A friend was telling, the other day, about a job prospect, and he was anxious about making the move. Taking it would mean that he would be closer to a woman who had flirted with him years ago. The interaction shamed him to the point that he mentioned it a few times over various conversations. So what’s the big deal about a woman flirting with a man? Well he’s married, and his consternation was about if he should discuss it with his wife. I am very opinionated, but I do try not to tell grown men what to do with such personal questions. I asked all the “wise” questions I could think of and hoped that he would make the right decision on his own, but encouraged that he should talk to his counselor if he still needed expert advice.
The next day, the conversation wouldn’t leave me alone. I was playing Monday morning quarter back: coming up with all the smart things that I should have said. One thing that came to mind was “Why are you reluctant to share something that bothers you so much with the human you love the most?”
That was deep, but I couldn’t leave it at that, so I played out his response. I was sure it would be something about being ashamed and not wanting to unnecessarily burden his wife. So it was time for my comeback in this mental dialogue “The real problem is you want to hold on to the excitement of the thing that is shaming you. You can’t confess or deal with all that guilt because you want to hold on to the guilty pleasure.” I had finally struck the death blow in this conversation we would never have… And then I thought to myself, “Dude! why am I stressing out about some other guy’s problem?”
That’s when I realized the real reason for this mental battle: I was putting up my arguments not his. Some lustful thoughts had passed through my mind and really shamed me that weekend… the kind that only a jerk would have. I rationalized my thoughts saying “I was tired,” and “I had been sick,” or “I wasn’t thinking clearly.” But still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to share these two passing thoughts with my wife … even though they were a bother from the time they popped up. So, while I was pointing one finger at my buddy, all the other fingers on my hand of accusation pointed back at me saying “I can’t lose the shame because I want to hold onto the thrill.”
So then, what did I really want? To keep that thrill and keep swimming in shame? He and I both would express in a later conversation how these thoughts made us feel like a pervert or a jerk. The longer we held onto those thoughts without confession, to God and trusted loved ones, the more we would shame ourselves into believing those names. The more we believed those names, the easier it would be to give into the lies that they are, and the cycle would not stop.
In years past, I would try to numb the shame by hiding in a closet full of even more lustful thoughts. But there is an encouragement in the first part of James 5:16 (ESV) saying “… confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…” This time, God would show grace to me in this process of confession.
Redemption replaced the anxiety as I hesitantly shared with my wife. She gave me a taste of Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) (“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as in God Christ forgave you.”) The thoughts that once held me in shame could no longer drag me through the mud. From what I understand, my buddy had a similar experience with his wife. This means we let go of the ugly names that we were clinging to. Instead, we embrace the names Jesus gives to any who believe in him as “Loved and redeemed Children.” This experience of repentance and grace opened up the opportunity to live freely and glorify Him.* May the spirit continue to help us live into that freedom.