Life. A simple word that pulses with complexity. While you contemplate, what comes to mind? A hundred women will give a hundred different answers; all borne from the book of days they have lived--fun, stressful, challenging, hard, i-wish-i-were-dead, boring, exciting, an adventure, depressing--yet I wonder: how many of us can truly say, abundant?
I believe that an abundant life is full. . . when every sense is alive with wonder, expectancy, and thankfulness for God's grace and mercy. We awake with purpose and live our day along an undercurrent of joy, even when tears are shed from frustration or sadness; when we fume over traffic or agonize over an aching child. For when we are full, we are free to feel. When we are full, knowing that we will not be rejected but are welcome just as we are, with no effort of our own...only then can we blossom.
With no effort of our own. . .
Women acquainted with spiritual abuse know intimately the depth and burden of always trying. Of always doing . . . perhaps hoping one day to suddenly measure up, and find approval somewhere within the lined faces of austerity that haunt us. There is always darkness there, for we are taught that it is the will of God to heed the voice that grieves us. Our best is never good enough, and yet we know that to give up is to die.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11
These words of Jesus illustrate His heart for those burdened and exhausted from the law. Quite a contrast to the realities of our everyday agony; stumbling along beneath the weight of the shoulds and the oughts that we bear. These onus ones shrill with loud voices, rendering us shamed and guilty; as though pointing fingers and declaring: aha! See, you are worthless! You are stupid! You can't do anything right!
Oh, dear friend! How my heart breaks for the weary; for I know the torment of these obscenities! Let us look at some of the things that torture us so. . .
- I should read the Bible more
- I should have dinner ready by now
- I should exercise today
- I should pray harder
- I should wear dresses
- I ought to speak more kindly
- I ought to turn the other cheek
- I ought to be happy
We could, each of us, list dozens of items that remind us where we lack. If we were truly good women, wouldn't these be easy? Please understand that I am not saying these things in and of themselves are wrong to do; many of them are quite Biblical, in fact. However, many women who have been raised in an authoritarian environment consistently feel unacceptable and bear the shame of disapproval. We are subtly taught that we must perform or properly behave in order to receive love, affection, or attention; but even after our hardest efforts, we are left dry. It becomes confusing; while these seem like the daily disciplines of a godly woman, why are we left so empty and drained? Why do we not feel rested at the feet of Christ? We sink deeper into shame, feeling that this proves how weak, ungodly, and worthless we are.
Shame vs. guilt
It is very important to understand the difference between guilt and shame. Healthy guilt produces repentance, restoration, and growth. Unfortunately, many woman writhe under feelings of shame; which can drive them further from God and the healing rest He offers. These things become enmeshed within our core, until our very identities scream negative lies that become the foundation of all that we believe about ourselves. To identify the roots of your feelings, it may help to ask:
Does this make me want to run to God? Forgive me father, for I have sinned.
Does this make me want to run away from God? I am so wicked, and God cannot look upon sin. I just need to go and die.
Guilt is the feeling of regret over a committed wrong; externalized and within proper context. I did a bad thing and I regret what I did. Shame is an emotion of perceived wrong; but it is internalized: I am bad. I always do bad things so that means I am worthless, no good, and should have never been born.
Do you see the difference?
I realize that it can be extremely difficult to overcome a lifetime of shoulds and oughts. By ourselves, it is impossible. May I whisper something to you? Jesus wants you to become free. You don't need one more doing to receive His freedom; you don't need another formula. In essence, He says, Come. Drop everything you are doing, and rest. Let me give you what you need. Let Me be your source.
What would your life be like, if you simply stopped?
It is both exhilarating, dangerous, and daring!
Consider His words an invitation to sanctuary. Let Him allure your tired and weary heart. . . for you will find rest for your souls.
A whole new life awaits.
Going forward we will talk quite a bit about the insidious nature of shame and its crippling effects on women. A very helpful book is entitled Shame off You, by Alan D. Wright.