As my academy class’ 20-year reunion approaches, my emotions have become more jumbled. It has even invaded my dreams. On May 20, 1999, I got my last look at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in my rear-view mirror. I was moving west to meet my future as a Coast Guard officer. Life never goes as planned. Certainly, I never planned to make such a mess of things, but bad decisions abounded. I don’t like to blame depression for the choices I made; I want to take responsibility for my actions. So, it was ten years before I was finally able to look back and admit to myself how emotionally unstable I was when I tried to choose a man and marriage over my Coast Guard career. My life today testifies to the fact that I wound up without either one.
Since that time, I have done a lot of hiding. I only kept in touch with a few friends whom I knew loved me in spite of my errors. Many friends who wouldn’t have judged me still got lost to me as I spent a decade struggling to get my depression under control. (For more about my journey with depression, see my post Jesus & Effexor.) Now, as I think about going back for the first time and seeing my academy friends and classmates face-to-face, there is a shame and embarrassment that nags at my gut. I feel it in my dreams, where I am trying to defend myself and also show that I have matured. Going to the reunion feels like facing judgement, after all these years. I feel as though I will have to explain my bad behavior and prove that I am not that foolish twenty-two-year-old anymore.
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.
I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD!
For with the LORD there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
I was sitting in church last Sunday, listening to a sermon about Sin. It was a reminder that all of us our sinners and I am not better or worse than anyone I will encounter. Moreover, my sin has been covered by the blood of Christ. I am forgiven and have no reason to be ashamed, anymore. So, I was asking myself why I am still feeling the shame. The answer is pride. The Holy Spirit has pointed this out to me before, but in the swirl of emotions surrounding my mistakes, I forget what is at the root of my embarrassment. My pride that doesn’t want to be exposed to the bad opinions that people may have of me. My ego would rather be coddled at home than fly across the country and possibly be exposed to some people who don’t think well of me, even though they would be mixed with friends.
One morning this week, I was listening to Matt Redman on the way to work, and a song made me think that perhaps everything I have been through and the mistakes I’ve made allow God’s grace to shine more brightly in my life. Where I am today, and the blessings I enjoy, demonstrate God’s love for sinners like me. Now, my life probably doesn’t seem spectacular in the eyes of many, but I know that I am blessed! I know that I am a sinner, but I serve a God who saves! I need to humble myself and then allow God to lift my head. I need to be a woman who cares more about how God sees me than how the world sees me.
But when [Jesus] heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and no sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Time and again, I return to A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God and a chapter called “Meekness and Rest.” The thesis of the chapter is that we twist ourselves into knots because we care so much about how other people see us, and we don’t want others to know what we really are. We only find rest when we stop striving to maintain our image before man and begin to see ourselves as God does. This is how Tozer defines meekness:
“[The meek man] has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring.”
What is embarrassment except wounded pride? We don’t want others to see our weaknesses, frailty, or sin. Yet pretending to be without these things does not honor God. When Jesus told the Pharisees, “those who are well have no need of a physician,” He meant that the righteous don’t need a Savior. How do we point others to the cross if we can’t admit our own need for redemption? I think it is important for me to set aside these feelings. I sense that the Devil likes it when I hide, and in the past, God has blessed my efforts to be open and honest about the life-changing mistakes I’ve made. Through everything that has happened over the last twenty years, God’s faithfulness has been the enduring theme of my life. I have a testimony and God wants me to share it.
We all make mistakes. Some more public than others. It’s been 20 years. I’d forgive myself and move forward. I hope that includes seeing old friends. Xxx
Thanks so much. I never imagined that so many of my classmates would read my blog and respond in such an encouraging way. What a blessing! This must be God’s way of making sure I go. Sometimes I think that the more time that passes, the bigger things become in our mind. You are right that this will be a big step forward, and it will help me to bring together what feels like two different lives that I’ve lived.