FOR THE DAY YOU FEEL OVERWHELMED BY UNDESERVED GUILT AND SHAME
“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
- Galatians 5: 1
Dear Brother, Dear Sister, Dear Friend,
Jesus said, “‘…I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy; I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly’” (John 10: 9-10). Jesus made it clear that he came so that we might live in joy, be filled with his Spirit, and love one another in true freedom. Why do we allow guilt and shame to steal, slaughter, and destroy our peace?
Guilt can be healthy when it arises from something we have done that hurts God, others, or ourselves. In fact, guilt can be a productive force that moves us to repent, open ourselves to God’s grace, and surrender our lives more deeply to God. This is the purpose of guilt. It is good to listen to one’s conscience and rectify any instance when one has done something wrong or failed to do something good.
Yet oftentimes we hold onto guilt after God has forgiven us. We refuse to forgive ourselves. Even worse, sometimes we feel guilty or ashamed for things that are not bad at all.
As gay Christians, we are in great danger of developing a deep sense of internal shame. Many of us have been exposed to hurtful ideas that say being gay is a disorder. We are sometimes taught that it is sinful to desire affectionate and sexual union with another person of the same gender under any circumstances. These ideas can wreak havoc in our souls. Even if we reject them in our conscious minds, their shadows sometimes linger under the surface and impact our lives in unexpected ways. For example, have you ever been plagued by feelings of doubt after the first few dates with a nice guy or girl? Do you wonder how such a person could ever like you, or do you sabotage a budding relationship and pretend you do not like the other person because deep down you simply do not feel lovable? Do you find yourself being afraid to take risks, try out for that sport, audition for that play, or apply for that job or college, because you automatically think you will fail? Or do you always make sure you are the loudest, funniest person in the room because you are terrified someone might see how sad or lonely you really feel deep inside? These are all examples of how shame infiltrates our lives in subtle ways.
In addition, when we are led to believe that sex is always sinful, we might be tempted to give up altogether on sexual virtue and let our sexualities run rampant. If dedicated love with one person is deemed sinful, why not just let loose? Sometimes, after living with this mentality for a while, we wake up as if from a dream and realize our hearts are broken and we have broken countless other hearts. We have used people rather than truly loving them as fellow human beings created and cherished by God, and we have let others use us. We may confess these sins to God, but due to those lingering shadows of a deeper shame, we may not really forgive ourselves.
Guilt and shame touches so many layers of our lives. The way to overcome them is surprisingly simple: we must embrace the truth. God loves us and made us as we are in God’s image. God is love and God is good. It is true, we are human and we are broken by sin. At times, we will fall. But God will always be there to pick us up. All we need to do is let Him heal us, for we are already saved in Christ. Jesus did not suffer and die on the cross to watch us wallow in guilt, shame, and misery. As it is written in Galatians 5: 1, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”
Today, I beg you, make the courageous choice to love God, love others, and love yourself. As it is written in 1 John: 4: 18, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” Jesus died so that we can have abundant life in him. He cleanses us of our guilt and shame so that we can live and love freely in the light of his resurrection. We must trust in his goodness and his truth.
If you feel guilty, pray. Ask God for forgiveness and for the grace to forgive yourself. Ask God to move your conscience to act as He wills in your life. Ask for His guidance and when He gives it, trust Him.
And when you do things that you regret, try to put them in perspective. Are you as concerned about the millions of starving people in the world, the unjust wars, the horrible acts of violence, the thousands of children who die of preventable diseases, the evils of racism and sexism and ableism, as you are about your personal violations of chastity? Respect and love and virtues of all kinds are important, but we need to let God forgive us and we need to forgive ourselves so that we can focus our attention on the things that matter the most. Christ set us free so that we can work beside Him to build up the Kingdom of God. Please do not let your own guilt and shame hold you back from doing your part to bring justice and peace to our world. We need you.
There may never be a flashing neon sign or audible voice telling you the words you need to hear, but you will find the truth if you seek it. Pray. Read the Holy Scriptures. Talk with mentors and trusted friends. Meditate. Journal. And listen, listen, always listen for the quiet, whispering voice of the Holy Spirit in your own heart. God’s love and forgiveness will find you in a thousand places if you open your eyes to see and your ears to hear.
Life is short. Do not waste a moment dwelling in guilt and shame. Jesus suffered, died, and rose again to set you free. Embrace that freedom, and let God work within it to make you the person you are meant to be.