They were only boots. On their own, boots are good. They are functional, sturdy, insulated. But that day they were an embarrassment, the last resort of a 7th-grade girl whose only pair of shoes was soaked. I couldn't walk through the foot-high snow to the bus stop without the boots.
Maneuvering my dad's huge size 11 boots with my size six feet was a clumsy effort. Slide, slide, lift. Slide, slide, lift. My cheeks burned as I climbed the school bus steps, desperately hoping no one would notice. When the bus dropped us off in front of the junior high, I slide-slide-rushed inside and immediately pulled off the boots. In my stocking feet, I raced through the dirty snow accumulating on the hallway floors, eager to stow the humiliating footwear in my locker.
All day long friends and teachers glanced at my wet socks and asked why I was walking around without shoes in the dead of winter. "My shoes are soaked," I told them, which was true. I didn't mention that they were at home, or that I'd worn the humiliating oversized boots that belonged to my dad.
My heart was imprisoned in shame that day at the age of 12. And the shame only multiplied with constant hunger pangs, my parent's ongoing violent fights, and being left in charge of my four siblings more often than was wise.
As I stepped into young adulthood, shame followed closely. I tried to push it away with other things and tragically sought love and attention from men, believing their affections could somehow make up the deficit of dignity I felt.
On my own at 17, I was determined to earn my way, determined never to borrow from my neighbors, and determined to have a full pantry. I worked hard and bought lots of nice shoes to line my closet and heart. And I obsessively filled my cupboards with every food I had been denied much of my life.
No matter what I did, shame clung to my heart and tainted my perception. I believed others saw me as less-than because deep down, that's how I felt about myself. I struggled to overcome the embarrassment from my childhood, but it refused to let me go. Though I was no longer in my shameful past, my shameful past was still in me.
And then I met Jesus, and He gently began working in my heart. Slowly, through praying for myself, He began a transforming work in me.
It wasn't an easy or instant process. When I was afraid to believe He could make me whole, He said, "Anyone who believes in [me] will never be put to shame" (Romans 10:11 NIV). When the wardrobe of my heart felt stained and embarrassed, He said, "[You are] clothed with dignity" (Proverbs 31:25 NIV). When I felt condemned by my past sinful choices, He said, "Then neither do I condemn you ... Go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11 NIV).
As my relationship with Jesus grew, it struck me that He treated me with the dignity and honor my soul longed for. As I continued to pray for myself, His exquisite love covered my shameful past and made me feel beautiful. Cherished. Unashamed. Free.
The mortified young girl who wore her dad's boots to school now walks unfettered with the One her soul loves. As I continue to pray for myself, He continues His transforming work. And now, instead of defining myself by shame and embarrassment, I cling to the truth that Jesus treasures, esteems, and beautifully clothes me.
Dear Lord, You know the shame and embarrassment of my past, both from what happened to me and through my own choices. Please bring the healing and transformation that only You can. Thank You that in Christ I am cherished, unashamed and free. In the Name of Jesus, amen.
Do You Know Jesus?
You are invited to begin the holy habit of praying for yourself! Join Julie Gillies' online study of her book, Prayers for a Woman's Soul, starting September 9th. It's an opportunity to pray for and about topics relevant to you! For details and free resources, visit Julie's blog.
Connect with Julie Gillies on her Facebook page, Prayers for a Woman's Soul.
Reflect and Respond:
Is your heart imprisoned by shame, guilt, or fear? Pray, forgive your offender, and ask God to bring healing and freedom to you both.
Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (NIV)
© 2013 by Julie Gillies. All rights reserved.