Whoever you are, I think you’d be comfortable saying that you’ve had a run-in at some point with shame—that deep, nagging sense of wishing you could rewind and have a “do-over”, that deep, abiding feeling of almost resenting something you’ve done, something about yourself, something that defines you. Sometimes I think shame can sneak up on us—perhaps we don’t even know it’s there until we’re placed in a situation when we’re overcome by it.
Just over a week ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to attend the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) conference, and while exhausting and heavy, it also brought some of that shame I was unaware of up to the surface. I’m a little worried that this post is going to be preach-ier than I hope for it to be, but man there was some scripture that really spoke to me, so please stick with me—here goes nothing…
This all started about two weeks ago, when our family had the opportunity to spend time with our friends who recently adopted a sweet little baby girl who has Down’s Syndrome. At some point after she was born, and while her new parents were in the middle of all the paperwork, the adoptive mother had a moment when she doubted that she “could do hard things.” Because orphan care—in any way, shape, or form feels messy and overwhelming and just plain hard at times.
Her question has been rolling around in my mind ever since then, and I think the reason for that is because I wonder the same thing sometimes.
Do you ever wonder if you can do hard things—whether it’s related to raising kids born to you or not? Do you ever wonder if your job is going to run you to the ground? Do you wonder if you’ll really be able to go back to work after your maternity leave? Do you wonder if you can keep moving one foot in front of the other as you continue navigating life as a single when you thought your life would look so different? Do you wonder if you’ll ever move past the intensity of pain you’re feeling after losing your unborn baby? Do you ever wonder if you can heal from the devastating loss of a parent or friend or child or family member? Do you wonder if you’ll ever be able to pick up the pieces of your empty marriage? Certainly, you’ve wondered at some point in your life if you can really do the hard.
Sometimes I wonder if I can really keep bending without breaking. Can we really hack this whole foster care thing? Can we really keep giving every ounce of our energy today and still have some for tomorrow?
Two weeks ago my bible study finished studying the book of John. After Jesus’ resurrection, He appears to the disciples three times, and the third time He appears, He arrives at the sea where seven of the disciples are fruitlessly fishing. After Jesus fills their long-empty nets, and they all feast on some breakfast in the early hours of the day together, Jesus has a conversation with Peter in front of all the other disciples.
You see, as Jesus was being tried before His crucifixion, Peter denied knowing Jesus three separate times for one reason and another. And Jesus knew Peter—He knew that Peter had those times of denial burned deeply into the forefront of his mind—it was defining him. And here is how the conversation went down:
“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’
He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.”
Jesus wasn’t asking Peter so He could call him out on the denials; He wasn’t asking him to embarrass him in front of his friends; He wasn’t really wondering if Peter truly loved Him—that He already knew. He was doing a couple of things, I believe:
One of which was reminding Peter of his deep affection for Jesus, and with each time He did so, Jesus gave to him a job. To me, this indicates that growing out of our inherent sin and denial of Jesus, we can come to recognize our need for and depth of love for Him even more than if we had never denied Him at all. Out of that need for Jesus—out of that recognition of our inability to remain faithful to our Jesus, we see His beautiful love for and faithfulness to us despite it all and we’re called to action—called to do hard things on His behalf.
The second thing I think Jesus was doing was brought to my attention by Curt Thompson, author of “Soul of Shame,” who was at the CAFO conference while we were there, and as this section of scripture was already speaking to me strongly, he brought it up in a different light. He said that Jesus asked Peter these questions three times because Peter had been carrying around heaps of shame. When we carry our sin and shame—when we let it define us, we get stuck there, and we lose our ability to move forward. Jesus calls Peter out of his shame essentially saying, “Peter, I’ve got this—I know you love me. I need you to lay down your shame at the cross where I just crucified it because there’s work to do.” Going through all the different sessions at the conference piled on shame for me over the way our last foster case ended. I felt ill-equipped and in so many ways it’s easy to look back and wonder if we “failed” her; but boy, Jesus tracked down that shame in me during the conference, and He said, “You’ve got to put it down, Linds, so you can run forward hard in love for X. This shame is holding you back—weighing you down. I’ve got it.” In the last ten days there have been lots of tears and lots of moments of re-laying down that shame so we can love here an now.
Moving on from the first section, this next part of scripture is what really broke me, you guys:
“’Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.’ (This He said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)
And after saying this He said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
-John 21:15-19, emphasis added
Jesus tells Peter that he will be crucified on His behalf, as a result of his loyalty to Jesus. Jesus can see into Peter’s future and say—you’re going to do what I’m telling you to; you’re going to “feed my sheep” and you’re going to “follow me,” and when you do, it’s going to lead you to pain; you’re going to have to sacrifice on my behalf—you’re going to sacrifice everything for me and I will be glorified. Jesus is saying, “Peter, you can do hard things—my love will sustain you there.”
You see, if Jesus asks us to do it, He promises to be there with us. Hard things are just that–they’re hard to do, and I can’t bend without breaking, but I’ve got a God who broke on my behalf so I don’t have to live being broken anymore—it’s when I break that I can find redemption and life through His unmatched love for me. It doesn’t feel like it sometimes, but we can do the hard things, friends. When we are obedient to walk through the hardest things, we bring Him the most glory.