When we are hurting, we tend to feel shame, put on a façade, and isolate ourselves. However, if we understand Christ, this shouldn’t be. Instead, we can be bold, even in the face of our repeated failures.
This had not been the case with Heather Kopp. She has described herself as a “Christian drunk.” in her new book, Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up with a Christian Drunk. Instead of her problem leading her to reach out to others in her church for support and encouragement, she isolated:
- When I lost control of my drinking, I was baffled and ashamed. I prayed and repented until I was blue in the face—all to no avail. Which set up a faith crisis. I mean, wasn’t alcoholism the kind of gross moral sin that I was supposed to have been saved from?
- I think this is why Christians make such miserable addicts. When prayer and repentance don’t work, in order to protect our “witness” or God’s reputation, or our families—we think we’re doing every one a favor by keeping it secret or suffering in silence. That only makes us more miserable and further away from getting help.
Although Kopp’s response to her addiction is very common, our New Testament encourages us to respond in an entirely different way. For one thing, knock-down hardships are to be expected.
- Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12)
We need to understand that we will experience such painful disappointments that we will think that there is something so terribly wrong with ourselves – that we are far worse off than others – that we will want to run away. However, the Apostle Paul instructs us to be prepared for such struggles:
- For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. (Galatians 5:17)
Consequently, we all struggle, and we’ll continue to struggle as long as we remain in this body! If we really imbibe this truth, we can be honest about our failings. Not only are they normal, but everyone has them!
But are they really failings in a negative and shameful sense – things that we need to hide? God had informed Paul that He wouldn’t relieve him of a troublesome problem because Paul was better off with the problem than without it:
- But he [God] said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
We tend to regard our weaknesses and failings as ugly, shameful things. However, this isn’t the way that God regards them (Isaiah 57:15; 66:1-2). Consequently, Paul learned to revel in his weaknesses, even to boast in them. He knew that his failings would make him spiritually strong. They would teach Him how to depend on the Lord.
If we know this and also that our God fully accepts us – warts and all – we can also boast in our weaknesses, assured that, however, frustrating they may be, God is working them all for a good purpose (Rom. 8:28). This means that we can stop obsessively ruminating about our weaknesses and insecurities and say to ourselves, “Great, another failure! I can’t wait to see what God will do through this one!”
Meanwhile, we shouldn’t be surprised if our struggles are deeper and more painful than those of others (1 Peter 4:17). Paul explained that if we want to grow spiritually, we must also die:
- We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Cor. 4:10-11)
This is nothing to be ashamed about. The way of life is death. The way of growth is brokenness! Paul had to learn this lesson repeatedly. He had to endure such discouragement that he felt like dying:
- We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (2 Cor. 1:8-9)
To grow in the Lord means to die to self. To trust in the Lord means that we have to see ourselves the way we really are, and to understand that there is no way that we can trust in ourselves. This is terribly painful – the despairing of our self–trust and self-esteem. However, if we know that this is God’s blessed cure, we can endure it and even laugh at ourselves in the process. We submit to physical surgery, because we believe that it means health. We should also submit to God’s spiritual surgery, because we know that it means healing and Christ-like-ness.
It’s been such a relief to me to lay down the façade that I am in control and to laugh at my failures and insecurities. Rather than driving me away from others it now draws others to me. If I can accept myself despite my failings, it helps others to feel more comfortable in my presence and helps them to lay down their own façade.
Although Kopp found healing through Christ, she also found some relief through AA. In AA, everyone was able to admit that they were alcoholics, albeit recovering alcoholics.
However, we have better Resources than AA! We can admit that we’re sinners saved by grace, and that’s okay because we have a God who loves us, just the way we are, with a love that transcends all understanding (Eph. 3:16-19), and has promised to never leave us. We no longer have to justify ourselves and rationalize away our wrongs, because Jesus has blotted them away on the cross.
I would not have made it in AA! I would not have been able to confront and accept my ugliness without the assurance that I was loved and forgiven from above - that I was defined by an absolute standard higher than society’s standard and my performance. Without this assurance, I clung to my crumbling façade, even through years of secular counseling. Ironically, secular counseling just served to enable me to hold on to my rationalizations of my own okay-ness.
My classes are a bit like an AA meeting. Although we don’t go around and confess our sins, I try to show the powerful connection between God’s Word and how it enables us to be real. When we understand Him, we can boldly come into His light (John 3:19-20) with our focus, not on ourselves, but on His glory and love.