Genesis 3:1). (More on this Friday). What I can tell you is that I don’t bear the oppressive shame chain I bore a couple of years ago.
A final note: As I prepared to write on shame, I read through The Eternal Covenant of Peace found in Isaiah 54. I’m sharing with you here the verses that I found especially comforting in the hopes that if you’re overburdened by your own shame chain, you will find comfort, and maybe even freedom, in them, too.
4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more.
5 For your Maker is your husband,
the Lord of hosts is his name;
and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
6 For the Lord has called you
like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit,
like a wife of youth when she is cast off,
says your God.
7 For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
8 In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.