Monday, February 23, 2009

Forgiven Much

In last night's home group meeting, we discussed the story of the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair:
Luke 7:36-39, 44-47
36
One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat.a]">[a] 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

...

44 Then [Jesus] turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.”


As we discussed the passage, some of my friends said they could really relate to Simon, the Pharisee, because they've judged others who seem sinful. I have certainly been guilty of judging others more often than I'd care to admit, but I had to speak up and say, "I relate more to the prostitute." Then I shared this story....

Last spring, I enrolled in a Bible study on the book of Romans, called Free. At the beginning of the semester, we wrote down on a card the things we'd like God to free us from. We knelt at the foot of a wooden cross and laid our cards there. I wrote that I'd like to be free from shame, and also from my fear of death (but that's another story). Honestly, I wasn't sure even God could set me free from these burdens, but he answered both prayers in wonderful ways that I could never have predicted.

Throughout the class, I marveled at how Paul, who called himself "the chief among sinners," was not only forgiven, but was used in a powerful way. God didn't waste ANY of Paul's experiences, not the sins, not the persecution. All of it was used for God's glory, and Paul's life was transformed. I slowly began to realize that if God could forgive Paul and use his experiences for a beautiful purpose, surely he could do the same for me.

Around the end of January 2008, I felt I was ready to give my shame over to God, but I didn't know how. I won't go into details about why I felt ashamed because I know God has forgotten my sins, and I need to forget them as well. But I'll tell you that I carried a deep shame for many, many years. It went beyond simple regret. I had allowed that shame to define my character, and it was crippling me.

I knew with my brain that God had forgiven me, but my heart could not accept that forgiveness. This really prevented me from receiving God's love; I told a friend that it was as if there was a veil between me and God. I could feel that he was so very near, but I couldn't reach him. Because I couldn't experience God's love, neither could I really accept love from anyone else. I suffered excruciating insecurities in my marriage which made me jealous and fearful, and I hated myself for it. I also had a problem making friends. I always thought, "If she really knew who I was, she wouldn't love me." So I was guarded in all my relationships.

I had a friend who was in counseling at the time, and her counselor had said, "Secrets are powerful. They can build a wall between you and the people you love." He told her that sharing her secret could take away its power over her. I knew then what I had to do, but I was afraid to do it. Satan had told me for years that I must never, ever talk about my shame--that if I did, no one would love me and I'd be alone.

I prayed and asked God to show me who I should talk to, and to give me the courage to open my heart. I told my secret to one old friend and one new one.

The first time was over lunch at a favorite restaurant. My mouth was dry, my hands were clammy and trembling, and my heart was racing. I stumbled over the words, and at times I was choked by tears, but I told her absolutely everything about the sin that had haunted me for years. She listened without judgment. When I was finished, she said of course she still loved me--that sin is not who I am! She told me God had forgiven me, that it was "ancient history." Then she spoke what I believe to be a message from God: even though David committed a grievous sin with Bathsheba and even murdered her husband, God still called David a man after his own heart.

I cried profusely, probably to our waitress's chagrin. It was wonderful to have my friend there with me, hugging me as I cried, giving me a tangible way to feel God's love embracing me.

When I shared my shame with another friend a couple of days later, it was just a little easier. My second friend also was very accepting and loving. She said God didn't remember my sin, and to bring it up over and over was an insult to his grace. She shared some past guilt of her own, and we prayed together that God would help us forgive ourselves.

Like the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears, I had an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I had been forgiven so much, and I was positively overflowing with love. A weight had been lifted, and I found myself smiling and even laughing as I went about my daily work. Once while I was washing dishes, I heard Brandon Heath's "Don't Get Comfortable" for the first time, and I was thrilled by the lyrics. As I listened to that song, I heard God telling me, "This is not yesterday.... I am gonna love like you've never seen! You are gonna live like you used to dream! This is your new song."

As I began to really experience God's love, that love started to flow out from me in new ways. I started to speak to strangers at the grocery store. I began to make new friends, close friends. I began to feel more secure and intimate with my husband. I asked God to help me love some "difficult people," and he answered my prayers.

Since then, I have been drawn to hurting people, and I'm so thankful that I can share the love and hope that I have received from God. I have been forgiven much, and I can't help but love much!




1 comment:

Melissa Irwin said...

Awesome! This post covered me in goose-bumps. God is so amazing. I am so incredibly overjoyed to know another has been released from her shame and can walk in God's grace and offer acceptance, love, grace and forgiveness to others. You are beautiful!

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