Hey friends, I’m Angelique- but pretty much everyone calls me Jelly. Over the past three years, the Lord has challenged me and changed a good bit about my life and my perspective, but nothing has been quite as transformative as dealing with my shame.
The beginning of living in shame really goes back to when I was a kid. My mother was a drug addict, and my father was an alcoholic. They divorced before I turned four, and I split my time between their houses. I felt sure that their every issue was my fault. I constantly felt that I was “too much”- too emotional, too expensive, too forgetful, too clumsy, too slow, etc. As soon as I was old enough to understand, I made it my goal to be the last possible source of the frustration. If you asked my parents, they’d tell you that I never got in trouble, never got bad grades, and never really talked much. Truthfully, I spent my life too afraid to be close enough friends with anyone to cause trouble, hiding report cards, and internally hating every single aspect of my life- mainly myself.
I felt like my very existence was such a burden that it was better for everyone if my existence made the smallest impact possible.
When I was a preteen / young teenager my very easy solution to this was suicide. Then, by an act of grace, I got saved at a winter camp.
While this changed a LOT about my life, it didn’t change how I felt about myself. It didn’t change who I felt like I was or what I thought I deserved. It did, however, mean that I felt immense shame at even the thought of suicide.
With my option to actually disappear so (mercifully) gone, I decided the next best thing for me to do was to hide, and so I hid in plain sight.
I hid behind good works, self-preservation, and codependency.
I also hid from any amount of “disturbance” to the people around me- I never had a TV volume level where you could hear it, never a song without headphones, never a favor asked for or a cabinet left open. I learned to exist in the smallest space I could manage.
Fast-forward to my adult life and nothing really changed. If you knew me in the last five years, you could see it written all over my life. If my car windows were down, my music was so low you couldn’t really hear it. My friends who danced in the car stressed me out to no end, because it felt disruptive. I developed very real social anxiety when it came to approaching anyone for any reason. I hated walking through rooms and having people look at me. I didn’t ask for favors for anything. I didn’t initiate conversation unless it was mandatory. At the time, I think I wrote a LOT of it off to being introverted, when it was actually all a result of the shame I carried. “I’m just easily embarrassed” became the motto for my whole life, and I never questioned any of it.
The first time I was confronted with my shame was on a hike. I did an internship in Washington state before my sophomore year of college, and when my friends and I arrived we discovered we’d be going on a hike about halfway through the internship. I had never been hiking before, and the two other interns had never hiked a mountain- so we were DREADING it. But the day of, we all got up, got dressed, and decided to hope for the best. When we started the hike, I immediately wanted to be in the back of our party. “If I’m only slowing myself down, it’s fine”, I thought. Somehow, I ended up in the dead middle of the group, and when we were what I thought was 15 minutes in (turns out it had been an hour and a half- shame is also a liar), I had a total breakdown. Heaving, crying, not breathing, because I felt so ashamed to ask the group to stop for me to take a breath. I felt ashamed of needing anything. The pastor I was with calmed me down and said, “Okay. You need our help. You need us to accommodate you. And it’s a blessing, not a burden, to do that. Stick directly behind me, and if you need a break, say the word. Give me your backpack.” For the next 7 hours, we hiked an actual mountain and gained 2350 ft of elevation while he carried my pack AND his. Never had I felt so pastored, so defended, so accommodated, so challenged, so worth my existence. When we made it to the top, I sat in front of the lake and wept genuine, open tears. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel ashamed.
When we came back down the mountain and to real life, I moved back to Virginia and had to start over with a whole new group of people. Every single shameful tendency reared its ugly head all over again, and I began to believe that my mountain experience was a fluke, not a way to actually live differently.
One day, things shifted again, but this time it was based on more than just my experience- it was based on truth. I was sitting in the back of my Theology classroom, and my professor was on his way to making a really solid point when he made a comment that wrecked my life (which happened often- I was usually already wrecked before he ever got to the intended end). He said, “Jesus didn’t die just to get rid of your sin.”
As soon as he said it, I leaned forward and put my fingers on my temples. I vividly remember him stopping class to ask me if I was okay because of the sudden shift. I stammered out something along the lines of “Wait- yes He did? Right?” (Eloquent, I know).
He took a moment and then said “I mean- Jesus did die to get rid of your sin- but Jesus didn’t die JUST to get rid of your sin. Jesus died so that the Lord could have an intimate relationship with you forever. Getting rid of your sin is just the means to an end.”
The truth that Jesus really could love me like that blew me away. My whole life, I had seen any relationship that I had as an unintended consequence of someone’s context- that I was just kind of there, and they made the best of it. That’s what I thought about Jesus, too- that He couldn’t logistically just die for some people and not me, so He took what He could get. The idea that He was intentional with me, that He wanted me, specifically? I didn’t know what to do with it. Behavior management to avoid being a burden was all I knew, and the idea that Jesus didn’t see me as a burden AND wasn’t just interested in managing my behavior seemed like too good of a truth to believe.
But while I started to believe that MAYBE I was actually wanted- I was also pretty certain it was temporary. I mean, I was still the same person I had always been. Too clumsy, too slow, too loud, too needy, too expensive, too much. Eventually, I thought, Jesus would see what it actually took to deal with me, and He’d cut me loose. He wouldn’t send me to hell or anything- but He sure as heck wouldn’t let me do ministry. He wouldn’t fulfill the desires of my heart. He wouldn’t give me good gifts, and He definitely wouldn’t want to talk to me anymore when I got to heaven. He’d pretty much welcome me politely and then go hang out with some other, more holy, more intelligent, more loving, less burdensome people.
I lived in this temporary limbo for a long time. Honestly, it just felt easier for me to live anticipating disappointment and rejection from the Father, so I didn’t deal with my shame- my core belief that I was unlovable if fully seen & known- until a few months ago. One of my trusted friends led us through Psalm 139 during devotions, and part of the passage says this:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you know my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are familiar with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me….
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb...
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”
He knows me. He is familiar with all my ways. Even my darkness isn’t dark to Him. He knew my days before I lived a single one. When I read this that morning, I wept again. The same tears I had wept on the mountain- because I felt the same kind of love. I felt known, seen in all my weakness, and loved anyway.
There’s a story in the Bible where religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery to Jesus’ feet. They specifically ask Jesus if they ought to stone her (as the law would have them do). Jesus looks at the group of men and very plainly says that whoever hasn’t sinned should throw the first stone, and slowly the stones fall to the ground. All the men leave until it’s just Jesus and the woman.
After all the leaders leave, Jesus says “Did no one accuse you?”
“No, Jesus. No one accused me.”
“Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”
When I heard this story as a kid, I used to focus on the “go and sin no more” part, and I always saw it as Jesus managing her behavior to justify forgiving her. But the more that I’ve walked away from shame, the more beauty I find in Jesus’ words. Instead of an accuser, she found a Savior that says “I don’t accuse you for your sin- but they still might. There still could be earthly consequences. So please don’t sin again.”
Can you imagine how the woman felt to be fully seen and still protected? Can you picture a sound so beautiful as stones that were meant to be your ultimate punishment falling to the ground?
When that sound became my song, my life began to look brand new. I am honest and vulnerable with people. I ask for favors. I laugh loudly at the slightest thing, my music is always turned up, and there’s about a 90% chance that if you see my car I’m probably dancing in it (& badly, at that!).
If there’s anything that I know, it’s that shame cannot exist in the face of endless grace, permanent worth, and unchanging kindness. Jesus’ death means that those things are my inheritance.
I am fully seen, fully known, fully understood. Fully loved.
And so are you.