I spent the later part of my teens and first half of my 20s acting out in radically self-destructive ways. I had repressed and suppressed so much anger and pain, self-hatred and self-loathing, that by the time I was an official adult and on my own that anger, pain, hatred, and loathing found it’s way out in rather self-destructive ways; not just occasionally, but weekly and even daily. From an aggressive eating disorder to wildly reckless and self-harming social choices, I consciously and unconsciously tried to self-destruct by my own hand. The memories and stories I have are the stuff nightmares are made of; memories and stories that would make any father want to lock up his daughter in the tallest of towers and throw away the key. I don’t ever really share particulars from that period of my life, but just general aspects to communicate the gist of that time. I tell people, “I’ve no idea why I’m still here.” And then follow up with, “No, really. With all the stuff I did, I should be dead.” I’m not even close to being hyperbolic; it’s the absolute truth: I don’t know how I made it out of that period of my life alive.
I can remember and recall with accuracy the weight and density of the immense amounts of disgrace and shame I lived with those many years. There were days that were shame and disgrace light, and days that the sensations were so overwhelming I wasn’t sure my heart could beat under their suffocating pressure. But the shame and disgrace was never ever fully gone; they were the voices of the soundtrack of my life during that time. In order to survive and (maybe) make it to the next day, I developed a coping mechanism to try to drown out the voice and wash of the presence that was my disgrace and shame: I’d turn the shower on, make it as hot as I could stand it, and then climb in, kneel down, and curl up on the floor of the shower completely vulnerable, completely exposed. And as the water cascaded down, pouring over my naked and curled up frame, I would hope beyond all hope that some how just one of those drops of water would penetrate through my flesh and cleanse my heart and mind, and wash away the guilt and shame. But it was just water, it couldn’t do the very thing I needed it to do. I would stay there, in that position, with that fruitless hope on my lips, until the water ran too cold to tolerate and I turned the shower off.
It’s been a long time since I was that girl and, by God’s good grace and mercy and love, I spend most of my days freed from the immense pressure and burden of disgrace and shame that defined my prior existence. I’ve had no need for my coping mechanism to feel clean, because by faith in Christ, I am made clean in him, not just my flesh but in my mind and heart, too.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself awake at 2 in the morning, burdened by my old friends, disgrace and shame; a burden so significant that I could barely breath from under it’s weight. I made my way to my shower, turned the water on as hot as I could stand it, and got in, kneeled down, and curled up–exposed and vulnerable.I felt the water hitting my back and flowing over my naked and curled up frame; I felt the water stream through my hair and cross over my face. And that old hope from years gone by bubbled up in my heart and mind: please let this water cleanse me inside and out. But instead of being a silent and fruitless prayer of a disturbed mind and burdened heart, the words that I actually uttered in that moment were the words that comprised a statement, an affirmation, a remembrance. I turned my face up in to the falling water and confessed: please forgive me Lord, a sinner. And as the water kept hitting me, I was reminded that I had one more thing to say: I am baptized. Every drop of water seemed to provide remembrance that I am baptized.
In recalling the fact and the event of my baptism, I am reminded that God’s activity has always been toward me, toward us; that it is by Himself and His word alone that has given us this new covenant that is signified by baptism and that through this event I’ve been purified (inside and out) and designated as His own. Also, in recalling what is received in and through the water of baptism, I am affirming that my old relation to God (enemy) has been put to death and that I have been reborn into a new relation (friend) of God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. And by sharing in Christ’s death and resurrection through the water of Baptism, I affirm that I have been grafted into the body of and have union with Christ and, thus, are given new and true life and are inheritors of the promises of God: the forgiveness of sins. In remembering my baptism I am brought to remembrance of the reality that nothing and no one can separate that which God has joined together. And, in this reality of my baptism and my remembrance of it, I am reminded that shame and disgrace have no jurisdiction and no voice, that I’ve been cleansed from them.
As I sat under that water pouring down over me, I uttered that phrase, “I am baptized,” over and over; as I did, the burden of the weight of my disgrace and shame lifted and lifted until there was only one word left to hear…Christ’s word to me: beloved.