Nearly all of us have experienced shame; it’s one of Satan’s most powerful tools. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt is recognition that we have done something wrong, and it can help us change our behavior and come closer to the Savior. Shame makes us feel there is something deeply wrong with us, and it can keep us from the Lord. My struggle with shame came because of childhood sexual abuse. Your shame may have a different source, but there is an answer that can help us all.
I had always enjoyed a close relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus. I loved the temple and tried to attend often and enjoy the peace I found there. All of that changed when my memories of childhood abuse began to resurface. Shame filled me. It made going to the temple so painful that I stopped attending. I wanted to hide from the Lord.
When I shared these feelings with my Bishop, he pondered it and then said, “I wonder, if you could be like that woman in the scriptures and just touch His robe.” Yes! That was it, touch His robe. I knew my answer lay in that story. I went home to review it.
All the characters of this story have meaning to us. When I think of Jairus, I smile. He boldly approached the Lord and asked for what he needed. The Lord immediately stopped what He was doing to help. Before my memories of abuse returned, I felt this sort of closeness and love for the Savior.
I can also relate to the disciples in the crowd, being jostled along, wanting just to be close to Jesus, searching for answers or healing, or perhaps just curious. I have experienced all of these feelings on my spiritual path.
Of course, most poignantly, I can relate to the woman. Her suffering was long, as has been my own. She was unclean and alone though she had done nothing wrong. I, too, felt unclean through no fault of my own. All my logic told me that what happened was not my fault, but my heart would not hear it. I felt ashamed and defiled; no amount of logic could change that. She sought for help, but for a time, things just kept getting worse. I felt the same. Surely she felt desperately alone and cast out of society, as did I.
Could I also show the kind of courage and faith that she exhibited? Could I reach out to Him as she did? Perhaps if He didn’t look at me, I could do it. For me the reaching would not be a physical action, but it would still require great faith and courage. Could I do it? And if so, how?
A touch is a small, but powerful thing. Think about a time when you were hurting and someone touched your shoulder or held your hand. It’s so simple, but so powerful. The first step in touching His robe was moving a little closer to Him. I began to renew my efforts in prayer.
In my time of shame and anger, my prayers had dwindled to a solitary ember. I tried to check in at least once a day, but sometimes I didn’t remember even that. When I did pray, I was at a loss for what to say. It was sort of like, “Heavenly Father, I—uh—don’t know what to say. Just checking in . . . Amen.”
Touching His robe through prayer meant being honest in my prayers, being vulnerable, and asking for what I needed. One day I went to the temple and stood outside looking at it. I felt like an unwanted stranger. That made me both sad and angry. I felt as if God had abandoned me in my time of need. I walked around the grounds, and I prayed.
I let my guard down, and let all of my anger pour out. I expressed my frustration toward Him. I asked Him why He abandoned me. At some point I started crying. I walked, and wept, and prayed, and vented. When I was done, I half expected the proverbial lightning strike. Not literally, but I did expect to feel guilty afterwards. Something different happened, though, something amazing.
I didn’t feel ashamed or guilty. In fact, I felt better. I felt a small measure of the peace I had been lacking for a long time. It was like putting a mud pie in the oven, and forty-five minutes later pulling out a chocolate cake.
The crying cleansed and purged some of my unworthy feelings. In the small space that cleansing created, I felt reassurance that my Father was pleased with my prayer. I understood that He wanted me to come to Him with my feelings, all of them. I felt that He had missed me, just as I had missed Him. This was not the end, of course. Things did not immediately get better from there, but it was an important first step on my journey back.
The next bit of reaching out I did was to begin to read the scriptures again and seek out other spiritual resources. I have to be honest: in the beginning, sometimes that increased my frustration. There are so many scriptures that talk about repentance. I was still blaming myself for the abuse, and I interpreted those messages of repentance as reproof. The disappointment I felt increased my anger. It was like when you are a child, and you are running and trip on the carpet. What if your parent, instead of comforting you, simply looked at you sternly and said, “Haven’t I told you not to run in the house?”
I understand now that repentance is really not about reproof, but I didn’t know that at the time. Fr. Thomas Keating helped me understand this better when he said, “Repentance means change the direction you are looking for happiness.” By that definition, I could understand the call to repentance as something lovingly given to help us return to Him. I continued to study and eventually found scriptures and messages that spoke to my heart and brought me great comfort. As He wept with Mary after Lazarus’ death, I knew He wept with me as well.
I continued to reach out in faith, and at last the day came when I entered the temple and felt peace. My journey that had begun with timidly reaching out to touch His robe had brought me home. Through it all, I learned that sometimes we are all like the woman in this scripture story, needing the Lord desperately yet afraid to approach Him. But like that woman, healing awaits us if we will just reach out and touch His robe.
Leslie G. Nelson and her husband, Richard, live near Seattle and are the parents of five children. Leslie blogs at www.lesliegnelson.com and is the author of Touching His Robe: Reaching Past the Shame and Anger of Abuse