Monday, September 16, 2013

No Condemnation (Rachel's Story)

A couple of weeks ago, I got an email from a girl named Rachel who reads my blog.  She was vulnerable in a way that completely touched my heart.  I can relate to what she was saying so well, and I think a lot of Christians can too.  With Rachel's permission, I'm going to be sharing parts of her original email and my response right here, as an encouragement for anyone who is struggling with fear and shame.

Hey Emily,

I am a 16 year old Junior.  I have gone to a public school my entire life.  I struggle in a few ways.  Last year was the worst.  I would constantly feel tons of guilt.  This is because I have built up some sort of wall between school and my Christian life.  I am terrified of sharing my faith at school, and I'm not sure why.  It's almost like I get paralyzed when I try to.  Even little things like praying over lunch.  Every day I would go home and feel horrible because of this.  I repented over and over, but I didn't really know what I was repenting for and I didn't know what I could change.  I felt defeated and almost a little bitter towards God because it was too hard and I saw no way out.  

Then I got sick.  It got to the point where I could barely eat because my stomach was so messed up.  After many months of tests and a surgery, they concluded that the acid in my stomach was eating away at it.  The cause?  Stress and anxiety.  This was kind of a turning point; I realized that the guilt couldn't be from God.  If I was literally making myself sick over this, then I was pretty sure this was some sort of attack from Satan.  Before, I believed the guilt, now I know it's not true, but I still feel it. 

I started school again today and I was pretty nervous.  I didn't want to live that way anymore, but I'm not sure how to change.  And I still feel terribly guilty that I can't share my faith.  It's not like I do anything sinful at school, it's more like what I don't do... or a selfish mindset I get into.  Today I realized I actually enjoyed school, but I found myself pushing God away throughout the day because whenever I thought of Him I felt guilty.  This isn't right either, I know.  I know I'm supposed to be a light and not be ashamed... and I also know that the guilt I feel isn't from God.  I can't find a balance!!
I know you used to struggle with anxiety and you go to a secular university, so I thought maybe you could help.  I want to please Jesus with my whole heart, but I feel like I can't.  I'm really discouraged and frustrated with myself.  I can't live in fear all year either; I just don't know.  


It brings me a lot of joy to see someone in high school who is so passionate about pleasing God and being a light for Him.  I also appreciate your honesty and vulnerability.  I think a lot of Christians can relate to what you're feeling.  It is scary and overwhelming to share your faith with people you see every day.  I've definitely struggled with anxiety and shyness, so I get what you're feeling. 

While sharing your faith and being a light for Christ is important, before we even go there, you are so right that the guilt you're experiencing is not from the Lord!  He will give you conviction, but He does NOT give you shame.  Let me share a few promises verses that will hopefully encourage you as much as they encourage me:
  • Romans 8:1 - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • Isaiah 61:7 - Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours. 
  • Galatians 5:1 - It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
  • 2 Corinthians 3:17 - Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
  • Ephesians 3:12 - In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
  • Matthew 11:28 - Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

God has known the messiness of our hearts from the very beginning and loves us anyway.  When you make a mistake, remember that's why Jesus died for you.  He is offering you so much freedom from the chains in your life, not guilt and disappointment.  You've been forgiven.  Your repentance is a good thing because it shows that you have clear identity as a daughter of the Lord and that you are growing in Him every single day. 

When it comes to sharing your faith, you are so right that it's important.  It's encouraging to see the heart God has placed in you for the Gospel!  But I also realize it's pretty terrifying to be bold.  Ultimately, I encourage you to take the step to share your faith with someone at your school who God places on your heart, but for now, here are some ideas for you to consider: 
  • Be a light.  Daily let the Lord's heart of love shine through you.  When you are overflowing with love and compassion for people, they will see that, and they will wonder what makes you that way.  Love through the way you live your life!  It's a little less scary to share your faith when someone actually approaches you and says, "Hey, why are you so different?"
  • Ask the Lord to bring conversations to you.  I do this often, because approaching people intimidates me to this day.  I'll pray, "God, I'm weak on my own and I'm experiencing so much timidity today.  Please send someone to talk to me who does not know the Gospel."  God is faithful!  There have legitimately been times I've been sitting around on campus after praying that prayer and someone has come up to me and asked me straight up about Jesus. 
  • Ask God to give you the right words to say.  I really like Isaiah 59:21, which says, "My Spirit, who is in you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips."  Another great, great passage for encouragement is Jeremiah 1!  The prophet Jeremiah was young and afraid, but the Lord offered him so much hope and grace.  
  • Put yourself in situations where you can share your faith outside of school.  I really encourage you to volunteer through local ministries after school or during the weekends.  I did this when I was in high school and it really helped me with my confidence and boldness in the Lord.

