God’s mercy is greater than our shame.
This isn’t always easy to believe. There are many days when I struggle to wrap my mind around the immeasurable, unfathomable ocean of God’s mercy. I think shame (along with unforgiveness) is one of the greatest barriers to us being able to receive and fully encounter the mercy God longs to give us.
I struggled for years to break free from the shackles of shame that I had allowed to paralyze me. In college I made a lot of poor decisions related to purity and relationships. There were days when I remember looking in the mirror, barely able to recognize the person I had become. “You knew better,” I would tell myself. And I did, but I underestimated the depth of my brokenness and insecurity. I made choices out of that dark place; choices that I promised myself I would never make.
I didn’t even realize the depth of my shame until my depression hit and I found myself desperate for relief. I was parched and dying of spiritual dehydration. I scheduled an appointment with a Catholic therapist and began the painful process of seeing myself as I was-in all my sin, shame and brokenness. I would go to adoration twice a day on the days when my shame was so bad. I would sit there and beg God to help me forgive myself, to help me receive His mercy. After countless confessions, I still struggled to believe I was forgiven or that I could be made new. The mercy of God was only a theory to me, not something I could experience.
I remember one day I was kneeling in adoration by myself, sobbing before the Lord. I pictured myself as the woman in Scripture about to be stoned, after she was caught in adultery. My face was dirty and bruised, my head was down in shame as I sobbed in the scene. And then I pictured Jesus walking over to me and with more tenderness than I ever felt, he knelt down, lifted up my face in his hands and spoke these words to my heart, “My daughter you have held your head in shame for too long.” His words broke me and I wept. His gaze was filled with love and compassion. He hurt for me, seeing me so broken and in pain. For the first time I felt like I had experienced the mercy of God in an experiential, real way. My heart was moved and flooded with hope in that moment. When we let mercy encounter us, our shame slowly starts to dissipate. The key is letting ourselves be encountered by mercy and not hiding ourselves away from him. Shame always whispers, “You’re unworthy,” but mercy reminds us that we are loved.
Jesus spoke these words to St. Faustina about the power of the Sacrament of Confession and the mercy we encounter through it:
“Today the Lord said to me, ‘Daughter, when you go to confession, to this fountain of My mercy, the Blood and Water which came forth from My Heart always flows down upon your soul and ennobles it. Every time you go to confession, immerse yourself entirely in My mercy, with great trust, so that I may pour the bounty of My grace upon your soul. When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I Myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrent of graces inundate humble souls. The proud remain always in poverty and misery, because My grace turns away from them to humble souls.” (1602, page 568)
It is this power that eradicates the chains of shame that hold us captive, because within this sacrament we encounter Mercy Himself. As Jesus says, “Here the misery of the soul meets the God of Mercy.” What a grace!
The Witness of St. Paul
I was reflecting on St. Paul the other day and how remarkable his conversion truly was. What amazed me the most was how he didn’t waste time wallowing in his shame. I mean, if anybody should’ve been eaten by shame, it was St. Paul for all the heinous things he did to innocent Christians at the time. But think about this, if St. Paul would’ve wasted all his time in shame over what he did when he was Saul, he would’ve never been able to serve the Lord as He did.
It’s important for us to have a healthy understanding of our sin, a sincere remorse and to repent (go to confession), but when we let shame envelope us, we cut ourselves off from what God wants to do in our hearts to restore us. We don’t let God get as close to us as He wants to.
St. Paul had a healthy remorse, but he didn’t look back in a way that kept him from moving forward. He didn’t despair. He didn’t shrink down from the mission Jesus had for him. He didn’t let all the lies of “who are you to preach to them when you just persecuted these people?” hold him back from speaking truth & leading souls to salvation through Jesus Christ. He believed he was made new. He took Jesus’ word when he gave him a new name, a new identity & he lived from that place of truth. When Jesus gives us our identity, we have to own it. We have to believe He sees us in our wholeness. Even in Paul’s wretchedness, Jesus saw something in him and He pursued him out of love. Jesus’ mercy converted Paul and from there, Paul converted others. It wasn’t because Paul was worthy. He wasn’t. But Jesus transforms; He is the one who makes us worthy. When we are struggling with shame or having a hard time leaving our past in the past, let us remember St. Paul. If God can work in him, He can surely work in you and I. We don’t have to continue beating ourselves up for our past failings; we just have to surrender it all to the mercy of God.
Run to the Fount of Divine Mercy
We need to pray for the grace to show mercy to ourselves and others. Self-forgiveness is essential for moving forward in our healing and receiving the mercy of God. When we refuse to forgive ourselves for the mistakes we’ve made, we block some of the grace Jesus wants to give us by believing we are unforgivable. This is a lie. In a way, even if it’s unintentional, we say to Jesus that His mercy cannot be greater than our sin or shame. We deprive Him of the joy of forgiving us and letting our hearts fully be at peace in Him. He doesn’t want to see us tormented with shame. He wants us to find peace at the fount of His mercy.
Likewise, we need to pray hard and I mean hard, for the grace to forgive those that may have played a role in the events that led up to our shame, or who may have directly or indirectly shamed us at various times in our lives. There are moments when I was wrestling with so much shame and I would overhear really good people talking judgmentally about the mistakes I made myself. This hurt and added immensely to my pain. (I know that there have been moments when I have spoken the same way about others. Lord, forgive me.) None of us are perfect, but I think it’s wise that we try to remember that when we speak, we never know who is listening to our words. We need to pray that judgment doesn’t spill from our mouths. We can still stand up for the truth and teachings of the Church, while being sensitive to the shame that many people are still walking in. Jesus loves these souls deeply and they need to know this: “I am love and Mercy Itself. There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases. The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.’” (1273, page 459)
We also need to recognize the work of Satan who tries to keep us trapped in our shame. He has good reason for doing this. If we are walking around with our heads down in shame, believing God can never transform or heal us, then we will never reach the fullness of who we are created to be. Satan knows this and he fears who we can be when we receive the mercy of God. Mercy always heals and transforms. And healed, transformed Christians are powerful because we reveal the glory of God. When we feel attacked spiritually and Satan tries to keep us in a state of despair, we need to take authority and renounce these lies. On the days when I used to feel so tormented by my shame, I would literally speak out loud and say, “I am done believing this about myself. I am tired of walking in this shame. Jesus, I claim my identity in you. I choose in this moment to believe that you love me and you have forgiven me and I send Satan to the foot of your cross.”
We are His. That is the summation of our identity and value. As St. Pope John Paul II reminds us, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus.” Let us find refuge in this truth.
2020 Drewe DeJesus
Photo by Daniel Leeves from Freely Photos