Shame on Me: How God’s love exposed me for who I truly am

This week at our women’s Bible study, we are sharing passages of Scripture to pray over each of us throughout the summer. I chose Isaiah 43: 1-3:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

For a while, this has been my favorite passage, and my favorite part of the passage is the first two lines. Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Over the course of my life, I have been called many names. Some have been good, but many have been hurtful. Many have been shaming and ugly. Before I got married, I was in a brief but damaging relationship; so I guess I thought the next guy was an improvement. And yet somewhere deep in my heart, I knew that something wasn’t okay, that he didn’t esteem me.

And then one evening over dinner, he told me that to him, I was just a piece of meat.

I swallowed hard. I wasn’t sure how to respond. At first it was comical—had he really just said that? Surely he was joking. But he was so matter of fact, that I slowly realized he was serious. He briefly elaborated, demeaning me as he explained how he viewed me, the name he had given me. I felt like I was in a dream. Or a bad movie. I excused myself and walked out of the restaurant, leaving him at the table alone. Once in my car, I broke down, weeping. Was that who I was? A piece of meat?! Is that all anybody saw in me? Is that all any man would ever see?

That evening, I had a guitar lesson with my friend Aaron from church. He instantly knew something was wrong, and his kindness and warmth brought me to a crossroad—I wanted to share, but what if he looked at me differently? What if he believed what my boyfriend had said about me? What if he didn’t want to be my friend anymore once he realized who I really was?

I couldn’t hold it in anymore and I told Aaron what had happened.

For the second time that evening, I swallowed hard. I couldn’t look Aaron in the eye. Finally, his silence compelled me to look up. I didn’t see the condemnation that I expected; instead, I found sorrow and grief. He gently spoke words of truth to me, explaining that what my boyfriend had called me was not true—that my identity rests solely in who God says I am. He walked me through scripture after scripture that explained who I am in Christ.

I grew up in a loving, Christian home with godly parents. My parents divorced a couple of years before I was born; shortly afterward, Daddy accepted Jesus and wooed Mamma back to him. They remarried and 13 months later, I was born. They named me Blythe, which means joy. I was born out of the redemption of their marriage, and I was named in celebration of their newfound joy in Christ. And yet, early in my life, I started allowing others to name me.

One of my first memories is of someone shaming me for a small birthmark; I was about 2, maybe 3. This girl, when she saw the tiny mark, giggled and mocked me. Her actions called me ugly, and I believed her. I hadn’t known I was ugly until she pointed it out. Instantly, I viewed myself completely differently; I would believe every unkind, shaming lie she told me for the duration of our relationship. I cowered in her presence, afraid of how she would shame me next; just like this boyfriend, I had given her the authority to name me instead of trusting God and who he said I am.

Needless to say, I broke up with that guy all those years ago. My heart began to heal as I accepted God’s love for me once again and started listening to his voice over anyone else’s. And because I was finally trusting God to tell me who I was and how much he loved me, I was able to believe Aaron when one day he told me how much HE loved me! I knew Aaron didn’t view me as a piece of meat or anything else that wasn’t in line with what God had already named me. As Aaron fell in love with me, his love reflected so beautifully the life-giving love of God for me.

I love what Bonnie Poon Zahl says in this short article on Mockingbird:

When God re-names people, He creates a new hope, something stretching much further beyond who they’ve known themselves to be. By changing their names, He changes their lives… No longer shall we be called Forsaken, but Righteous; no longer shall we be called Desolate, but Delight of God.

I’ve been in the safety of Aaron’s love for many years now, and I daily ask God to remind me of who I really am—not who other people might say I am. But I’ve discovered that at this point in my Christian faith, my struggle is more about the names I try to call myself. On those hard days, when despair is looming and I feel alone and ugly and messy and unlovable…those are the days I am willing to listen to myself and accept the lie that God doesn’t love me, that no one else loves me, that I am alone.

Which is why this passage in Isaiah is so powerful to my heart—it reminds me of two things: I am NOT alone and GOD names me. Whatever I face in my life, whatever tomorrow brings, God is with me. His grace will meet me and be present in the hardest and goodest moments. I will never, ever be alone. Because I am the Lord’s. He has named me! He has redeemed me and knows me and delights in me. Some days this truth makes me laugh out loud in joy! Can you believe this?! God knows and loves little old me?! God knows and loves little old you!

The beauty of community in Christ is that when I am struggling to believe this truth, my community will remind me. I can share my heart with Aaron or send a quick text to one of my friends at Bible study. They know me, they know my struggles, they know my lies. And they are ready to encourage me with scripture and have faith when I have none. What a gift to be reminded of my true name when my heart has forgotten.