I remember the first time I watched Phantom of the Opera. I was entranced by the costumes and masks during the ball scene. It was all beautiful; each mask detailed and with intricate designs. When I became a senior in high school, I got to go to my own masquerade, a prom. Finding a mask to match my dress, posing with it during pictures, it was all a blast. But you see, masks are only pretty on one side. The intricate designs, lace, beads, and colors are only positioned on the side that everyone sees. The other side, the one you see personally is often constricting, covered in itchy fabric, and sweaty if you’ve been wearing it through any kind of activity. Masks often make it hard to breathe, finding one that fits perfectly to your face is quite the challenge.
In life we often wear masks like we attend balls every day. We hide our true selves with fear that if anyone knew, we’d be cast away, thrown out like trash. We teach ourselves to believe that everyone is perfect except for us. We teach ourselves to think that only when we have it all together, only then can we be loved. Yet, our God sees us with these masks and says: “Take them off!” He loves you as you are. As my pastor says, “God doesn’t hold you at arm’s length until you’re perfect and have it all together, He embraces you as you are and lets His love change you over time”.
I’ve hid behind these masks, comfortable in the solace they bring. Then I heard God’s voice say “Enough, daughter, quit hiding your story because I can use it for my glory”. It’s about to get real, I’m opening up something here I’ve never opened this publicly before. They say there are not little or big sins, it’s all the same to God. This is true, and I believe it. With that though, I believe to us there are big and little sins. Their size though is not dependent on how evil they are, for they all separate us from God. Their size, to me, are dependent upon how much they impact our personal lives. I am who I am, the mistakes that I’ve made are in the past and covered by His blood. I no longer claim shame; guilt can no longer reside here. In community there is healing, and if me opening up this raw place in my heart is what it takes to create a safe place for someone to say “Me too”, then that’s what I’ll do. This is the story of my biggest sin, the one that tries to still haunt me to this day. The one that tries to rear its ugly head and say I’m unworthy of love. This sin, it doesn’t define me, by it once did.
It started out as just plain curiosity. When you’re a toddler and trying to discover your body, you’re not completely sure what everything is and what it’s purpose is. So you explore, and try to understand the design you were created with. As I got older, I realized that it had become a habit, the idle curiosity had become a vice. God convicted me and I realized that what I was doing wasn’t meant for that time in my life. I knew I needed to stop, but I kept going back to it. It was a comfort, something that got me through long nights. When I was old enough, with access to technology, it intensified. It became a regular thing. I prayed about it regularly, the guilt ate at me day and night. Its control on me was stronger than I would care to admit. In my own power, I would quit. I would celebrate a day being “clean”, a month, and then I would fall, and I would fall hard.
I believed that if anyone knew, then they would throw me away like yesterday’s smelly trash. I figured everyone would be disgusted with me as I was with myself. How could they love me, knowing it, when I didn’t even love myself. I remember one church service, I went to the altar, as I had in times past. But this time it was different. I gave it all to God, and God told me that He had bridged the gap that my sin had caused between me and Him. I felt free, but I doubted that I could truly be free. Could the chains that had bound me so long truly be gone? My doubt eventually pushed away all hopes and faith that God could heal such a broken thing. I fell back into the habit again. It’s amazing how much temporary comfort a sin can bring. If it didn’t bring fun or comfort, we wouldn’t run to it like we do. That comfort didn’t last long though. The comfort was replaced with the old guilt and shame. Only this time, the load was unbearable. The guilt weighed me down until I couldn’t walk up straight. The shame condemned me until the light in my eyes was gone.
There were times I would muster up some strength, surely this is the last time, I thought. I was sick of it. I was sick of me. How could someone so weak ever be used for anything. Every night the enemy would whisper “it’s okay, it’s your life, your body, do what you want”. Then, in the morning he would whisper again “You’re filth, you’re dirty, no one can ever love you. You have to love yourself, because there’s no way anyone will ever forgive you”. When I would try to quit, he would tell me that God could never use me, my story wasn’t relatable, no one would believe it. You see, you don’t hear stories like this from girls. In the world’s eyes, this is something to celebrate. They say: “You’re exploring your body! Good for you! Know yourself! Find what makes you happy.” In the Christian worldview, we are ashamed to even mention its name. Sure, guys struggle with this, but girls, that’s gross, unthinkable.” I say enough because I feel like God says enough. Enough of this story that says I am perfect. Enough of this story that says I can’t struggle with this kind of sin. Enough of this sin binding me and chaining me down from God.
Here recently, I was freed from this sin. I’m not saying it doesn’t try to sneak in again. It does. I’ve learned to say no. I tried so many times with my own strength, and I failed every time. With God’s strength though, it’s an entirely different battle. Freedom to say no, doesn’t take away the shame and guilt, surprisingly enough, they still hang out on my doorstep. Even with the door closed, I can hear what they say to me. Then, God said enough to them loitering. I went to a church service and the lady speaking talked to use about our masks and how we need to desperately lay them down and let them go. We are not fine. We do not have it all together. We don’t know what we are doing. We can’t do life on our own. At the end of the service, they had an altar call. One of the ladies on stage shared her story, and asked if any girl had something done to them and still felt shame, still questioned, still hurt, to come to the altar, and they did. I prayed for those girls, hard; I was heartbroken for them. Then, she said: “I have one more thing I feel like I need to say, if there are any girls who have done something, anything, this covers a vast majority of things, but if you have, I want you to run, run up here.” And that thing, that sin that brought me so much guilt and shame popped up in my mind. I’ll be honest, I didn’t go at first, and when I did, I didn’t run. I walked up to the edge of the altar area, with my head down. It didn’t matter how long it had been since I had sinned, or how many times I had asked for forgiveness, the heaviness was there. I put my hands up and started to cry. Then, a friend came up and hugged me and prayed for me. I don’t know what she said, I couldn’t hear a thing, but I know what I felt. I know God took away the shame and the guilt I had been bearing for far too long. Once my body and brain had calmed down some, I heard God probe me with a question: “Are you willing to share? Are you willing to share in the place where you share everything? Are you willing to let go of this perfect identity, to create a safe place for others? Are you willing to create a place where there is no condemnation, no guilt, no shame, where someone who is struggling can say ‘me too…’? I want to use you to create a place where the enemy’s hold is no longer present because My children who are struggling no longer feel alone in their struggle.” I juggled these thoughts in my mind, for a few seconds, and then I said yes. If this is what it takes for true freedom, if this is what it takes to be open and honest, yes Lord.
My friend, I don’t know what you are struggling with. I don’t know what you’re hiding, but I can tell you from experience that letting it go, out in the open, is the best choice you will ever make. That thing you’re hiding because you’re scared, it’s not as strong as God. God loves you, He sees you, He sees the struggle. You are not alone. He is pursuing you. I’ve sinned a plethora of sins. I’ve lied, I’ve cheated, I’ve cursed, I’ve ran the other way when God gave me a calling. My brother, my sister, we all struggle and that voice telling you that you are the only one, is a liar. Let God show you His love through the community of His believers. I know you may have been hurt in the past, but the people that love God, Christ’s followers, they will embrace you as you are and love you through it.
You are loved. Your sin is not your identity. You are a child of God and He desperately wants to heal you. Let Him complete the work that He has started in you.