How to break the power of shame

 

We sing it at the close of the Maundy Thursday service: “Christ of the open hands. . . let us come with you.”

 

Do we mean it?

 

Christ of the open hands.

 

Hands held open in love. Torn open by nails. Opened in embrace so wide it took Your breath away.

 

Usually I walk home past the five star hotels and fancy restaurants, the chic shops and cafes piping music out onto the sidewalk where potted flowers bloom bright yellows and purples and reds. After the Good Friday service I turn right instead of left. Prayer-walk my way down Granville street. Past the covered windows with their gaudy neon tubing advertising 25c peep shows and XXX-rated videos. Past the row of gay bars closed up tight and the man having a loud conversation with his invisible companion, his terrified eyes piercing mine, seeing through me.

 

Christ of the open hands. You embraced all of this.

 

My hands are safe in my coat pockets. Folded across my chest. Clenched into fists. Anything to stop the wounds from showing. To keep from gaining new ones.

 

Christ of the open hands, you teach me this: the way through death to life always passes through open hands. Your open hands. And my own.

 

For this is the wonder: when you returned from death, pulsing with life in your new and forever body, you kept your wounds. You did not toss them aside, brush them off, hide them as shameful, though the wounds of crucifixion were the most shameful of all wounds.

 

You kept them. Maybe to teach me this truth. That in the right-side-upness of your kingdom (which seems upside-down to my world-saturated vision), the wounds are the places where love speaks loudest.

 

I hear again my brother’s words, how for years he was mad at missionaries because they never shared that they had problems. “If you want me to be a brother and you’re not sharing, something is wrong.”

 

Our enemy is a master deceiver, keeping us hiding our wounds in shame.

 

But this is the grand truth of grace. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

 

And this is how we break the power of shame: we let Christ’s wounds touch ours. We overcome the accuser, this master deceiver, by telling the whole truth. There is now no condemnation. The power of grace and truth has conquered the power of shame. We live free and whole by the blood of the Lamb who destroyed the accuser’s power, and by refusing to hide. We stop playing the game of the accuser. Stop hiding in shame and giving him more opportunity to attack us. There is now no condemnation.

 

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony. . .” (Revelation 12:10-11)

 

This is what the world needs to know: that grace is big enough to embrace us in the midst of our – yes, our, woundedness. We are human. We are broken. And those are the only prerequisites for receiving grace. Those, and the willingness to open our clenched, wounded hands and receive.

 

Shout it loud: We aren’t perfect. And we don’t have to be. For Christ forever presses His wounds up against ours and fills our broken places with life.

 

Christ of the open hands. . . let us come with you.

Related posts:

When you’re ashamed of the mess 

When you have nothing to give 

When you fear the cross

Easter’s Every-Moment Gift: (. . . Why God’s Not Disappointed With You)

“Abba, are you disappointed with me?”

 “Tell me, disappointment, what does it mean?”

 I google it: “The feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.”

 “I am the One who works out everything according to my plan. My hopes and expectations are never unfulfilled.” (Ephesians 1:11)

 “But. . . how? I’m so often disappointed with me. How are you not?”

 “I knew it all in advance. I planned for it. In my eyes you have never been just you. I chose you and created you “in Christ,” one with him. When I chose you – before I created the world – I chose him to be one with you, so that all my hopes and dreams for you would be fulfilled. When I chose him, I chose you, to be the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. Do you see?”

 

“For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” (Ephesians 1:4)

“He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” (1 Peter 1:20)

“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Ephesians 1:22-23)

“But. . . what about when I fail? Aren’t you disappointed then? I can’t keep all of your commands for even a single hour. Every moment I’m holding something back, failing to love you with all of my heart and soul and mind and strength.”

“That’s why you’re joined to Jesus. It’s why you’re in him. Every moment when you fall short, he is there. Being enough. Enough not only to cover your sin but to work within the situation and fulfill my plan to bring you deeper and deeper into my heart.”

* * * * *

I try to understand mystery, am brought back to this concrete world of flesh and bone and skin. Skin, this place of being bounded and limited, bordered and contained. To those who love us, it becomes a place of delight, of intimacy.

A newborn baby is placed skin-to-skin with her mother, allowing bonding to begin. Chest to chest, mouth to breast, skin and skin together bring closeness. In infancy and sickness and death, we care most intimately for each other touching skin to skin. Stroking. Washing. Kissing. Preparing for burial.

Touch releases tears. Awakens delight. Breaks hearts and heals them. And when skin and skin touch in the deep places, the dark and hidden ones, the bond created cannot be broken without tearing each heart in two.

And I see that now, in Jesus, the limitations and weaknesses which border and contain us can be as much a potential area for delight and intimacy with Him as the deep places of our skin with a human lover. This place of darkest fear, when I allow Him in, becomes the very place I can discover His love most deeply. Longing and brokenness call me constantly to come to Him for healing. Our caverns of emptiness can become the places most full of God.

This is the cry of grace. God’s love does not overlook our limitations. He does not merely love us in spite of our weaknesses. His love is bigger than that. It enfolds all. He embraced us fully, wore skin himself to unite his very being with us in our most hidden and shameful places. Having been united with him like this in his death, will we not also be united with him in his resurrection? And so He cleanses these darkest places, fills them with himself. Light himself lives within us. Having so embraced us, He delights in us, not despite the limitations but including them. He sees us now as whole and holy, completed by Himself. Our wounds and weaknesses become no longer places of disappointment to be hidden in shame but potential spaces for the delight of deepest union.

