Shame was a language I learned early, right along with how to say “please” and “thank you.” There was an unspoken etiquette we learned growing up in the Southern United States. The tea should be sweet. You should address people older than you as “ma’am” and “sir.” I knew the taste of collard greens and banana pudding, as well as the proper use of the phrase, “bless her heart” to camouflage your disdain for someone in a prayer. We were known for our hospitality and kindness. We were always polite and proper—to people’s faces. Appearances mattered, often more than anything else.
I spent a good bit of my childhood being lulled into summer evening bliss by the rhythmic rocking of wooden chairs and the tinkle of the wind chimes hung on a long porch. My sister and I spent days down by the creek, running as fast as we could past our grandpa’s beehives. Our hands were stained from the red clay and black muscadine juice, calloused from shelling peas and stirring pots of beans.
But during those lazy afternoons on the porch, the stories flowed like molasses, sweet and sticky in the summer sun. Oh, that girl down the road the got married a little young. We all knew why. That neighbor had a liking for the bottle, everyone said. Shh, don’t say it too loud, someone might hear you. But wasn’t there a guy in school whose momma just got out of the hospital? You know, for taking too many pills?
If you stepped outside the cultural expectations, you would be the talk of the town. One thing I never learned was the language of grace. We were never taught to talk about all our failings or about the healing we can find when we say it out loud. We didn’t know what life could be like when we admitted our mistakes and asked for help. We just knew to sweep the dark corners of our lives under the rug, afraid someone would find out and whisper about us, too.
It was never said explicitly but the implications were clear. Don’t let people see your weaknesses. Manners matter more than transparency. And, for goodness sake, keep up appearances.
When I started attending church in my teens, I wrapped a new layer of right actions around me like a bullet-proof vest. I knew just what to say and do (and what and who to avoid) to appear like the best Christian. We talked all about a personal relationship with Christ, but what I really gained was another set of standards I needed to uphold.
Years later, after lapses that certainly made me the talk of all the good folks I knew in my church days, I longed for Jesus but I wasn’t so sure about his people. I knew I was a horrible mess and I was hungry for someone that could offer me more than appearances. I’ll never forget the kind people that poured into hurting students in the college ministry where I finally discovered a different dialect. They replaced the language of failure, shame, and secrecy with words like vulnerability, lament, mercy, and restoration...
I have lived with a caged heart, raging inside of me like a bird beating its wings against the bars that confine it. I know Psalm 32.3-4 to be true because I lived it - "When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your heart of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat."
There was a sin that I held hidden in my heart for nearly two yeas. It was a rebellion against God and against someone I had loved. I reasons that since it was in the past and our relationship had changed, I didn't need to open an old wound. I knew in my heart that omission was a lie and I wouldn't be whole until I spoke the truth.
I confessed to God but there was still a heavy burden on my heart. I tried to put it out of my mind. Excuse it. Dismiss it.
The nagging pain in my heart kept coming back like that scab you continue to pick at, hoping it will go away. Only it needs to be mended, healed. I couldn't get the guilt out of my head. I couldn't pray anymore without it tugging at the corners of my mind, coming between me and God.
I finally choked back the shame I felt and wrote the letter I never wanted to pen. I showed the darkest parts of me to a person I had tried to present a holy front to.
I mailed that letter and though there was a twinge of fear at what he would think in the pit of my stomach, my heart finally felt free. I felt forgiven. Even though God had already forgiven me, the weight on me, His hand of discipline, demanded I make it right by the truth.
I later sat at dinner with this man and had a hard conversation about the past, and a hopeful one about the future. It wasn't easy but it was right. I could now live out Psalm 32.5: "Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, 'I will confess my rebellion to the Lord,' and you forgave me! All my guilt is gone."
The raging inside subsided. My heart was quiet again.
Whenever I feel a disquiet groaning again in my soul, I try to remember that time in my life and ask God to show me unconfessed sin that holds my heart captive. I know I will only experience freedom and a quiet heart when I am willing to confess.
Please enter an Access Token on the Instagram Feed plugin Settings page.