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The Sanctuary of Life

I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10

Life. A simple word pulsing with complexity. As you reflect, what images come to mind? Answers emerge from the day-portraits of our years—fun, stressful, challenging, hard, i-wish-i-were-dead, boring, exciting, an adventure, depressing—but I wonder: how often do we ever say, abundant?

And what is an abundant life?
I believe that it is full, when our every sense is alive with wonder, expectancy, and thankfulness for God's grace and mercy. When we awake with purpose and live our moments along undercurrents of joy, even when tears fall with 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 we will not be rejected but are welcome just as we are, with no effort of our own, we are free to blossom, free to live and taste what God has given us to enjoy.

With no effort of our own
. . .

Women acquainted with spiritual abuse know the depth, the burden of always trying. Of always doing, hoping to measure up one day and find approval within lined faces of austerity. Always darkness, there, for we are taught that it is the will of God to heed the voices which grieve us, which communicate that our best is never good enough.
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 while we stumble beneath the weight of  shoulds and oughts. These obligations shrill loudly, leaving us ashamed and guilty, as though fingers wag in our faces and declare aha! See, you are worthless! You are stupid! You can't do anything right!

Oh, dear friend! I know the torment of these obscenities! We could, each of us, list dozens of items which remind us we fall short.
  • 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
Don't truly good Christian women find these things easy? In and of themselves many of these things are good—however, all too often those of us raised in authoritarian environments consistently feel unacceptable, perpetually bearing the shame of disapproval. We are subtly taught we must perform or properly behave in order to receive love, affection, or attention, but even our hardest efforts leave us dry. It's confusing, overwhelming, and spiritually exhausting: why do the daily disciplines of godliness leave us feeling empty, drained, unloved? Why do we not feel rested as we kneel before the feet of Christ? 
To the contrary: we sink deeper into shame, proving to others and Jesus how weak, ungodly, and worthless we are.

Shame vs. guilt

It is important to understand the difference between guilt and shame. Healthy guilt produces repentance, restoration, and growth. However, shame drives us away from God, further from His healing rest. It enmeshes with our core until our very identity is toxic with lies—error that becomes the foundation of all we believe about ourselves.

To identify the roots of your feelings, it helps 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; God cannot look upon sin. I just need to go and die."

Guilt is feeling 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 internalized: I am bad. I always do bad things so that means I am worthless, no good, and should have never been born.

It can be extremely difficult overcoming a lifetime of shoulds and oughts. By ourselves, it is impossible. But Jesus wants you to become free. No more formulas, no more works, no effort. You don't need to do one more thing to receive His love, His freedom, and grace. 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? If you answered His gentle beckoning? Consider His words an invitation to sanctuary. Let Him allure your tired and weary heart—and you will find rest for your souls.

A whole new life awaits.

This is an adaptation of an earlier post. 


  1. I LOVE this post (as I do all your posts, actually!)!!!!! Oh so true!!!! If only 'men' would allow themselves to be 'preached' to by women; there are so many out there, and women too, who need to learn this message. It would not only stop their abuse, but it would FREE them, too!!!

    Hillary, you are one of my main 'preachers' in this time period when I cannot bring myself to go to a church, and can only barely peek into the bible-a bible which I am trusting God to divest of its toxic aura by association with the hard and authoritarian teachings some have claimed it produced. I pray for you now, that our Heavenly Papa will continue to uphold and strengthen and inspire you as you write here, and in your book.

  2. Anonymous, you grace through your words--words which deeply humble me. From personal experience, I can attest that when He cleanses and heals the heart and mind from the "toxic aura by association" (great description!) the Bible truly comes alive in ways you never imagine. I praise Him for this--He turns oppression into the breath of life!

    Thank you for your prayers; I crave them. {{hugs to you}}.

  3. I love the way you worded this post. The descriptions are so realistic of the thought processes we have faced. I never thought that I should die, though. Just try harder, and harder, and harder. When that didn't work, I self-abused. I honestly didn't know it was wrong.

    Your description of freedom and peace and life is so good too! It is hard to put words to the fact that God loves me for who I am, for who He created me to be. I don't have to do anything to earn His favor. He just gives it! He loves to smile at me! Amazing.

    Keep up the good work, Hillary! You are helping to put words to the feelings that many of us have had.

  4. It took me a long time to realize, and continue to realize, that when the bible said 'there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus' it meant exactly what it said.

    Those other voices are slowly waning under the steady influence of His truth.

    Thanks for addressing these topics.

  5. Sarah--the "no condemnation in Jesus" is one of the hardest things to make the distance between my head and my heart, too! I am so glad that truth is replacing the other voices that try to keep you from freedom and wholeness.

    {{Sharon}} Thanks for your gentle, encouraging spirit. :-)

    Anonymous--I want to add that I truly am no preacher or teacher or anything other than a broken woman who has received grace and healing from God, and wants to share what He has done for me, what I have learned. Your comment blesses me, but the glory belongs to Him. :D


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