Updated on September 10, 2014
Updated on September 10, 2014
It was August of 1986. My husband and I were part of a young married couples Sunday School class. I had recently left my husband, and the class leaders asked me to get up in front of the class and share what had happened. I was 23 years old and had no idea at the time about how to protect my emotions, share my fears appropriately, or file for divorce. Nor did I have a clue about the inappropriateness of that request. I remember my brother, a youth pastor at the church at the time, fuming that anyone would humiliate me in that way. I also remember the shame I felt. Shame for being stupid enough to marry him. Shame for being unwilling and unable to stay married. Shame for being less than my perfect counterparts in Sunday School. Fingers pointing saying, “Shame on you!”
The people and place that should have been safe, proved to be the most un-safe people and place in my life at that time.
Since that time, nearly 30 years ago, I have come a long way in my ability to sniff out life-quenching shame. I’ve written on the subject before (Here and here), and it’s clearly something that perches me on a soap box. Occasionally, shame can make me wilt, make me question my worth and value in Christ, and send me into a tail spin of negative emotion.
Sometimes, shame is heaped on me, and I’m able to toss it out before it has a chance to do any damage. That happened recently, in the days following Robin Williams’ death. My Facebook feed was blowing up with all kinds of news, comments and thoughts. One of my “friends” posted something about Robin Williams not having known the Lord and how we shouldn’t be saying “RIP” but “good luck.” A couple of people commented with even more shame-inducing thoughts and I found myself typing a response to run to the defense of Robin Williams, and all who might get those kind of judgmental words shoved down their throats.
We don’t know if Robin Williams came to know the Lord. It is not our job to judge that. Amen.
A couple of weeks later, I received a private Facebook message from this person who wanted to debate his position on Christian discipleship, obedience and the like. If it didn’t smell of shame in the beginning, it sure did by the time I got about half way through when he felt compelled to ask if I was divorced or if my previous husband had died. Because after all, I am committing adultery if I’m divorced and Christians are compelled to call one another out of their sin. Yep. There it was. Legalistic shame at it’s finest.
I didn’t respond. I didn’t feel compelled to respond. My only thought was,
Maybe you haven’t suffered enough.
Maybe you haven’t lived with an alcoholic. Maybe you haven’t been so miserable in your marriage that you’d rather commit suicide than go on in it any longer. Maybe you have never suffered the pain of infertility, or miscarriage, or death, or disease. Maybe you have, and maybe your suffering hasn’t produced the kind of fruit that makes you a little less judgmental.
I’m guilty. I judge the judgers. Which, after all is being judgmental, isn’t it? But I always go back to the words of my Savior who said, “I know all about you and I still choose to talk to you.” He said, “First pull the plank out of your own eye before you pick out the speck in your brother’s.”
What Jesus meant by the plank and speck statement, is this: If we look at the example Jesus set for us, we see that he judged the Pharisees harshly for heaping the Law and works on people. They were full of secret sin. They were guilty of private sins while putting on a pretense of righteousness. Jesus treated the sinners with compassion, love and acceptance. He hung out with the ragamuffins, not with those who could save themselves with their rules and laws.
This friend and his cohort of fellow legalistic judgers, wanted to point to the “fruit” or lack of it in Robin Williams’ life. From that, they made their judgment that he was not saved. But that is not consistent with Jesus, his words, or the Word of God that we read. They also would like to point out that people like me, you know, the “divorced kind,” are less than they are because we are in disobedience and the “fruit” of our lives is rotten.
Galatians says the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. What about casting judgment on someone so desperately depressed that he would take his own life, reflects any of these “fruits?” Christ calls us to compassion. He calls us to be lovers of peace and lovers of people. After all, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13, everything we say is noise if we don’t have love. I think as Christians, we are programmed to call “fruit” something that puffs us up and gives the appearance that we are better than everyone else. That’s totally missing the point. The “fruit” is nothing like that.
So, to those that suffer I say, “I’m sorry. I’m here for you. I hurt with you.” And to those who judge I say, “I’m sorry, but I cannot stand idly by and watch you heap shame upon shame on those who merely need the love and hope that can be found in knowing Christ. I will call you out. I will judge you, because I believe that the real message of the Gospel is to know his grace. And how will we know it, except that someone extends grace to us.”
Maybe you haven’t suffered enough. Maybe you have never been able to accept that your good works, your obedience to rules and laws, your calling out others to live up to unreasonable standards, will never bring the hope and life that Christ longs to give you. Maybe you keep striving, hoping that you will ultimately score some sort of high praise and a bigger mansion in heaven. Fortunately, for all of us, Christ’s love goes one way – from him to us. It is not dependent on anything we do or say. I am thankful for that. I’m thankful, because I stand securely in the face of judgment and recognize that I have value. I have worth. I have purpose. He knows all about me, and he still calls me his own.