I was less than a week sober. I still had track marks on my arms that hadn’t healed, and I had just responded to the Gospel. As I was riding back to the treatment center from the life-changing church service in the backseat of one of the church usher’s mid-sized silver Toyota Camry (or something like it), I felt that nothing was ever going to be the same, but I knew there was a long journey ahead of me. I had gotten a taste of the joy I had always wanted, but the shame from my past and the physical withdrawals still weighed on me. I was forgiven but I wanted to live in freedom.
Once a drug addict places their faith in Jesus, they are completely forgiven and have been made into a brand new creation, but now comes the long journey of learning how to walk in the freedom they’ve been given. The reason why so many people feel the joy of the Lord on Sundays at church but then bogged down and hopeless the rest of the week is because they are carrying around what feels like thousands of pounds of garbage from their past. I was no different. I was carrying around abandonment issues from when my dad passed away, deep insecurities from a lifetime of stuttering on nearly every word, secrets that I swore I was going to take to my grave, and hundreds of other small and large pieces of trash that added up to a massive landfill of shameful junk in my soul.
Others who have lived in addiction can relate. We have collected and suppressed these things for years, and maybe even decades, hoping that they will eventually disintegrate. As the years go by, the trash pile has gotten bigger, and we become more enslaved to our past, more distant from God, and more hopeless of there being any way out.
Over the next few weeks, I began to search the depths of my soul to dig up every past secret and fear--things that were done to me and things I had done to others. I wrote down everything I could think of (literally EVERYTHING!), evaluated it, and shared it with a spiritual mentor I trusted. This process was very difficult, but has led to more freedom and joy than almost anything else I’ve ever done since becoming a Christian. The truth of the Gospel is that all of that trash has already been paid for, and the chains have already been broken. We just need to learn how to take out the trash.
One of my friends was on his way home from school one day when he was in elementary school. As he stepped off the bus and walked through the woods nearing his house in hopes of playing his new video game, a spider climbed up into his shorts and bit him right on the butt. The bump soon became a bruise, but he figured it would just go away soon like all the other mosquito bites he’d ever experienced. As the days passed, he realized it was much more serious, but he didn’t want to tell his dad because he was ashamed. He soon found it difficult to even sit down. Finally the pain got too intense and the consequences too serious that he swallowed his pride, told his dad, and exposed the bite. They went to the hospital, and he was healed within a few days. If he would have waited too much longer, the long-term effects would have been catastrophic.
This is a clear picture of what we must do if we are to walk in freedom! To go from simply forgiven to living in freedom, we must expose our past. We must understand that the pain and shame of hiding our past is much worse worse than the pain of exposing it and being healed. David explains our experience exactly when he says, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long” (Psalm 32:3 NASB).
God is not waiting to punish you in anger, instead, He is a Good Father who wants to heal you! In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they tried to cover their own shame with fig leaves and hid from God. This is what we’ve been doing for way too long, but there is another way. Because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, all of our sin and shame has been paid for! Instead of running away from God and trying to hide our shame, we can run to our Heavenly Father knowing that He will meet us with love, grace, and healing.
When we expose our past to God and to someone else in light of the Gospel, we begin the process of healing. Our intimacy with God transforms from a lukewarm relationship resembling the politeness of a distant relative that you only see at holidays to the rich warmth of a close friend that you can tell anything to. Our thought life begins to move from constantly plagued with shame to filled with joy. The thousands of pounds of weight we have been carrying around begins to fall off, and we will literally feel lighter. This is true freedom. This is the pathway to life.
- Write down everything from your past that affects you. Split them up into four categories: things done to you, things you’ve done to others, fears, and secrets. Take as long as you need to for this. Mine was literally 100 pages of trash. This work is worth every minute you spend on it! "Search me, O God, and know my heart!” (Psalm 139:23a)
- Confess them to God. "If we confess our sins (to God), he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9)
- Confess them to a spiritual mentor or godly friend you trust. “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
- Ask God to help you walk in freedom daily. "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).