“It’s not a story of your shame. It’s a story of God’s glory.”
I was sitting in my dorm room with a friend, telling her all the shameful secrets I never wanted to tell anyone. But with those two sentences, she began to revolutionize how I viewed my past. There was pain in my past and I didn’t want people to know. But my friend’s words helped me realize that when I didn’t show people these broken things, I couldn’t show them the beauty of how God redeemed that brokenness.
My life didn’t start broken. I was raised by loving parents who worked hard, poured out their time and dedication for my sister and me, and always told me about Jesus. I remember sitting at the dining room table when I was four years old and praying to Jesus, telling Him that I knew I did bad things but He was perfect, He died for me, and I wanted to go to heaven with Him. As far as my four-year-old mind could comprehend, I became a Christian.
However, being a Christian stayed just that: something my mind could comprehend. I began to read the bible and memorize many passages. I thus knew a lot of truths in my head, but I didn’t let these truths influence my life. Even though I intellectually knew about God’s love, I didn’t find fulfillment in His love. Instead I was constantly fighting for attention, for acceptance, for accolades, afraid of being alone and unloved. But as I tried to be in control and force people to love me, I became very independent and unloving. I was angry, argumentative, selfish, dishonest, and always getting in trouble, yet making excuses to justify my actions. I never let myself feel loved, by God or by others.
All of this came to a head in 8th grade. I developed anorexia, driven by my independent perfectionism coupled with my insecurity regarding how others viewed me. Like other kinds of mental illness or addiction, my mind felt trapped, controlled by something else, yet I was desperately fighting to be in control. I was starving myself to death and yet I thought nothing was wrong. In fact, I thought I needed to eat less, exercise more, work harder, do better. I was consumed by Satan’s lies that I could make people love me by controlling my appearance and their perception of me. I became so miserable, wanted out of this self-imposed prison so badly, that I wanted to kill myself. But I desired to be in control so much that I never asked God for help out of the prison. Right when I needed God the most I shut Him out.
My parents and sister were understandably scared for me, but their fear was manifested as anger rather than compassion. I responded accordingly with anger and defensiveness, spiraling deeper into my sickness and sin. My parents finally gave me an ultimatum: recognize you have a problem and start getting better, or we will send you to a rehab facility within a month. Their threats fell on my deaf ears that were so busy listening to Satan’s lies that they couldn’t hear truth.
Being trapped in these lies was like living in a nightmare, a terrifying dream in which my mind was in a prison. But right in the middle of the nightmare, God took a sledgehammer to the prison walls. Before I struggled with anorexia, my parents had been working on an adoption from Russia. One week before the end of my parents’ ultimatum, they were notified that a little boy was ready for them to adopt. My parents turned down the adoption, saying they could not bring another child into the family when their daughter was slowly killing herself.
I still remember the moment when I overheard my mom tell my dad that the adoption was cancelled because of my anorexia. Reality slapped me in the face. For the first time I was able to recognize I was living in bondage, hurting myself and others. The guilt that flooded into my mind and heart was so painful I can still feel it. But despite the gut-wrenching pain, I am now thankful for the reality check that day. God used this to wake me up from the nightmare of anorexia. And right in the midst of the guilt and pain, I recognized I needed God. I couldn’t be in control and do everything on my own. I needed God like a little girl needs her dad to comfort her when she’s afraid of a bad dream.
Because I had grown up viewing God only in an academic and legalistic way, I had developed a skewed picture of God. He was angry and vengeful, and sought to expose my sin and punish me for it. He was a God who demanded to be feared above all else. But the God who woke me up from my sin and freed me from the prison of lies was different. He wasn’t angry with me for what had happened. He loved me because I was His child, regardless of how ashamed I felt about myself. For the first time, I really experienced grace, forgiveness, and love - the attributes of God I read about in the Bible but had never truly felt.
I fell in love with this loving God. I wanted to know Him, not just know about Him. My body, my mind, and my family still had scars from the trauma. I hated the countless medical appointments that I needed in order to heal. But I had a relationship with God, and that began to change how I viewed life. There was hope.
However, I still struggled with guilt. I knew that God had freed me from the bondage of my sin. But guilt is an equally crippling shackle. I’ve only recently realized that when Jesus said He came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and set the oppressed free, this includes freedom from guilt as well as sin.
This guilt I feel is a symptom of the lie that Jesus’s redemption isn’t powerful enough to really rescue me from the painful situations that happened to me and my family. But each day I struggle, He redeems me again, and reveals His love to me again, and gives me peace again, and pursues my heart again, and frees me again.
Growing up, I was taught that freedom was a thing to be feared, because freedom gave license to live according to sinful desires. I now understand that Jesus intends freedom differently. Jesus wants us to have freedom from sin, from strongholds, from guilt, from shame. Instead of being captive to these things, He wants us to be captured by the freedom of a joyful life. God never intends for us to live in fear. He longs for us to live in freedom.
My heart breaks for people who have not experienced the joy of living in freedom. I am friends with many Muslim girls who are so are afraid of God’s wrath and of the shame their community often heaps on them that they don’t accept that Jesus came to free them from wrath and shame. I also have friends who are so afraid of sinning that they depend on their own willpower to obey God, rather than depending on Him to free them from sinful desires. And I have other friends who have broken pasts or broken presents; they’ve walked away from God or struggled with addiction, or they’re in that prison now. But for all of these friends, the same God who rescued me wants to free them too. I long for them to experience the love and joy that comes from freedom, like a prisoner stumbling from the terrifying darkness of a prison cell into the light. Because of what God has already done in my life, I have hope for those who are on the journey from fear to freedom.
This journey to living in freedom is a lifelong process. I am so grateful for the powerful example of others who show me how to live this way. I love hearing the stories of friends who believe that Jesus has fully rescued them and who are empowered by this freedom to love and obey God. Such lives glorify God by proclaiming the completeness of His payment for our sins. And I cherish having a community of people around me to encourage me to live in my identity as a freed and loved child of God rather than step back into my prison of sin and guilt.
So I choose to tell my story because I want to glorify God for how He freed me, and I want others to experience the joy of this freedom. I’m not ashamed to tell my story, because it’s not a story of my shame, it’s a story of God’s glory. My story is not done. Sometimes it’s a battle to live in the freedom that Jesus provides, rather than revert to the comfort of past ways of thinking and acting. But I don’t need to fear the battle because Jesus has fought it for me. He fought for my freedom and won. I choose to live in that victorious freedom.