How To Be Good Again
One of the most curious things about life as we navigate our way through the day is the fact that the one face we hardly see is the one closest to us: our own. Has it ever occurred to you that our face is always right before us yet also, beyond us? It’s so easy to forget about our face until we have that unexpected glance reflected through a window or mirror. Why are we surprised at seeing it?
Have you observed how we are with one another in an elevator? The chatter goes to silence and we rarely make eye contact. No one wants to acknowledge we are seeing or being seen. When we have forced intimacy, we look away, as if we are ashamed or just pretend no one sees us.
It is understandable if a man is robbing a convenience store that he covers his face to conceal his identity. In the elevator, however, we stare at the floor, watch the numbers reporting the passing floors; in other words, we hide our face. For much of our lives we do this, but why?
While writing this article, the door to my study was quickly pushed open by my two-year-old granddaughter in all her naked freedom. She escaped from her Mimi still dripping from her bath. She danced playfully like a kitten as she giggled with joyful delight. When do we become ashamed of our nakedness?
Adam and Eve, aware of their guilt at a chosen disobedience tried to hide their nakedness behind suits of woven fig leaves. “Where are you?” came the voice of God as if brokenhearted when they were hiding from Him. “Who told you that you were naked?” We hide when we feel naked and exposed. This wasn’t about their physical nakedness; it was about shame- emotional nakedness.
We continue to hide behind fig-leaves to cover our nakedness. We have lost face so we look away hoping no one sees us. Fearing exposure as imposters, we live with constant, low-grade anxiety hoping no one discovers our many flaws.
Shame is a powerful identity emotion that can cause people to feel defective, unacceptable, even damaged beyond repair.
How much do you know about shame? You may sometimes confuse shame with guilt, a related but different emotion.
When you feel guilty, you’re making a judgment that something you’ve done is wrong.
When you feel shame, you’re feeling that your whole self is wrong.
When you feel guilty about the wrong thing you did, you can take steps to make up for it and put it behind you. But feeling convinced that you are the thing that’s wrong offers no clear-cut way to “come back” to feeling more positive about yourself.
From the day you were born, you were learning to feel that you were okay or not okay, accepted or not accepted, in your world. Your self-esteem was shaped by your daily experiences of being praised or criticized, lovingly disciplined or punished, taken care of or neglected.
People who grow up in abusive environments can easily get the message that they are undeserving, inadequate, and inferior. In other words, that they should feel ashamed.
Shame also affects men differently from women. It’s said that men with shame-based low self-esteem tend to “act out” through anger and violent behavior toward others, and women tend to “act in” by turning their feelings inward and hating themselves.
I would not say I was a violent young man when I gave my heart to Jesus when I was 19 years old, but I was indeed quite reckless. Growing up in a home with an alcoholic father giving in frequently to rage outbursts can certainly take its toll on the esteem of a growing boy. I did, however, become a bit of a teenaged rebel which landed me in a juvenile detention home a time or two. What brought me to Jesus was the hope of becoming good again.
I attended a Sunday night church service at the invitation of a friend who pestered me until I said yes. When the altar call was given, my heart burned within. “I want to feel good again” was the thought going through my mind as the preacher beckoned the sinners to come forward. My friend grabbed my wrist and shoved my hand above my head thereby “leading me to Jesus” on a night that changed the trajectory of my life.
Whether we realize it or not, I believe we all crave goodness. Our souls long for a sense of wholeness and goodness, or even “holiness” which is essential to wholeness. I did not respond to that altar call because I wanted to become religious, but because I wanted to become good again.
That does bring up a question about Christianity. What exactly is Christianity supposed to do to a person? What is the effect upon a person who receives “Jesus as Lord?” The way we answer that question will shape everything in our lives relative to us losing our fig-leaf coverings and coming out of hiding.
“How blessed is God! And what a blessing He is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in Him. Long before He laid down earth’s foundations, He had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of His love, to be made whole and holy by His love” (Ephesians 1: 3-6 MSG Italics mine).
In this passage of Scripture, we see the intention of God toward us, to make us whole and holy by His Love. Wholeness, isn’t that what we all long for? But to be honest, being “holy” isn’t something I ever aspired to become. I could never imagine I would want to be a man passionate about avoiding sin, being a really “nice guy” and just praying all the time—that all sounded quite dull and boring.
Actually, the assumption in the New Testament is that these two go together. You cannot have one without the other. If you study closely the ministry of Jesus, He often provoked the debate of “holiness” by healing someone’s body (see John 5:2-16; 7:15-24). It is apparent that what God is after is the healing of the whole man—made whole and holy by His Love.
Track with me on another portion of scripture from the Book of Hebrews. The narrative of Scripture is drawing toward a close and the author is helping us understand the ways and purposes of God:
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” (vs 7-13 NIV) (Emphasis mine).
Notice closely, God is working with us—correcting, nudging, disciplining—so that we may share His holiness (whatever that is). Why are we surprised when we struggle with misplaced desires and selfishness? Could the pain and cover-up of our shame actually be leading us somewhere? Is there a relief from all our struggles and suffering within holiness—the desire to be good again?
The point of Christianity, what it’s supposed to do to you is the restoration of your creation—to make you whole and holy in God’s love. Everything else is missing the point. Whatever holiness truly is, the effect of it is healing.
There is so much more to say on this subject, but if God wants to restore us to His original design, we need to go back to the garden before the fig leaves were used as covers for hiding and humans were “naked, and not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25).