I sit across from a friend who knows me well. We’ve walked together for more than a decade. My eyes are tear-filled as I look at her and say, “I messed up.” I tell her of how I have failed in an area that has been an off-and-on battle in my life for years.
We all have one, don’t we? I call it our “Signature Struggle.” It’s the choice or habit or escape we go back to even though we know better. We swear we’ll never do that again—eat the whole pan of brownies or snap at the kids or drain the drink. But then we’re tired or stressed or overwhelmed and, suddenly, we do. No, sister, it isn’t just you. It’s all of us—every wandering, beating heart on this planet.
When I give in to my Signature Struggle, the critical voices in my mind are so loud: God will never use you now. You’re a hypocrite. You said you’d never do this again and now here you are. You’re a failure. You should give up.
On this morning as I sit with my friend, I think she should tell me the same. She should rebuke me and give me a Bible study to do immediately. She should issue a public announcement about my behavior so that others will be warned. Instead she comes to sit beside me. She leans in and puts both arms around my shoulders. She says, so gently, “Don’t let the shame win. Don’t give the enemy that victory.”
She knows me well. She understands that I will recover from my misstep. I will get up and try again in the area of my Signature Struggle. I will make progress and move forward. I will learn from this mistake. What she’s most concerned about, what could be like a deadly viper sinking its fangs into my ankles, is letting the shame take hold. She’s seen what happens, how I pull back and hide. How I consider myself unworthy. How I distance myself from God like Adam and Eve hiding in the Garden.
She wisely understands what the enemy is really after is not simply to make us sin — the cross has already taken care of that — it’s to make us abandon our identity. It’s to convince us we cannot be both imperfect and loved at the same time. It’s to tempt us to believe our worst moments define us.
Later that day when the shame tries to slink in again, I close my eyes and picture my friend sitting next to me. Then I imagine that it’s Jesus instead. Because isn’t that how He loves us too? “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
The enemy of our hearts would always rather have us embrace shame and guilt instead of grace. Because grace is what transforms us, what brings us out of hiding, what gives us the courage to keep trying. It is the superpower that defeats our Signature Struggle, that snaps the fangs of the serpent. As I share in You’re Loved No Matter What, “God wants to use the places where you’ve experienced the most shame to bring Him glory.”
If you, like me, have given in to a Signature Struggle recently then let me put my arms around your shoulders right now too. Let me whisper again to both of us what my friend reminded me is true: We are still loved. Who we are in Christ hasn’t changed. We will rise. We will fight again. Grace always wins in the end.