I hope this advice encouraged you in some way.  I'm young and I don't have all the answers, but I do have encouragement, and that is: Your identity is that you are a daughter of Christ, greatly beloved and free from condemnation!  God adores you and rejoices over you.  He is not ashamed of you.

I'll be praying for you as you start your next semester of school!


To everyone reading this: How have you been able to overcome anxiety when it comes to sharing your faith?  Do you have a prayer request about your own struggle to find boldness?    

One year ago: 5 Things: So Much Joy
Two years ago: Six Year Old Animal Hoarder and Tackle Hugs
Three years ago: Heaven's Face


  1. Once, for a year or more, I was so burdened with anxiety and guilt about my relationship with God, that I was often paralyzed, sometimes for hours. I mean really paralyzed, frozen in place, my mind going in circles. It went on for more than a year, and I felt abandoned by God.

    I'm not sure what, if anything, I did that helped me come out of it. Two things that might have helped, besides begging for help from God:
    - I made notes about what I was thinking, and set aside a time once a week to review them. That helped me break free of the paralysis sometimes.
    - I spent more time in the scriptures.

    The second one might seem counterintuitive, because reading the scriptures can sometimes make us feel guilty. I have an idea that it might be better for this purpose to spend some time reading only some scriptures that she's curious about or interested in, apart from any study guide or other intermediary. Maybe even to stop reading Christian writings altogether apart from the scriptures, for a while. Actually, I would recommend to anyone to read one of the gospels all the way through, immersing herself in it, as if she were with some other people gathering around one of the apostles, listening to the story. I do think that getting to know Jesus better personally by immersing herself in gospel stories about Him, might help a lot.

    Also maybe, spending more time alone with God, communing with Him through His creation, in some part of nature.

    It might also help if she can find ways to spend more time with people who appreciate her, and set a good example for her, at the same time.

    Those were just some thoughts that came to me. I'm not really sure that any of that could help, but I'm not sure it wouldn't, so there it is.

    In the last few years, whenever I've felt dissatisfied with my service to the Kingdom, I've thought that what I need is to grow more in my love for God. I haven't seen clearly what to do about that besides beg God for it, but I have a few ideas, some that I've found in the scriptures, and some from my friends, that do seem to help.

  2. I forgot to say, I love your ideas for Rachel.

    I want to add some more thoughts, not ideas about what to do specifically, but sort of like possible lines of inquiry for Rachel.

    - Search the scriptures, prayerfully, for ideas about her situation, maybe with some specific questions in mind. What is God saying, to all of us, about when, where and how to deliver His message? What does He say about how we can learn to do it? What does He say about how to develop the capacities we need, and find the courage, wisdom and confidence to do it?

    Speaking of wisdom, I just had another idea. I have a very bad view of some of the ways people try to impose their religious views on others. Many years ago, when I was considering inviting Jesus to possess my heart, what I feared the most was that he might turn me into one of those intrusive, invasive, intimidating, Bible-waving raiders for Jesus. I still think that a lot of what churches promote as spreading the gospel is wrong, not just because it looks bad to some people, but because it's harmful and contrary to God's purposes and prescriptions. It might help Rachel to look for the wisdom in her inhibitions, again searching the scriptures prayerfully for ideas about how *not* to spread the gospel. It might help her to think of what's pushing her to share her faith, and her inhibitions, both, as partly from God, and partly not from God. Again, searching the scriptures prayerfully for her own answers, taking a fresh look at it all, setting all Christian bandwagons aside, might help.

    Another thought, not about overcoming the anxiety and guilt, but about doing things in the right spirit: As I see it, part of spreading the gospel in the right spirit, is to imagine that we have as much to learn from others as we have to teach them, seeking spiritual fellowship across religious divides, and ignoring religious labels. The labels that people wear really tell us nothing at all about any individual, including where she is in learning to know and love God. Whether the label is Methodist, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, or even atheist, we really know nothing about the person and his relationship with God, without hearing it from him and seeing how he lives. Beyond that, regardless of where she is in learning to know and love God, we might have as much to learn about it from her as she does from us. Think of everyone as a partner in the quest already, rather than as a potential recruit.

  3. This might be a time to be perfectly frank in saying that I think part of the push for evangelism in any church, is for fundraising purposes, that part of what is promoted in any evangelism bandwagon is just wrong, and that people have every right to feel insulted by it and contemptuous of it.

    Part of people's resistance and rejection is from satanic influences, but not all of it. Part of it is because a lot of what passes for evangelism is just wrong. We need to ignore the bandwagons, even of our own companions and faith community, and look for our own answers in the scriptures.

  4. What I see as pleasing to God, in our relationship to our community, is loving devotion to its best interests, and not blind imitation of all its most popular ideas and pursuits, ignoring our own minds and hearts.