After the pastor spoke, he asked if anyone needed prayer, and this young man, who looked to be about 20, came forward in his desperation. He was sobbing, holding his hands over his face, as he walked down the aisle of the church towards the front. “I have a crippling pornography addiction,” he wrote on his card, “and I need prayer.” The pastor read it aloud as the boy continued to cover his face on the front pew while he cried. But the pastor didn’t stop there. He said, as he so often had before, “We don’t want this young man to feel like he’s alone, do we? If any of you have struggled with pornography, and have found victory over it through Jesus, I’m asking you to come down here, circle around him and let him know he is loved.” What happened next will forever be one of my favorite pictures of what I believe the church was created to do…love each other, unconditionally, and lift each other up. Men of all ages, some of them leaders in the church, and a few women, as well, walked down to embrace this brave, but broken, young man and let him know he was not alone.
I smiled through my tears because it was as if I could hear the chains of shame breaking at that very moment. This moment was especially moving to me because, although they were there for different reasons, I’ve worn similar chains of shame. And, oh, those chains can be SO very heavy. We have an enemy who wants to make us believe that we are alone in our pain and shame, and above all, he wants us to keep it hidden…in the dark. However, when we bring what has been in the dark into the light, we allow Jesus to do His beautiful work of redemption and restoration. He gives beauty for ashes. He makes beautiful things out of dust.
As I watched this young man receive prayer, I flashed back to the day I was sitting in church so many years ago. I was completely heartbroken over choices I had made in my brokenness—choices that had hurt so many people I loved. I felt so alone that I had even started a list in one of my journals entitled, “People Who Love Me,” just so I could remind myself that there were at least a few people who loved me and I wasn't as alone as my mind was telling me I was. I sat there at church with my journal and the moment I heard the following verses read by the pastor, I finally felt hopeful for the first time in months. He read Jesus' words from Luke 22: 31-32, "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But, I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail. And when you return, strengthen your brothers.” It was then that I realized God wasn’t finished with me even though my choices had caused so much pain. Even more than that, I pictured Jesus praying for ME! Strengthen your brothers. I felt as if He was encouraging me to use my story to help others who might have a similar one. And, I made a decision, that very day, to stop hiding, and instead, to start using my voice to share what He had done in my life. If sharing my story could help even one person who was experiencing similar pain and/or shame, then it was worth the momentary discomfort I might feel in being vulnerable.
What I have discovered over the many years of sharing my story with others, is that each time I am willing to be vulnerable, not only are others encouraged, but the chains of shame have less and less of a hold on me. My willingness to let Him use my story to strengthen others, actually strengthens me as well. God is with me each time to remind me that I am His and that my worth comes from being a Beloved Daughter of the King, not from my performance. He has set me free and each time I share my story, I experience greater depths of freedom.
I was reminded of this again as I was talking with a new friend the other day. She was in the throes of shame because of a secret she has kept hidden and carried around with her for many years. She said she felt paralyzed…unable to move. She had been given my name because a mutual friend had heard me share my story and wanted to connect her with someone who had walked through a similar journey. Isn’t that what we all want? To know that someone else has been through what we’re going through…and that, no matter what, we can hold onto hope because of Jesus? And, that’s exactly what I told her. I reminded her of who she was in Him and that His love was unconditional. And, you know what? I think she believed me…because I’m pretty sure I heard some chains falling…
As my husband and I led worship in church this morning, I couldn’t help but think of the young man who walked to the front of the church and the new friend I talked with who are both one step closer to freedom, and I smiled as we sang these lyrics to Ever Be (Bethel Music) because I believe them with everything within me:
“You Father the orphan
Your kindness makes us whole
And you shoulder our weakness
And Your strength becomes our own
Now You’re making me like You
Clothing me in white
Bringing beauty from ashes
For You will have your bride
Free of all her guilt and rid of all her shame
And known by her true name, and it’s why I sing…”
It’s why I sing. It’s why I share my story. And it's why I will keep sharing...for freedom and for hope!
Allison (Alli) has a contagious smile and a huge heart. She and her husband, Brandon, have been married for over 20 years and have 3 amazing children. Alli loves sharing stories with friends (old and new) over coffee and she openly shares her story of redemption to help others find hope. Her passions for love, redemption, and justice run deep. Alli is also an Independent Ambassador with the Noonday Collection.