“’My grace is all you need. My strength is most full in your weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

God who draws near,

You chose to unite yourself with me

in the darkest places of my soul.

Now there is no place I need fear

opening to you

for you enfold all in your love.

May I not try to fill

the empty places myself

and so run from your love,

but return, again and again,

to the healing power of your embrace.


Related posts:

More of the Gift: Why God Really Isn’t Disappointed With You



Writing today in community about “The Practice of Easter.” 

When you’re tempted to climb your fences

We all have them. Most of us – at least sometimes – hate them. Try to hide them. Ignore them and hope they’ll go away. Or dig under them like a little dog frantically trying to escape from the fence keeping him in the yard.

For some of us, the most obvious limitations are physical, for others, mental, emotional, situational. Introverts and extroverts are limited in different ways. Young children, a tremendous blessing, still restrict their parents by constant needs and demands. Work to which we are called can feel unbearably heavy.

But I’m learning this. God’s view of my limits and my view are worlds apart. Too often, I see them as a barrier keeping me from the best. . . all those other things I’d love to be doing. God knows they keep me in the best. These fences surround the garden in which I’m invited to walk with Jesus. When I submit to their invitation rather than trying to climb over or dig under or break through, they keep me from wandering here and there, spreading myself thin and staying shallow and missing the relationship for which I was created. The fences are lovingly erected by the hand of Grace, signposts to lead me to Him.

Why do we see limits as bad, something to be fought rather than submitted to? Why do we think that if we’re not sufficiently free and healthy to do whatever we want, we are defective? That limits are synonymous with inadequacy? Why?

Could it be that we’re trying to be God?

The many trees of the garden in which we’re placed are not enough. We want to extend the fences and eat from the single one that is off limits. We’re not content with our prosperous life. We want to build the tower to heaven and secure our fortunes and break free of the possibility of loss and limits and dependence.

But limits are an essential part of being human. They’re one of the (few) things that set us apart from God. He has given us everything else. He grants us to share even his nature . . . within the limits of a human body. As he lives in us, we can love (even sometimes with agape) . . . but we can’t love the whole world. We can see and understand. . . but not everything. We can created beautifully and truly. . . but not from nothing. We have power. . . but not unlimited. Limits are one of the (few) things that set us apart from God, and yet most effectively keep us in God.

Limits are always given in love to lead us into the very place in which we are most full and free of limits: the heart of God.

Limits are always given in love, and when the fences grow tighter for a season (even the short season of a lifetime on earth), it is not punishment. It is a gift of guidance and direction toward buried treasure. “Here. Walk here. Dig here. Go deep here. Here you will find the spot in the heart of God for which you were created.”

It’s one of those paradoxes. When I try to ignore my limitations and press on as though they weren’t there, they become my focus and feel, well, limiting. Harsh and ugly. When I recognize them as gift, loving invitation from a Heart who longs for my presence, and choose to walk arm in arm with my Lover in the center of the garden, the fences fade behind beauty.

When you long for fullness


It rises and falls moment by moment, me scarcely aware. Receiving breath-gift. Fullness. The surrender of release. Emptiness.

The breath cycle happens in spirit as in body. Grace is given, received with thankfulness. A moment, a day perhaps, of felt fullness, joy and peace. Excitement at what God is doing. Then it fades. Fatigue sets in. Restlessness. A fresh awareness of my own emptiness and poverty and need.

I seem to want always to feel full.

I forget that constant fullness leads to death.

Those with asthma know. Emptiness is a gift, constant fullness that against which they war. For in their illness, the problem is not receiving breath, but releasing it; not getting air in, but out.  As the airways close, the lungs stay full. No release, no space for the next breath in. And the air within, the gift of the past, has already done its life-giving work, gracing the body with oxygen. It can give no more life but waits to be surrendered, the space emptied for another rise to fullness.

And I wonder, can I learn not to fight the process of surrender? Each time the fullness wanes, can I learn to ask, “What am I being invited to release?” Can I move beyond seeing emptiness as a necessary but unpleasant preparation for fullness and learn to receive the unique gifts that emptiness offers? For it is only here that we discover ourselves loved in our poverty, our nothingness. It is here alone that we learn we are cherished not for our doing, but because by unfathomable mystery God delights in our being.

And I realize that without this gift of emptiness, there is no rising cycle to fullness, for this is the gift, the earthy, holy stuff of new creation fullness, that at our emptiest, we find ourselves embraced again by the One who delights to draw us close enough to breathe into us our next moment of fullness.

When you have nothing to give

Ashamed, I hesitate. It seems a poor gift for a King.

I offer it anyway. All of my longing, my emptiness, my helplessness.

And the Gracious One reminds me of another woman who gave him all of her nothingness, her entire poverty. He received it as a gift of everything.

For in this upside-down kingdom, it is not fullness, independence, sufficiency which the King seeks, but emptiness. Acceptance of our own inability.

“Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” (Simone Weil)

It is grace itself which makes this void. Do you hear the wonder in this truth? Grace, who himself empties us, will never turn from us in our brokenness. He waits instead to fill us with Himself.

And so tonight, this is my prayer for you: As you continue to surrender to this hand of grace which is emptying you still further, preparing space for Himself, may you also be wakened to the deepening of His own presence within you.