Have we forsaken authenticity in our lives, such that the church has become a place only for shiny, happy people?
I lost my first kiss to a girl when I was ten. There, I said it.
It was like taking that first plunge into the deep end of the pool after watching the older kids gliding seamlessly through the water; we fed the insatiable curiosity of what it must feel like when couples kissed on the silver screen.
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I struggled with masturbation when I was 15, before I even learnt what the word ‘masturbation’ meant.
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I dreamt that my father raped me on three separate nights, within the span of one month, when I was 17.
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Hi, my name is Amanda, and this is my story.
These are my deepest secrets shoved into the darkest chambers of my heart, concealed like a dead body buried in the ocean bed. Shame, guilt and fear punctuate the discomforting silence that lingers in these imposing caverns.
“You are a church leader, how could you?! You are not pure anymore. You are a hypocrite. Who do you think you are?” Such malice slowly but surely gnawed at me in the back of my head, and made its way like an imminent storm into the inner recesses of my heart and, ultimately, my being.
I was terribly afraid of people’s judgement. The church has always been seemingly filled with shiny, happy faces, as if no one has given into the temptations of sin like I did. I held the belief that I was the only girl in church who struggled with masturbation. The nightmares made me feel like every inch of my body has been touched and tainted by my own father, and I was afraid that my nightmares would crystallise into truth if I said anything about it. So I held it all in, as if holding my breath underwater.
Condemnation was heavily embedded into my conscience; I felt pinned to the wall by sin, leaving me unconscious of the grace of God streaming through my life. All this time, unaware that these fears were invalid and self-inflicted.
On September 2012, I took a step of faith and flew to Brisbane alone. This was the first attempt to swim higher and higher to the surface, in hope of basking in some sunlight. I signed myself up to be a part of the Music, Art and Dance Discipleship Training School at Youth With A Mission (Brisbane, Australia). 30 other students had signed up for this course, and like any orientation, the inevitable self-introduction session took place on the second day. People from all over the globe — Canadians, Germans, Swiss, among others — sat in a large, comfy circle. A school staff went first: “Hi, my name is James. I am from America and was born into a Christian family. I struggled with an addiction to pornography and masturbation…” My mind immediately went into a frenzy, as if it were lighted with burning flames. An introduction has never seemed this daunting.
The rest went on to share their stories: Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Only good for sex. Broken family. Drug dealing. Bullying. Weed. Attempted murder. Divorce. Alcoholism. Jealousy. Insecurities. Fist fights. Anger. Misfit. Atheism. Judgement. Damaged dreams. Jail.
Mere strangers gathering in a circle poured out their lives with an honesty I had never experienced in the 20 years of my life. Tears welled up in every eye, and flowed as freely as our mucus. Healing swept through the room as pent-up hurts and decades of damnation finally found their long-awaited release. Unknown faces that entered that room came out with hearts fully accepted by God’s love. As I plodded out of the room, with eyes all swollen, it hit me that this is what true authenticity is.
It was in that moment that I realised that my life had been shrouded in darkness, even when I was with my best friends back home. As much as I knew about and desired to walk in the light, my soul was trapped in the fear of exposing my carnal desires and failings. The craving for familiarity kept my heart crouching in the shadows, even as my past haunted me.
The devil plots for us to become attached to our sins and shame, like a brutal scar on the face. He wants these sins and shame to overtake our identity, as he tampers our minds with the certainty that forgiveness is not within reach. The grace of God thus becomes a lie, something unconceivable in the crucible of our shameful past.
However, I have come to know the incredible healing power that swoops in when one begins to step into the light. As I spewed out the seemingly unsalvageable dirt in my life, I found a deep healing in the presence of my friends, a confidence in my identity as a forgiven child who is made righteous, and a Father’s love that ravished my heart like never before.
I cling onto this verse: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16 NIV) In the public confession of the filth in my life, I found the veracity of this promise as healing and restoration came over the broken and damaged parts of my soul. In my dear YWAM friends, I found such unwavering support and tireless prayers for my mending heart.
While confession to brothers and sisters in Christ brings healing to our souls, let us still remember that God is the only one who can forgive us of our sins. I did not realise how much I needed this, until the burdens of carrying the shame fell off like chapped skin the very moment I spoke out in truth. The cavity that had previously been choked with shame, guilt and fear, has been washed away by acceptance and grace.
As the overwhelming shame was traded for His unceasing grace, I found freedom in this life because He who is in me, is far greater than he who is of the world (1 John 4:4).
May you find the courage to pursue authenticity relentlessly — honesty shall keep you where the light is. May you also find wholeness in His work in your life and with the steadfast support from your loved ones, even in the unlikeliest of places. As authenticity secures a pivotal place in your life, you could spark off a culture of genuineness in your church and in our generation. Your story of truth and grace is waiting to be heard.