“The one who trusts in the Lord will never be put to shame.“ Romans 9:33
When I was 12 years old I entered Junior High School. As a boy in the 6th grade I was warned by my classmates that the big kids in Junior High liked to pick on the incoming 7th graders. The summer of my 12th year was filled with a fearful anticipation of what was to come. Once I entered the 7th grade I was never picked on by any of the kids. My greatest sorrow was at the hands of a teacher.
Each morning all the school buses would arrive and the kids would be off-loaded and assembled in the cafeteria before the start of class. The cafeteria held about 300 kids. I could never figure out the reason for having us sit in the cafeteria for those thirty long minutes, but we did. The playground seemed a lot more fun than sitting on the hard cafeteria seats. There was a rule in the cafeteria – no one could talk and no one could chew gum. I did well on the “no talking” part, but one day I forgot that I had a piece of chewing gum in my mouth.
That morning as we sat waiting in the cafeteria, the silence was broken from across the room by the booming voice of Mr. Johnson (I have changed his name just in case he is still alive). Mr. Johnson was a tall, handsome man that all the girls really liked.
“You there – chewing the gum, look at me!” I am not sure how many of us were secretly chewing gum that morning but I had a bad feeling Mr. Johnson was speaking to me. I turned my now pale young face his way and then he pointed his finger directly at me and boomed out a second time. “Don't spit the gum out yet...get on your hands and knees and crawl over here and spit it out in front of me!” Time slowed down and I entered the Twilight Zone.
At that point I was not sure which of my body fluids would release first. My entire world was collapsing around me into a pit of personal and profound shame. The laughter and mockery from the kids in the cafeteria rose in volume as I got down on my hands and knees and started the longest and most humiliating journey of my young life. I was wearing new pants and shoes that most kids wear early in a new school year. With each shuffle towards Mr. Johnson, my shoes and pants mopped up the dust, food debris, and grease from the floor.
As I arrived at the feet of Mr. Johnson he demanded that I, “spit it out like a dog,” and then crawl back to my seat. I was emotionally numb by now. I really don't remember much about the return trip. I cannot begin to tell you the depths of personal shame I felt that day. I realize that today Mr. Johnson might have lost his job for what he did and the school would probably be sued, but this was a long time ago. Things were different then.
Several years ago I was in the Silicon Valley of California where I grew up and where this incident had taken place. Jan and I were there for a conference, so early one Sunday morning I left our hotel room alone and drove to the old school where this incident took place. The campus was deserted on this early weekend morning. I was alone with my memories. As I walked through the campus, I came to the cafeteria and stood there looking through the windows. I heard echoes of conversations from years before. I was overcome with emotion. As an adult I could not believe that anyone would treat a little boy that way. Standing there I felt like a 7th grader all over again.
In the many years since that incident I have wondered what purpose there was in experiencing such pain. For all these years each time I thought of Mr. Johnson I prayed for him and I forgave him so that I could be set free from the prison of shame where he was the cruel warden. Forty years after Mr. Johnson publicly humiliated me I found the reason why I had been praying for him all those years.
My wife, Jan, ministers to people through listening prayer. Listening prayer allows the Holy Spirit to walk us back to the roots of our pain and sorrow to experience the freedom that only Jesus can bring when His truth replaces a lie. I asked Jan to pray with me through this event so I could see God's larger picture of what actually took place that day.
As Jan and I prayed, I began to feel the sorrow of the young boy I had once been. I was in the cafeteria again. I heard the horrible voice of Mr. Johnson. I felt the hard floor under my knees. I experienced the feeling of shame. It felt like I was a full water canister turned up-side down and then uncorked. Everything drained out of me, leaving me empty - then I saw Jesus. He was crawling alongside of me. He was wearing a white robe. He was on His hands and knees just like me shuffling across that dirty floor. He was unaffected by Mr. Johnson's loud commands. Jesus had His eyes fixed on me! He had the look of deep and profound peace upon His face. His peace radiated into my humiliation.
As Jan tenderly walked me through this moment of freedom she asked me, “Garris, is the Lord saying anything to you?” Through my tears I repeated the Lord's words, “Yes, He is saying, 'For all these years you have been the only one who has prayed for Mr. Johnson. I am using your prayers to reveal My love to Him.'”
In that moment it all made sense and God's peace began to vacuum the shame from my heart. I wept for Mr. Johnson and the great privilege I had to be used by God to pray for this man. My shame now had an eternal purpose attached to it.
We discover the purpose of God in our place of shame when we see Jesus.
Hebrews 12: 1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”
One of the weights God wants us to strip off his children is shame. Shame slows us down from moving with God into the destiny he has for each of us. We can't run with endurance if shame is sapping our strength during the race. This race is run by keeping our eyes on Jesus, not on our shame. Our strength comes from that vision.
When I knew Jesus was crawling on the floor alongside of me, and I could see his eyes of compassion looking back at me, I knew that I had discovered his purpose in my place of shame. He endured the shame of the Cross so that we could be free from living under the weight of unresolved shame. Seeing Jesus dissolves the painful imagery of shame.
If we allow God to meet us in our shame, and trust Him there, He will reveal His truth and purpose to us. Peace comes when we see Jesus with us in the place of our greatest pain and sorrow. When God's presence is experienced and realized, and His purpose is revealed, the shame and the lies attached to that shame are replaced with God's heart and truth. Our painful history now becomes a place of honor. It has been a great honor to pray for Mr. Johnson for the last 40 years. I pray that God will make Himself known to Mr. Johnson and that someday I will worship with him around God's throne.
The Lord spoke this word in my heart for those who may be trapped in shame:
“I will reveal my purpose in the midst of your greatest shame. Shame will no longer be your master. You think it impossible to live without shame, but I have other plans for you. I will remove from you the blanket of heaviness that surrounds you and wrap you in a garment of praise. I was there with you as shame unfolded its plan, but you did not hear Me. I am here now with you and want you to hear the words I spoke to you on the day of your shame. I was there and I am still here with you. Listen to My words – they will bring life to your place of death. I will put your shame behind you and it will become only a distant memory.”