I spoke at a young adult ministry recently and was moved by a young woman I met there. I had been asked to talk about sex and forgiveness that night. I let the guys in charge know that if they wanted me to come speak, what I would say would take a different angle than what might be typical when it comes to this kind of message in the church. I guess I feel like I should warn people about what they are getting when they are getting me:) I wanted to talk about the brokenness that finds us living out our sex lives in broken ways.
Because, really, if the message is: “You are messing up and God will forgive you”, I wasn’t convinced that they hadn’t already heard that or that they would walk out different than the way they came in. Though that message may be true, I wanted to go a bit deeper than that. I took on the challenge of speaking about why we keep finding ourselves in the same places we don’t want to find ourselves. I invited young people to look at their deep rooted pain that they were trying to comfort with sex and the woundedness they were trying to heal by exchanging their bodies to feel loved.
All this to say, it was a powerful night where God showed up. He invited hundreds of young people to seek God’s healing in their lives so they would no longer live out their pain in broken ways that leave them even more broken. After I preached, I sensed that we should ask people who wanted prayer to come to the sides and we would pray over them. A beautiful young woman walked up to me weeping. She said she had never been invited to view things this way. She had never viewed her sex life through the lens of her own brokenness. She was beside herself because she carried so much shame. Her shame has had the last word. She is dirty. She is used goods. She is unworthy of someone loving her unless….. She looked at me and wanted God to heal her. She no longer wanted to live out her pain and brokenness in broken ways…but not because she felt more shame like God was displeased and disgusted by her, but because she yearned for God’s hope of wholeness for her life.
We prayed together as she wept. The worship music wafted over us like God’s hand resting over our pain and our hopes. I told her it was time to hand it over. It was time to hand over all the shame, all the mean names, and all the ways she was not forgiving herself. I asked her to turn her palms up. I prayed for her. I often find in ministry we pray for other people, but at what point is it powerful for people to pray for themselves? I think there is power in having to say the words ourselves. We hear our own voices proclaim what we hope for and what we want to let go of. This has always been helpful for me in all the letting go I have had to do. I invited this girl to hand all those things over to God, to literally put her hands out and say “God I hand you…” I have to tell you that we shared one of the most beautiful moments where I watched this young woman hand to God all that kept her stuck. She prayed a meaningful prayer of surrender handing over shame, guilt, sick patterns, and all the pain that led her there.
I share this story because so often I think we KNOW things about God but rarely do we LIVE them out in tangible ways. We might know God forgives us, but do we come before Him like we would a friend and ask for that gracious gift? Or do we just assume forgiveness? We know God loves us, but do we come before Him and sit in His love watching a gorgeous sunset? We know that God asks us to hand over what it is that hurts us, harms us, or holds us back, but do we open our hands palms up and hand it over?
When you literally, physically hand over to God what you no longer want to carry, you know what that does? That becomes real for you. It is not just an ideology. It is not just a spiritual concept. You literally say “You know what God, I don’t want to carry this anymore. I don’t want this label, I don’t want this guilt, I don’t want this burden. Here, it’s yours.” Psalm 55 calls us to “cast our burdens on the Lord.” Heck, forget handing them over, throw them at God. Extend your arm and cast those things on the only One who can handle them.
God makes a few promises to us that I think we should remind ourselves of:
- “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
- “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43: 25
God is faithful and just to forgive us AND He no longer remembers our sins. The problem is, we remember them and we don’t forgive ourselves.
When you hand things over to God, you are doing a few things. One is that you are saying to yourself and to God “I no longer want to carry this anymore. And I know that you, God, are strong enough, good enough and gracious enough to carry them for me.” This becomes a conversation you can hang your hat on. When those names start calling you, when you start questioning your identity and the knowledge that you are fully loved, when you start to think that you are who you have always been instead of who God is becoming of you- you can go back and read your note-to-self that says: “NO! I already let that go. I am a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. I handed that over and I can’t steal it back from God.”
When you hand things over to God, palms up, you are trusting God and forgiving yourself. Having grace for self requires faith because you have to trust that God’s grace is greater than the skeletons in your closet, greater than the dirt your enemies have on you, and greater than the long laundry list of things you wish you would have never done. If you hand over your parental fails and you hand over your gossip, if you hand over your self-centeredness and the ways you have blown it again and again, why do you keep being your own worst enemy? God is like, “I took that from you.” And you are like ”But I want it back.” You hand God your screw ups only to snatch them out of His hands the first second you can because it’s almost as though you don’t know who you would be without them. Stop taking back what you already handed God. Hand Him your sin, your dysfunction, your deceit, your falsehood, your addiction, and then receive.
Sit palms open and allow God to love you. Allow Someone to love you in all your glorious mess. Allow Someone to love you, poop stains and all. Allow Someone to love you even if you don’t feel you deserve it.
Here is the deal. You can walk around carrying shame just like the young women was when I met her that night at the college ministry. You can walk around and let your mistakes and your mess call you by name, identifying you and weighing you down. Or you can hand it over. Handing it over has to be more than an idea or a belief, but I think we have to physically and verbally hand it over so that we can see ourselves give it up. We need to see ourselves leave it at the door. We have to hand it over like we have to say good bye, it’s healthy closure. Be done with it. Have the conversation. And then don’t turn back.
This past Collide event for women, which was an amazing day, we invited women to write on balloons what it was they sensed God was calling them to let go of or leave. Women wrote a word on their balloon and then let it go as a prayer. The room was filled with a grace and a hope as we watched each other hand it over. “Doubt”, “fear”, “self harm”, “shame”, “addiction”, “Johnny”, “inadequacy”, “Expectations”, “anger”, “pride” and “resentment” lifted up into the rafters of the cathedral like ceilings never to be carried again. Never to be carried again, unless we let it go, only to grab it right back unable to extend the grace God extends to us, to ourselves. Perhaps the extent to which you extend grace for self is in direct correlation to the extent in which you trust God’s. Jesus said, “My grace is enough for you.” Let that be so.
Jesus calls us to leave everything and though that feels like a big request, it is when we leave everything, that we actually find it. And Jesus knows that, that’s why He asks us to hand over all that we are, to become who we are meant to be. God has amazing, good, adventurous chapters written for our us. Let us not be held back by what was, but lean into what can be. Let us be a people who “hand it over”, trusting God’s big amazing grace, and then gifting it to ourselves.