“Where there’s life there’s hope.”
– J.R.R. Tolkien
Everyone knows. You can read it on their faces. “Disappointment,” “Another number for the statistic,” or “I really thought God was going to use her” are words you could hear them say if their eyes could speak. They know. They heard. You feel so small. How could someone like you keep going?
A struggle spoken, a failing revealed, and everything crashed around you. The light you thought was there was snuffed out, and all you could grasp was the fainting smoke as you fell deeper in the darkness.
We understand what it is like for a part of our story to come to light only to shove us back into the darkness. We come forward with a failing to find forgiveness, a struggle to find a solution, and all we are given is shame, guilt, and a scarlet letter to be seared on our chest as we walk this life. Our lives feel shipwrecked, the chapter written, and our story becomes one to find its home among the great tragedies of history.
What do we do when the light of a bright future turns dark? What do we do when the struggles and the failings become our identity?
The Source of Shame
Shame is a terrible feeling. It weighs down the thoughts, emotions, and extinguishes any spiritual flame. When we speak of a struggle or a failing, shame pushes our bodies to the ground until we cannot stand up. It is like heavy rain bending our knees to its power.
Yet, where does shame come from? We came for light. Yet, we only found darkness. Why? It says in 1 John 1:5 God is light, and there is no darkness in him. The shame does not come from him. Romans 10:11 promises anyone who trusts Jesus for his light will not be put to shame.
It comes from one place: us. We are the givers of shame. When people come to us for help, what do they find? Quick prosecutors and swift executioners. We are quick to put others on trial for their struggles and their failings. Someone who is repentant wants forgiveness, yet we dish out consequences. To them it feels like their life is now over. They have to prove themselves worthy to regain our grace and acceptance.
Is that how God treats us? Think about our struggles and failings. Did God take away a future because you struggled with something or because you sinned? Or did God come to forgive you and to give you hope of a new beginning?
The Author of Our Story
God is not a God of shame. Instead, he is the one who writes our story (Psalm 139:13-16). He knew from the day you were born all the struggles and failings in your life. Yet, what did he do? His holiness drove him to do the greatest act of love in human history.
No more shame. Jesus felt it as his clothes were ripped from his body. No more guilt. Jesus felt our guilty sentences hammered into his body. Our tears over the bleakness of sin were felt by Jesus as his blood dripped like tears on the ground. This is the author of our story.
He is not quick to judge like we are. Instead, he is patient. God wants all to repent and find grace (II Peter 3:9). He sees your struggle burdening you with its heavy chains and invites you to rest (Matthew 11:28). There is no shame or guilt in the rest of God, because in Christ that condemnation no longer exists (Romans 8:1).
This God is the author of our story. He does not deal in shame like we do. He only offers us forgiveness, a new life, and a fresh start.
The Darkest Night
Yet, we still feel we shipwrecked our life. We fell into that sin. We revealed we struggle with that thing. Our future is now taken away. Is that the truth? Or is that how we treat others?
Think about a man who felt called by God to teach the Word. Yet, he falls into sin. Even though he repents, what happens? His ministry is over. Think of a woman working hard to reach the children in her church, yet she reveals a struggle. What happens? She may be removed from her position. Why? Because, she revealed a struggle.
This brings on the darkest night, and we feel all is lost. If we only kept our mouth shut.
We are like a woman who is labeled as the “Town Slut,” and she is the outcast of her people. Instead of enjoying the company of the other women at the well, she is forced to go alone in the heat of the day. All she can see is the blackness of her shame. (John 4:1-42)
We feel like a man whose mind seems to be torn apart as we struggle. We know God’s word, but we stumble over this one thing time and time again. Our accountability partners chain us up in order to protect us and other. Inside we scream as mental torture seems worse than the devices invented during medieval times. (Mark 5:1-20)
Yet, is there hope our dark night will end in a sunrise? Or will we be forced to endure the darkness or take our own lives alone in the dark?
Out of Dark Light
What is the common theme in the two stories just told? It doesn’t end in tragedy, because something happens. Jesus steps in.
He meets the woman at the well, and gives her hope. He meets the man tortured by demons, and gives him a steady mind.
He does the same for us. Our story is not over because we fell or because we struggle. Our story is over when we allow others to write it. Jeremiah 29:11 is a beautiful promise. Since God knew we would have this dark night in our journey, do we not think he can give us a bright future using it?
I Peter 1:3-9 brings light to our darkness. We have a living hope. The light is there. The words and thoughts of others may hide it, but Jesus reaches out to us, and gives us his light.
Out of darkness comes light. This light is Jesus – dawning as the night becomes the darkest.
Don’t Count Yourself Out
Yes, we know this. We have light and a future. Yet, we still count ourselves out. We allow the words and actions of others to trap us and end the story for us.
When others count us out, they are not believing that God is the God of new beginnings. When we count ourselves out, we forget who God is. Psalm 43:5 reminds us that when we feel the turmoil of our failings and our struggles, we need to hope in God.
Was Jesus done with Peter after the denial? No. John 21:15-19 proves Peter’s story was not over. Jesus restored him and used him to start the church. Our struggles and sins do not define how God will use us. He knows we are sinners. He knows we are imperfect. God finds that beautiful.
God finds beauty in the weak and the broken. Why? Because he can astound the world with it. You get to be a living transformation of grace. (I Corinthians 1:26-30). So why do we count ourselves out so fast? We may see our story as over, but God sees it as far from over.
This is Not the End
In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is entrusted with the One Ring. He journeys to Mordor to destroy this burden. Yet, how many times does he think he disappoints his companions? Even at the edge of Mount Doom, he takes the ring for himself. Sam, his best friends, sits in tears as Frodo begins to walk away with the ring. However, that is not the end of the story. Even in the darkest night, light comes. Frodo fights Gollum, one of the ring’s previous owner, over the ring. Gollum falls off the edge into the flames, and the ring is destroyed. Does Sam shame Frodo for his struggle to keep the ring? No. He stands by his side as a new world begins.
It was the struggle that brought the beauty. It was the failings that brought out the appreciation of a new beginning. Sam stood by Frodo’s side, because Sam saw what would come out of this struggle. In a musical adaptation of Tolkien’s tale, when the ring is destroyed, these words are sung: (listen – start at 1:50)
Out of death, life
Out of night, day
Glory from sorrow.
Out of grief, joy.
Out of storm, come strength for tomorrow.
Far beyond feeling, destruction of pain.
Come, breath of healing, a new life will reign.
This is how God sees our struggles and failings. Out of it is going to come something amazing and something beautiful. He is the God who brings a beautiful ending in a story of tragedy. He is the one who will wipe every tear from our eyes (Revelation 21:4). He is the one who says, “The story is far from over. Look what I am about to bring out of it.”
He shows that life can be resurrected from the dead (Romans 6:5). This is how he views our story which is filled with failings and struggles. He is going to bring life out of death, day out of night, and a new life will reign (II Corinthians 5:17).
See, the shame and guilt from others is like a trap, because we aren’t looking at the Author of the story (Proverbs 29:25).
We all struggle and we all sin. Instead of being forgotten in the darkness, God says to us, “Look up.” When we do, we see the stars. His light has not gone out.
When we feel the gaze of others trying to push us down over a struggle or a failing, look to Jesus. Look up. He is the light in the darkest night. He is the life out of death. He is the firstborn of the dead giving us that new life we crave.
We don’t have a scarlet letter. We don’t have to live controlled by the shame others put on us.
Your story is far from over. The darkness is real, and no one sees the tears you cry. Yet, don’t give up hope. Look up. See the stars. You still have life, so God is not done with you. You are far from over.