I’ll never forget how I felt the first time I looked into the mirror after being date raped in college. I stood there naked, alone, and ashamed. And then the crushing shame began. I began to question God and His love for me. Soon after this moment, I cried out to God in a journal entry. I wrote,
God do you care?
God were you there?
Were you there when her world fell apart?
When he took her identity?
When he took her hope and threw it on the ground?
Stepped on it, and tore it apart.
How did you let that happen?
Why didn’t you stop it?
This little girl.
The child you adore.
The one you made in your image. Remember her?
Remember the promises you gave her?
To protect her. To provide for her.
Did you forget? Did you forget about her?
Then she looked in the mirror.
That’s what she saw.
Years have passed since that day, but that moment in time when I stood in front of that mirror will always be fresh in my mind.
I didn’t know it then, but through my story, God opened my eyes to His life-changing love. A similar story happened in the Bible to a woman who had been abused and left isolated and alone. In John 4, we are introduced to the Samaritan woman. Fun fact: This conversation is Jesus’ longest conversation recorded in the Bible, and it happens to be with a woman who was isolated from her community. She was living in shame and feeling unwanted, too.
“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” …The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” —John 4: 7-10 (NIV). This story is usually told from the perspective that the woman was ashamed and guilty because she’d had so many husbands. In the Hebrew world where this story took place, this explanation cannot be true. In Hebrew culture, only men were allowed to leave and divorce women. So yes, she had multiple husbands, but they all left her. She was not a prostitute. Now, put yourself into her shoes. How do you think she felt having five men leave her?
Shame. Regret. Fear. Struggling to trust men. Struggling to trust God.
In the midst of these feelings, in walks Jesus, who looked into her eyes and showed her love and respect. Imagine the life change. The heart change. The transformation. In Hebrew culture of that day, men did not show this kind of love and respect to women, yet Jesus speaks to the deepest need in her heart. Jesus offers her a water that will quench her deepest thirst.
“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”—John 4:13-15.
She knew she longed for her thirst to be quenched. She knew her deepest heart needs were not being met. This woman had been abused by man after man and had always had a deep thirst to belong and find love. When others looked at the Samaritan woman, they saw a woman with an immoral past. When Jesus looked at her, he saw a woman with a deep spiritual thirst. He offered her living water to satisfy that thirst, and this encounter transformed her life.
This story highlights some important truths. To Him, you are not defined by your past. You are not defined by what has been done to you or mistakes you’ve made. You are not defined by shame or regret. You are defined by your identity in Christ. You are a holy, new creation.
You are free from shame. Do you fully believe this? Imagine how your life would look if you truly believed that God loves you. I know that I was just like that woman at the well. After Jesus met me, spoke to me, I began to see what He saw. In my journal entry, later that day, I continued writing,
But God, he saw something else.
He hadn’t forgotten his daughter.
In God’s eyes, she was as beautiful as ever before.
She looked into the mirror.
God looked out of the mirror.
God whispered into her ear that he was there.
He had been there the whole time.
He held her hand.
He comforted her heart.
He was angry. Furious.
His heart broke as he watched his little girl hurt from the sin of the world.
God’s precious daughter, don’t lose hope.
God was there with you and with you he will always be.
When the Samaritan women experienced the life-changing love of Jesus, she found freedom from the shame. Then she ran and told the whole town about it!
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.”— John 4:28-30.
As Jesus released all of the woman’s secrets, he also released her shame. He restored her. Before she met Jesus, she lived in shame and hid from others. This is why she went to the well during the hottest parts of the day when no one else was around. After Jesus frees her from shame, she runs and tells everyone about him. The enemy loses his power over her. The same is true for you when you encounter Jesus. I pray you will run to Him and experience his love, so that you too will experience freedom from your shame.
You may also find the following resources helpful:
Java with Juli #282: “How Shame Impacts Us” (member exclusive)
Java with Juli #279: “Why You Feel Shame When Your Spouse Cheats (member exclusive)
Sexual Pleasure Isn’t Shameful (blog)
Shame Doesn’t Have the Final Word (blog)
March 2019 Webinar: Tackling Shame (member exclusive)