Learning the unforced rhythms of grace


Grace and Shame

Jesus would have been difficult to spend time with. In John chapter 7, there is this interesting nugget of information that Jesus drops that would have made me, had I been standing beside him, a little uncomfortable. Here's the scene:

It is near the annual feast of Tabernacles, a Jewish tradition. Jesus' brothers suggested that Jesus go so that all the people who were gathering there could get a good look at what Jesus was up to. (They were doing the "why don't you promote yourself? Advertise! Get your name out there!" speech that we do to those who we want to support their cause.) They didn't really understand the whole picture yet and could only see it in terms of popularity and exposure. So how did Jesus respond? Did he say, "Thanks guys, I appreciate the support. But the timing is just not right yet." or "I appreciate the encouragement, but let me explain to you my big plan for attracting followers." Nope. This is what he said, "Don't crowd me. This isn't my time. It's your time–it's always your time; you have nothing to lose. The world has nothing against you, but it's up in arms against me. It's against me because I expose the evil behind its pretensions." (Message version)

Hmm. I imagine, if I was standing there that I would probably nod, maybe a few too many times while internally wondering what my pretensions were and how Jesus might point them out. What is pretension anyway? The claim to something. The use of affectation to impress, to be ostentatious. The dictionary's example of the word use in a sentence is this: "He spoke simply, without pretension". 

We moved our bookshelves this month and I discovered an old favourite of mine that I started reading again this week, "Shame and Grace - Healing the Shame We Don't Deserve" by Lewis B. Smedes. Excellent book. 

He describes the difference between healthy and unhealthy shame. He writes, "Healthy shame is neat. It knows what it is after and once it finds the shame spot, it zeroes in on it with a painful smack and lets the rest of our lives alone. But unhealthy shame has no aim, no focus; it leaves us feeling like undefined, undifferentiated, free-floating failures." 

When you read through the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you meet Jesus and his grace. But you also meet his truth, his desire to expose evil behind pretension, to call out sin, to pinpoint sin, right where it is, exactly and invite us out into freedom from it. He doesn't do the general shake of the head, eye roll, smirk or sigh that makes us want to say, "What? Why do you have that look on your face? What did I do? Tell me!" That is not Jesus. That is not his way. He speaks clearly, directly and exactly to the sin that is oppressing people. He names it. (Go ahead and explore the gospels, check it out for yourself. Jesus doesn't do any general shaming. He speaks specifically about what sin he is exposing and calls people out of it, away from it and toward faith in Him instead. He is clear. He doesn't leave you wondering . . . )

My Grandma was a guilty woman, I can't think of anything she should feel guilty for,  but she often acted as if she was.

One day, when I was in my twenties, newly married and with little ones at home, I thought I heard a noise at the front door. I waited to see if someone would knock or ring the doorbell but nothing happened so I went back to what I was doing. A little while later, I heard similar noises so I went to look and there was my sweet Grandma, in her blue polyester dress, buttons done up to the top and her belt neatly in place, curled hair, standing with arms full of groceries, cookies, and treats that she had brought over. "Grandma!" I rushed to open the door and invite her in. "What are you doing? How long have you been standing there?" She went on to explain that she was so sorry to make me come to the door, that she didn't want to ring the doorbell and that she couldn't bear to knock on the window because she didn't want to frighten the kids and didn't want to disturb me. So she just stood there, for awhile. Arms full of gifts, on my front porch. 

I loved my Grandma, I welcomed her in and thanked her for the goodies she brought for our family. I didn't scold her but I tried to explain that she was welcome. She was important enough to ring the doorbell or bang on the door and inconvenience us to come get her. Even if she rang the doorbell, woke up the kids, I would have welcomed her in. We could have made a plan for the next time so that I would unlock the door and she could walk in without having to ring the bell. But standing there, guilty, apologetic, frozen with indecision and guilt? I didn't like that at all. That was not who she was meant to be. That was not how I saw her and not how I believed God saw her either.

Unhealthy shame does that. It covers us with a shadow that whispers "Bad! Bad! You're unworthy of other people's love, time, attention, energy, bad! Don't speak up. Don't request. Don't risk. Stay in the shadow! Don't ask for anything. Don't have needs. Bad."  

If we're honest, that is probably why many of us don't pray. Why times of worship at church burns in our hearts but we don't know how to respond. It may be why we busy ourselves with tasks rather than sitting still in the quietness of God's presence. We're afraid. 

But there is something about Jesus' way that draws me to Him. If He shoots straight and exposes the evil behind my pretensions, but loves me with a love that is greater than any human love is possible, then that is a very safe place to be. He calls me to live without pretensions, to be true, honest, free. To feel fear, joy, doubt and peace. To be angry and ask his help to deal with it. To struggle, to forgive, to resist temptation, to choose patience, to live in tension of unresolved issues and places of transition. That is the un-pretentious life. Jesus will help us live that way. 

Lord, remove the unhealthy shame cloud that hangs over us that is not related to anything that you have said to any of us. Reveal it for what it is and help us accept your pure love and grace. We are loved by you, accepted, forgiven and secure. We invite you, to expose the evil behind our pretentiousness. We want your truth to highlight the sin so we can be free! We know it will hurt, but you love us. We will take that pain over the heaviness of unnecessary and unhealthy shame any day. Alert us to taking on shame that is not conviction given specifically by you for our benefit. Sharpen our vision to see correctly. Thank you for your grace!