I attended a wedding a little while ago and had an unexpected interaction with another guest. Moments before the bride walked down the aisle, there was a man seemingly trying to make eye contact with me. I didn’t recognize him, so I assumed he was looking at a clock or a bird or someone behind me. I just looked away.
But, he continued and actually escalated his attempt at communication with a casual wave. Nonplussed, I waved back, hoping he would realize that we didn’t know each other. The whole exchange felt really awkward.
And…yes, I’m single and I know what all of you are thinking.
Anyway, after the ceremony, he hesitatingly approached me.
He said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
I absolutely hate this question because I often forget meeting people. I answered as politely as I could that I didn’t remember him. He gave me his name, which helped slightly, then he reminded me that we worked within the same organization over a decade ago. You have to understand, I was vaguely beginning to put some memories in order. He then proceeded to tell me that since we worked together, he had become a Christian. He shared his story, in brief, and began to unpack the way he used to live before he came to faith in Christ. He continued and said that he believed that if he was ever afforded the opportunity to ask me to forgive him, he would.
Forgive him? Forgive him for what? I didn’t even remember him.
I can only imagine how his stress levels must have increased during the ceremony, impatiently waiting and hoping to not miss this once in a lifetime opportunity (in his eyes) to make things right. He began to tell me how he had repeatedly sinned against me ten years ago by using unkind words. He just kept saying, “I was a real jerk to you.”
I had no memory of any of this. I did remember other colleagues and was able to recall in detail moments of shared experiences, but nothing of what he spoke.
After letting him finish, I finally said, “Honestly, brother, I don’t remember any of that. But, as a fellow believer, I know that you probably need to hear me say that you’re forgiven…and you are. But you also need to know that nothing that you said stuck to me. I honestly don’t remember any of it.”
I wasn’t being gracious. It was true.
This conversation reminded me of how sin can find a home in us through our shame.
Don’t get me wrong, we are commanded to pursue reconciliation, especially when we sin against one another. But do you ever carry the burden of shame that you were never intended to carry? I know I do.
When we confess our sins, our Father in heaven is faithful and just. He forgives us our sins. He cleanses us from our unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). The burden of guilt is no longer on us, but it was transferred to our victorious Savior. And, when repentance happens, a time of “refreshing” comes from the Lord (Acts 3:19-20). This man had clearly asked forgiveness from the Lord and received it, but he still carried shame.
A cognitive understanding that our guilt is forgiven doesn’t always removed the feeling of guilt. This man was carrying shame. In his book, Shame Interrupted, Ed Welch writes: “(Shame) often hides in guilt’s shadow, so we might speak about guilt when shame is the real culprit. We might speak about forgiveness and no condemnation, yet shame is unmoved by such things. When a judge says, ‘Not guilty,’ and you still feel like scum, the verdict doesn’t bring much help or hope.”
Shame brought a decade of angst to this man. He had grieved a sin that was literally forgotten by me. It was a real and true sin, but the memory of it existed only in his mind. I had forgotten it and so had the Lord.
The fact is: just like my forgetfulness of this former colleague’s sins, God no longer remembers our sins and lawless deeds. If you are in Christ, it’s like our transgressions never existed (Hebrews 10:17).
And the shame? Let’s talk about what Jesus does with our shame: He despises it. Just like our sin, our shame was also placed on Jesus. He crushes it. He spits on it. He takes every bit of it and conquers it by the power of the Holy Spirit as he is risen from the dead. Out of the ashes of our sin and shame, Jesus comes.
Shame typically lives in the context of others. It’s the voice of judgment and the gaze that says, “You don’t belong here.”
This man wrongfully assumed that I held something against him. I didn’t. But, when I looked into his eyes and spoke kindly back to him, his countenance changed. Relief and refreshment had come through the gaze of another.
Dear friend, if you are in Christ, he has forgotten your sin and conquered your shame. Turn your eyes upon Jesus and let him cast his glorious and victorious gaze upon your guilt and your shame.
About the Author:
Sue Harris serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director. She has a passion for spiritual formation as she earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University.