“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
Freedom is a beautiful thing, but what it takes to get to freedom is messy.
It requires blood, sweat, and tenacity, and in some cases, it requires surrender. I began my journey to freedom in my early twenties. I chose to have my cherry popped after many years of swearing to save it for marriage. The aftermath was a storm.
The storm was a feeling.
I carried it around, but I couldn’t name it, because, at 22, I didn’t have the bandwidth to name shame. In my mind, this feeling was conviction. This was the Holy Spirit weighing me down and calling me into righteousness. The feeling lingered even after the relationship was over and after celibacy had become my choice.
It followed me around.
It was ever present.
It beckoned and it glared.
Then one November, a few months after I turned 24, I spent Thanksgiving in Atlanta with a friend. We met in college, and had kept in touch, but I hadn’t seen her since we graduated college a few years prior. In college, we had connected over many things, and one was our mutual desire to wrap it up until marriage. One afternoon, we decided to head to the mall, and on our way there, we reminisced and laughed about all the sex she had to have had to get pregnant. She recounted that the worst part wasn’t accepting that she was pregnant or talking to God about it, the worst part was calling home to tell her parents that she was pregnant, and having her community back in her East African country know she messed up.
After she shared her worst moments, the light bulbs turned on in my head. What she shared hit me square in the face. In that moment, I realized I was carrying the shame of two things: 1) Not living up to my mother’s expectation, and 2) the fear of what people would say (but tbh I’m still not sure who “those people” are). But something else was lurking and simmering in the background waiting for the right time to boil and bubble over...something deeper than shame.
I was carrying around this idea that I was less of a woman because I had sex.
This epiphany took my breath away, and I shared it with my friend on that ride to the mall after she described in concrete terms how she felt which was exactly how I felt. We agreed that the shame and fear were not from God or even about God. The feeling I carried around was not conviction, because almost two years before this epiphany, God and I had a conversation. We had wrestled together with my choice, and he said his piece and I had said mine. He granted forgiveness and had moved on to building and healing, but I was still stuck under the voice and expectation of others, and even sometimes the church. The incessant clamor of legalism had won.
The idea that a piece of skin defines my womanhood and that failure in that area meant I was less than a woman is absurd. Knowing I carried that thought around in my subconscious made me angry, but every feminist bone in me was finally glad I woke up. Above all, God was like “now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s continue the journey towards Christ.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting the validity of holding out on sex for both men and women until marriage. I am also not saying that fornication is not a sin or that there are no consequences, or that boundaries shouldn’t be set in place. Believe me, celibacy is hard and many times I appreciate it, other times I hate it and sometimes I fail at it. My point is for many women who grew up in the church or in cultures similar to mine, one epitome of a woman is defined by “Did you wait?” Many did not, and are knowingly and unknowingly struggling with shame and under the weight of not holding off. On the other side of that coin are men who are not. This should not be the case, shame is a place I refuse to reside at, and no one, man or woman, should have to. Jesus definitely did not die for us to abide with shame. There are women whose identities are tied to not waiting, and who believe they are unworthy because of it. I was almost one but a few realizations saved me.
- My desire to save myself until marriage was not necessarily rooted in this is what Christ requires of me, it was based on what had been pounded in my ears as what a lady is expected to do because it brings her glory. I am actually glad I didn’t live up to that expectation and Christ is not going around whipping me on the head because of it. You are looking yet again at a full woman. That same year, the Spirit spoke clearly to my heart, “You are mine. I am yours, and you are innocent. Innocent of all charges, expectation, accusation, and finger-pointing. Why bother about the world, when you are innocent, and I made it so. Just stay with me.”
- We all fall short, We often hide when we fall short. We hide our failures and shortcomings and only share the good even with those who love us and whom we trust. God says to “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed.” Having that conversation with my friend blessed me, and I will keep having vulnerable conversations. I will not shroud everything in secrecy; it only breeds shame.
- I refuse to live down or up to anyone’s expectation. Freedom is a huge value for me; freedom to be, to fall, to get back up, to learn and to walk again. I got a tattoo that says “free” to remind me of that. (see image above).
- Lastly, Britt Nicole’s song, You are Still that Girl, saved me, “Your story's not over, it's still being told. You were young, you were free, and you dared to believe.” You are still that girl who wanted to do great things for God and in the world. His grace covers both your sins and your failures. A failed business does not mean you have failed in life or that you can’t start a new one. Getting fired at a job does not mean your skills are unworthy or useless. You committed adultery, you are unemployed, you don’t have any money, you have hefty debt, you don’t have clients knocking at your business door, you got an abortion, you were cheated on, you stole from Wal-Mart or ‘INSERT WHATEVER IT IS HERE” does not disqualify you. You can still leave a legacy. Jesus made it so.
God does not hang anything over your head when you set it at his feet. The enemy does. God does not condemn, the enemy does, God does not nag, the enemy does. Shame is a liar, don’t let it own you. So as for me and my household, we are complete and redeemed in Christ. That’s all!