A few weeks ago, I was reading the story of the Prodigal Son. I must admit, this is a parable I’ve always kind of wrestled with. Like many of you, I’m perfectionistic. Justice is important to me. I can be a bit too black and white. Hearing a story about a spoiled kid that demands his inheritance, blows it, and returns to his father throwing him a party? That makes me uncomfortable. My heart immediately empathizes with the brother. I can feel his anger and resentment into my bones. He has been faithful. He was obedient to his father. “Why doesn’t he get a party?” I silently pout. “It’s not fair!”
Every time I read that story, it reminds me of how even after 23 years of knowing Christ, I still have so far to go when it comes to both knowing and accepting God’s grace in my own life. I’ve all too often experienced the side-effects of being a slave to religious perfection instead of functioning as the daughter of a God that relentlessly loves me, and pursues my heart passionately—even when I’m not perfect. Shame is an incredibly manipulative, seductive, adulterer of grace--corrupting what we know about God by convincing us that our worth is directly connected to our behavior. Constantly whispering “you’re not good enough” in our ear.
Shame requires us to carry around the empty suitcases that once held the weight of our failures. It requires us to promote ourselves as the judge and jury of our own lives, and if we’re really honest, it’s that same shame that encourages us to take delight in the failings of others, because misery loves company. When you haven’t let the unfairness of grace infiltrate your own heart, you can’t extend that grace to the imperfect people around you.
Psalm 103:10-12 says, "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear him.”
His steadfast love.
His love is a love doesn’t run away when things get messy. His love is a love that knows every secret you hold, but still calls you His “child.” His love is a love that persistently asks you to let go of the things you’ve done because in his eyes, none of that defines you. You are His.
Shame is slavery to a system that, as of that “good” Friday, ceased to exist. When shame tells us we're unworthy, Christ is there telling us that all we have to do is ask Him to take it all, and asking us to trust that He has made us new. He's asking us to find our identity in Him. He is asking us to hand Him our self-made prisons and dwell in His freedom.
It’s not fair, its uncomfortable, and that’s the point.
Jake McGregor, Pastor of Missional & Spiritual Formation