I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
Have you learned to be ashamed of your scars? What about your secrets? Does stigma keep you silent? Do you fear being caught in your addiction? Or shunned if they find out who you love? What if your church friends found out that you have more doubt than faith these days? How would your tribe respond if you told them you don’t vote like they do?
How many brilliant children stay quiet because of the color of their skin, believing no one would care about their dreams? How many people hide in the back pew at our churches, attacked by the black dog of depression, scared to death for anyone to know? How many hurting people feel cut down by words of hate, disapproval, and disappointment?
I bet you probably have at least one minor indiscretion from your past you’d rather not discuss. The childhood abuse you’ve never confessed to anyone. The affair. The eating disorder. The child that isn’t his. The abortion. The suicide attempt. The addiction. The breakdown. The debt. The internet history. The criminal history.
“But how could I possibly tell this one piece of my story?” I hear you.
For the first ten years of my marriage, shame and stigmas had me bound. I clung to a secret that nearly killed me. If, like me, you’re holding on to that one big secret, it is likely the source of your most significant fear: how could you be thoroughly loved if you were also fully known?
I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and I was living with anxiety and depression. I had addictions and secrets and curiosities and night terrors that I couldn’t possibly tell anyone. I thought the only way to be accepted was to hide everything. My greatest fear in the world was to disappoint one more person, so I learned the expectations, and lived up to them very well…for a while. I knew the words to say, I could quote Scriptures like all my friends, but my inner-castle was built on the shifting sand of other people’s opinions and approval.
My secret became the most profound contributor to my shame. It started when I was just a boy and continued to build right up until the night I nearly died by suicide. I heard the call of Jesus to “come and rest” all my life, but I was almost thirty-years-old, lying in an ICU hospital room before I realized he was serious. I had permission to be human. To admit I was weak. To ask for help. To allow the power of confession to wash over my soul.
It took nearly eleven years for me to peel back the layers of shame and secret keeping and let my wife in on my truth. Because she was willing to meet my vulnerability with grace, the power of confession has changed my life and transformed our marriage.
Being fully known. It’s not easy. I know that fear tells you that you could never be known and also loved. Guilt says they are mutually exclusive for someone like you. A woman with a past. A guy with dirt under his fingernails and cracks in his armor. Shame says there is no way you could ever be known and loved. The truth is, being known happens little by little, in ordinary conversations with people who love and respect you exactly as you are.
In Brian McLaren’s excellent book, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian, he shares a recurring message from the marquee in front of a local church he passes regularly:
This is the message.
This is the Good News.
This is the Gospel.
This is it.
As I read those words, I smiled and choked back tears. In Ephesians, Paul prays that they may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge…” (3:18-19)
Read: dogma, doctrine, theology – the love of God surpasses it all.
So maybe your doubts do outweigh your faith today – no biggie. Maybe you don’t have it all figured out – it’s okay! Good news: you don’t have to have it all figured out.
What if love was our entire theology? What if the goal of our lives was to live and love as much like Jesus as humanly possible? To listen to those who aren’t exactly like us? And to listen with the goal of learning – not converting or debating or convincing – listening to learn, so that we can love better? What if love was the goal?
Love. God is love.
“This is Me,” goes on to say:
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me
In the past six years, since reaching my very lowest point, I have met the real Jesus: the one who accepts me exactly as I am. And just as important, I’ve started finding my tribe. I’ve realized that my wife actually loves me for who I am, not the persona I displayed for so many years. I am finding true friends and building a support system (in real life and online) of people who celebrate me, and don’t ask for me to conform to a certain belief system or political ideology. They don’t expect me to “go with the flow” or subscribe to the status quo.
They love me for me.
No matter your history, pedigree, life choices, or the way you were born, you were created with infinite value. There room at the table for you, exactly as you are. Jesus continues to call us all to “come as you are”. You are not a mistake or an anomaly, and your life is not a matter of “moral indifference”. You are a gift from God.
You don’t have to conform to the ways of closed-minded, cold-hearted people who know nothing about your story or struggle. God has the final word, and the final word is Love.
When people say, “Confession is good for the soul,” I hear, “You better tell everybody everything you’ve ever done if you really want God and those you care about to tolerate you.” But that’s not vulnerability or intimacy; it’s the toxic voice of shame. And let’s be honest – confession is good for the soul, no matter your faith or religion. As my friend Ed Bacon said, confession is like pressing the human “reset” button – it allows us to offload whatever feels too heavy and seek solace and clarity in the safety of a trusted relationship. To be loved is to be known – one doesn’t happen without the other.
Steve Austin is an author, speaker, and life coach who is passionate about helping overwhelmed people learn to catch their breath. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers, "Catching Your Breath," and "From Pastor to a Psych Ward." Steve lives with his wife and two children in Birmingham, Alabama.
Why No One Really Cares What You Believe
It was Really Quiet the Day I Decided to Die
You are not the worst mistake you’ve ever made.
God is Love. No, really.
I Need You to Help Me See God Clearly
Hope for the Forsaken: A Doxology in Darkness
How Should Pastors Respond to People with Mental Illness?