Editor’s Note: The author of this blog has asked to remain anonymous.
“Guilt is feeling bad about what you’ve done. Shame is feeling bad about who you are.”
I was listening to a podcast when I heard this sentiment. I was floored. As someone who has struggled with shame for a long time, I had never thought about it that way before. Shame was something that I thought that I deserved. It was something that, for a long time, I assumed came with the territory of who I had become: a sinner, a mistake-maker, a terrible person.
Shame is a simple word, only five letters, one of those words everyone spells right on a spelling test without needing to study. In my life, however, shame has not been simple. Shame is an ice-cold hand, clutching at my heart, grabbing my face and forcing me to look at who I used to be and what I have done. It uses its cold, sharp fingers to point to each individual mistake, hissing questions and accusations into my ears that are all too eager to hear them.
“Remember when you messed up?”
“Look at the time you made that mistake.”
“You are not what everyone thinks you are.”
“You can’t fix this.”
“You ruined everything.”
“You’re not who you were before your mistakes.”
“Do you really believe that you’re forgiven?”
“You are your mistakes.”
Though harsh, shame’s words are enticing. They appeal to the doubts I hold inside of me and the image that I too often have of myself. But then I begin to think about the questions. At first, I answered the questions and accusations in a way that carried out shame’s plan to hold me in its dark clutches. I believed shame’s lies and fell for its traps.
Then I went to confession. I experienced the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is the most complete and lethal antidote for shame. There is no room for shame in Confession, only grace. Now, whenever shame creeps into my heart, I have a different answer to its prompts.
“Remember when you messed up?” Of course I remember. I always will. But that’s all it is now — something I remember. It is a memory, it is the past, and it holds no power over my future actions or me.
“Look at the time you made that mistake.” Look at the time I confessed that mistake. Checkmate, shame.
“You can’t fix this.” Not on my own, I can’t. However… “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13, look it up.
“You ruined everything.” In the hands of God, nothing is ruined. No circumstance, no mistake, no person is wasted or ruined.
“You’re not who you were before your mistakes.” No, I am not, and I never will be. However, through Confession, I am made new and pure. My mistakes and my sins led me to seek the one thing that could heal me and make me a better person than I was before.
“Do you really believe you’re forgiven?” You bet I do. Jesus suffered and died on a cross so that I could be made new. In John 20:22-23, Jesus gave His disciples the authority to forgive sins, and Confession is this authority in action. Some days, I may not feel like I am forgiven, but Jesus is love and love is infinitely more than a feeling.
“You are your mistakes.” No. I am much more than my mistakes. I am a sister, a daughter, and a friend. I am a listener, a consoler, a volunteer, a leader, and a light for those in the darkness. I am a C.S. Lewis enthusiast, a lover of every carbohydrate, an advocate for life in all its stages, and a college student. I am someone who loves and is loved. I am a passionate Catholic. I am a daughter of the one true almighty God, who sees my sins and forgives each one as I place them in His Son’s pierced hands. I am, according to His word, fearfully and wonderfully made in His image and likeness. I am good, I am beautiful, and I am beloved to the God of the universe.
I am more than any mistake I have made or will make. I am more than shame… and so are you.
For anyone who is struggling with shame, know that I am praying for you. No mistake that you have made or sin you have committed is bigger than God’s forgiveness. Let Him in, let Him forgive you, and let Him love you.
Editor’s Note: This blog is part of a series of blogs that relate to our 2014 theme Inspire[d]. If you would like to submit about a blog about an Inspire[d] story that you have, please see these guidelines.