So you have failed? You cannot fail.
You have not failed; you have gained experience.
Saint Josemaria Escriva
One evening our family heard a talk that had in the midst of it the importance of naming your children at birth correctly. This was important because the name chosen sets into motion the vision for that child, and reminds that child for life who he or she is, and proclaims to the world that message as well.
When we got home, our children wanted to know why they had the names they did. Some had names from family members, but ultimately, our reason sounded rather limp: we…uh…we just happened to like the sound of your name…
At the time I felt poorly about it, and wished a do-over in which every name could carry more weight. Since then, I’ve realized that, yes, even men with the name of Jesus are rightly serving time in prisons, and furthermore, I didn’t share the convictions this speaker had regarding the proper way to name a baby.
But initially I felt shamed, like fingers were pointed at me. But this is the thing: shame does not mean sin was involved. It is not the same as guilt. It does not need forgiveness or restitution. It is a feeling of being wrong, but is not based in actually having done so.
Shame is a feeling that something you’ve done, or are doing, or even who you are, is received with condemnation or dislike. Or you may not receive appreciation or acknowledgement. You’ve dip-dyed your hair and no one wants to sit next to you at potluck.
Guilt is the sense of having done something sinful, like stealing your friend’s favorite tea mug (that’s high treason in my book!).
How do you know the difference, and why does it matter?
Well, let’s begin with the many standards we as Christians, especially women, make. As you look over this list, think about how strongly you feel about each one.
what type of doctor to see
pants or skirts
tattoos and nose rings
burial or cremation
toys for your children
TV and movies and ratings
caring for environment
how many children to have
parenting: attachment or scheduling
handmade or store-bought
raise your own or grocery shop
and of course…how you name your children
As you think through your feelings about each of these things, ask yourself:
- Why do I think the way I do about that?
- From where did I get that belief?
- Would I in any circumstance at all ever consider the alternative of that belief?
There is a vast difference between convictions (which should be few) and preferences (which are many). A conviction leads someone to die at the stake. A preference allows for unique circumstances, abilities, temperaments, and experiences.
We often take on someone else’s convictions or preferences and measure them against our unique situations. This isn’t always a bad thing. We see those messengers as loving, well-intentioned, educated, passionate, and even helpful. We read their blogs and books, listen to their lectures and pay for their conferences. It is good to hold up what they are proclaiming into the light and see if they can enrich our lives. Often they do.
Decisions that are made from them, however, ought to be made carefully. Here are some helpful questions:
- Do you fear any sort of fallout if you don’t do whatever they are teaching or doing?
- Are you afraid others will see you differently or not as well if you do or don’t do these things?
- Are you fearful of failure?
- Are you feeling condemned or disapproved of?
- Does disagreeing make you want to hide under a bushel?
If so, please see that your underlying motivation is FEAR and avoiding SHAME. Is this you? Friend, making decisions out of a sense of shame does not lead to peace. If you are not sure you are feeling shame or if it is righteous guilt, please take a minute to ask yourself (chapter and verse) what sin you committed. And then ask yourself–if it IS a sin–if that sin has been atoned for already.
If you are a Christian, perhaps your biggest fear (gnawing gnat that it is) has been in disappointing God, because you love Him. Now we know we don’t purposefully go abiding in what we know is sin with “liberty” as an excuse, but we also make room for others in their preferences. Those differences may not be sin at all, despite how serious your shuddering in thinking of wearing a head covering (or not!). After all, God’s standards were only a list of ten.
Also, if you are a Christian, you already know you’ve broken those standards. Furthermore, you have already repented of them, were cleansed by the blood of Christ and forgiven. And so where does your GUILT lie? At the foot of the cross of course, in the depths of the sea, as far as the east is from the west. This, as you may surmise, is my CONVICTION.
Therefore, there is no more condemnation for you. EVEN if you make a decision now that you later regret or change your mind over. EVEN if…dare I say…you FAIL and (dum dum dummmmm) Make The Wrong Decision. Or change your mind. Or (God forbid) you start wearing pants, get a part-time job, and pierce your nose.
And IF there is no condemnation or guilt….where is the shame? From whom does it come? Certainly not from the Lord. And not from a blogger (I personally don’t really care if you wear jeans, work at WalMart or have a nose piercing), speaker or anyone else.
You really can live in peace, making decisions from your own convictions and not from a foundation of shame. Don’t let shame keep you fearful. Understand the sovereignty of God. Bless the Lord for your uniqueness and appreciate it. Know you will be in His will and that all things work together for your good. Because the Bible says you will make mistakes. You will feel you failed. You will sin and others will sin against you. But as the quote at the head of this post goes, you haven’t really failed but gained experience. And at this point there is nowhere else to go but forward.
So go forward. Hear and read new ideas, thoughts and the convictions and passions of others. Feel free to change how you think or do things, but do so out of hope and not shame. And may the peace of the Lord in His love and acceptance of you because of HIS broken hands (and not what your hands have done or will do) go with you.