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The Captive's Choice

Barb Stanley

Today something weird happened. I woke up in a rosy, good mood. In fact, I was in more of a good mood than normal. I was actually bounding out of bed, somewhat alert, before 9 am. I had a smile on my face as I threw on my best pair of worn-out jeans, swept my hair into a 50¢ hair band, and hopped into my car to drive to my morning meeting (It’s always important to look your best for meetings.) Which, is where things got weird…

As I was bee bopping down the road going over my to do list in my head, I suddenly started feeling teary eyed. I am not a teary person. This was weird, and I didn’t understand what was happening. I stopped at a red light and looked around, but there was nothing overly emotional about the gas station to my left or the Chipotle to my right. Still the feeling intensified. Then suddenly I realized, I was responding to the song that was blasting out of the radio - “Check your shame at the door. 'Cause it ain't welcome anymore.”

It was then that I was consciously reminded of something that this song had taught my soul a year ago – Freedom is possible.

Before, I explain, I want to say something. I believe that each of us are more alike than we are different. Now, I know that we all have different perspectives and experiences and we all have so much to learn from one another. However, I believe that the things that make us the most human are the things that we all have in common, like feelings, feelings of love, trust, fear, and shame. No matter who you are, or what you have been through, each of us have felt those things. Love and trust, those are great feelings to have as much as possible. Fear, while not my favorite, can be a healthy part of our lives when we use it sparingly to keep us from danger (that’s for you, Grizzly Bears). But, shame, shame tells us that we are not acceptable. It says that if people really knew us they wouldn’t love us. It stops us from moving forward. Shame is no good, and it is not in God’s plan for us. Yet, we often choose it anyway. And when we do, no matter who you are or what you have been through, it can hold you captive.

A year ago, shame held me captive, but I broke free. In a pizza parlor parking lot. Listening to this exact song.

Here’s how it all went down.

It had been a normal night, in a not so normal year, and I went to pick up pizza for my family. I arrived at the restaurant too soon, and in the early days of the pandemic back when picking up takeout felt like risking your life, I decided to sit in the car and wait until I knew that our order would be ready. I was already feeling very heavy because on top of the collective anxiety that we were all feeling when COVID burst on the scene, I was also weeks away from graduating from grad school. But instead of being excited for graduation I was filled with dread because I knew that the promise I had made my family would never come true. And I just couldn’t believe that I had failed them.

You see, I had asked my family to make sacrifices for me so that I could go back to school to get a master’s degree. I had promised that the two years where I would not be making any salary, and the very expensive tuition we would pay, would be worth it when I finished because I would be able to have a new, big career in a brand new field. My sales pitch worked, and they agreed. So, I spent the next two years making quick, crappy dinners, ignoring my family in favor of writing endless research papers, and accruing a mountain of school loans. But I had assured them that was OK, because I promised it would be worth it in the end. Only, sitting there in that dark pizza parlor parking lot I knew that the end was almost here and that nothing I promised turned out to be true. The field I chose to study ended up not being a fit for me, and I knew that even though graduation would come and go, my new, big career would never come. And I felt ashamed of this. In fact, shame held me captive behind the locked prison door in my mind.

And that is when a song came on the radio. One that I had not heard before, but one that spoke the words I so needed to hear at that very moment.

Sometimes on this journey, I get lost in my mistakes What looks to me like weakness is a canvas for Your strength And my story isn't over, my story's just begun Failure won't define me 'cause that's what my Father does Yeah, failure won't define me 'cause that's what my Father does

Ooh, lay your burdens down Ooh, here in the Father's house Check your shame at the door (ooh) 'Cause it ain't welcome anymore (ooh) Ooh, you're in the Father's house

As I sat there listening to “The Father’s House” by Corey Asbury I was reminded of this - shame is a choice. And while we may not always choose to invite the suffocating, darkness of shame to creep up on us, we do get to choose how long we sit there in it. We do get to decide if we put our heads down or look up. We can choose to believe that we are alone or that we are held - if we should throw away the prison cell key or use it to unlock the door. No matter what has happened, God gives us this choice: Sit with shame or sit with Him.

And on that evening, in the dusky parking lot, I chose to sit with Him. I chose to let go of the shame of feeling like a failure and invited God in. While, the process wasn’t as easy as just singing a catchy hook, that moment was a first step towards moving forward. Of course, if you follow Wonderful Works, then you know the rest of my story. God wasn’t disappointed or surprised that my school plans didn’t go the way I expected. But that is not the point of this story. The point is that no matter who you are or what you have been through there will come times in your life when shame makes you feel trapped. You are not. You can choose freedom.

So, if this story, and this song, stir something in you. Then I would invite you to consider this. Take some time and think about if shame is holding you hostage anywhere in your life. Are you setting higher expectations for yourself than you should? Has a sense of shame been passed down from generation to generation of your family? Have you made past mistakes or are you actively sinning and don’t believe that you are worthy of redemption? No matter the reason for your shame – here is what I know – The answer is always the same – Invite God In and then take the next right step.

Invite God into your shame. But more importantly, invite Him into your life. Get to know him better. Invest time into his word, pray with honesty, listen to worship music, seek ways to grow and keep leaning in no matter how life feels. And then take the next right step. This looks different for everybody. You may need to give yourself some grace and understand that we were each designed to be real people, not perfect people – and there is beauty in our rough edges. It may mean allowing yourself to be vulnerable and deepening the relationships in your life – It’s hard for shame to grow when we know that there are people in our lives that love us even in our ugly. It may mean being brave and owning up to something we have kept hidden for a long time. For many of us who have been through complicated and hurtful things in our past, it means going to counseling and healing by learning how to see things differently. Counseling is hard and its expensive, but it can be life-changing, and you are worth the investment. If you feel shame because you are actively engaging in repeated sin, it means to stop doing it, repent and invite Him in to help you.

And there’s something else. Choosing freedom means choosing to believe these truths – Shame cannot hold us captive, if we don’t let it. We are never alone, even when we feel like we are. Redemption is possible for everyone, no matter who you are or what you have been through. With God’s help freedom in our soul is always possible.

And one final thing, if anything in this blog made you feel teary eyed, then I have the song for you. I hope you will check it out. And when you do, remember:

Check your shame at the door (ooh) 'Cause it ain't welcome anymore (ooh)

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