When I was a teenager, people often told me I looked a few years older than I was. At 14, I passed for 16. At 16, I passed for 20. At 17, I got pregnant, and all of a sudden I looked young again. Too young. Oh-but-she's-so-young young.
My adolescence had been interrupted by scandal, and scandal has a sneaky way of drawing out the painful truth. It made grocery store checkers and bank tellers look twice, from my drivers license to my swollen belly and back to the year I was born. Seven months prior they would have remarked about my maturity, maybe even made a pass at me, but now they remind me that I am so young. As if I hadn't noticed.
Scandal made them shake their heads and mutter, “What a shame.”
What a damn shame.
I had eaten from the tree of knowledge, and now I was reaping the consequences.
Baby-faced and burning with love for the child within, I carried a scarlet letter in front of me like an overblown beach ball. My joy and my shame were right there for everyone to look at and talk about and touch without permission. It's not uncommon for complete strangers to say rude things to pregnant women (You're huge! Are you carrying twins?), but the things they say to unwed pregnant teens are downright assholey. (Have you thought about adoption? Do you know who the father is? You know how those things get out, right?) And don't get me started on the “well-meaning” Christians. The things they said were awful. And embarrassing. For Jesus.
Some people believe they have the right, no, the responsibility to decide who is broken and then to tell them loudly and often. They call it “speaking the truth in love”, but what they really mean is “playing the gatekeeper to heaven”. These are the people who believe that shame is the pathway to righteousness. They think shame is the thing that drives one toward obedience to God. These are the folks who, in your darkest moment and when you are the most fragile, will shove your face to the ground and demand that you “REPENT!”. Or suffer the consequences.
It was a Christian who told me that I deserved what I'd gotten. I deserved to be stared at and embarrassed and judged. I should be ashamed. Shame is from God, they said, and God was trying to get me to obey His rules by punishing me. I mean, I should consider myself lucky that He waived the pregnancy wand and not the herpes wand. Lucky. They tried to use shame to draw me to Jesus, telling me that I was so young and so pregnant because I was a sinner.
And then my sin baby slipped into this hard world, soaking wet and shamelessly naked, carrying the fresh scent of new life and the very breath of God in him.
A bastard, the good Christian would say. Damn shame, too, such a young and tiny sinner.
We had been cast out of Eden, mother and infant, unworthy of the God who created us. So the Christians, in their kindness, dragged us before Jesus and threw us at his feet. “Shame!”, they cried, “Shame on her!”
They shouted the truth in love, with scorn on their faces and stones in their clenched fists.
Until Jesus knelt down…
...and drew a line in the sand.
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And then He stood by my side.
Jesus stands on the side of the broken, the outcast, the scandalous. He sees us at the very core of creation, naked and unashamed, meant to walk in a garden now locked to humanity. He sees us, hungry for knowledge and starved for love, eating from the first tree in front of our faces, plucking the fruits of deceit and selfish ambition, snacking on lust, stuffing ourselves with greed, sucking away at vanity. And still He comes to us without condemnation - without shame.
Shame is a byproduct of a dying world. It's a shackle that binds us to our brokenness. It is Shame who first points a finger and cries out, “Look at you! You're NAKED!”, and tells you to run and hide. Shame warns you to cover up, hide your junk, don't get caught. Shame clothed us in fig leaves and nestled us in the bushes; shame led the way right out of Eden, and still it barricades the door.
If you believe shame is the pathway to obedience, I'm sorry, but your gospel is twisted. Shame is no friend of Jesus.
Jesus knelt down and drew a line in the sand, and then He stood at my side. Lifting my burden of shame, Jesus carried it off to the cross. When He returned, He was without it. He clothed me in Grace and Freedom and unleashed me to Love with reckless abandon.
Gratitude is my pathway to obedience, through a soul filled with thanks for the God who Redeems all things.
I am Grateful or I am nothing, for it is Jesus who stood me on my feet again. It is Jesus who tended my wounds. It is Jesus who lifted my chin and gently pushed back my hair to look upon my face, like a Father to His child, whispering, “I'm here. And I'm taking back Eden.”
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Jesus has drawn a line in the sand... Where do you stand?