April 11 is my “Spiritual Birthday.” It’s been 44 years, but I’m still far from perfect.
I became a Christian on April 11, 1973, at a Christian Recovery Program called His Mansion. At that time, I was full of shame. It was important in my family to go to a good college .I had gotten into Brown University, just like my father and my brother before me, but by my junior year I had been using so much acid, meth, and cocaine, I had to drop out. My parents were hurt and disappointed with me, and I began to be disgusted with myself
It wasn’t just dropping out of school. It wasn’t just letting my family down. I felt that I had let myself down. I had everything going my way, and I blew it. I knew that the drugs I was using could make you sick and could make you crazy, but I used them anyway, and I wound up using a lot more than I ever planned.
So I tried to get some help. That’s what you’re supposed to do. But I really didn’t think that anyone could help me. I didn’t believe I could ever change I thought that I was damaged goods, and I always would be. And the worst thing was, I had done this damage to myself. I hated myself for being so stupid. I hated myself for completely losing control. I was full of shame, and I thought I would always be.
But you’re supposed to get some help. You’re supposed to go to a program. You’re supposed to get “rehabilitated.” I went to a regular rehab, but they didn’t like my attitude, and I didn’t last long. I decided to try His Mansion, even though it was a Christian program.”What the heck,” I thought.
So I arrived at His Mansion full of shame. It wasn’t just guilt. When you feel guilty, it’s about things you’ve done. But shame is about who you are. And that’s why shame is so toxic. To hate yourself, to see yourself as a loser, a failure, a hopeless addict– you can get stuck there for years.
But God was good to me when I got to His Mansion. He didn’t let me stay stuck in my shame. I remember the first day I was there I was sitting there on a bench. I guess I didn’t realize how bad I looked. But there was a lady there. Her name was Eleanor Wagner. She looked at me and said, “Why don’t you take all that guilt and shame and wrap it up like you were taking out the garbage, and leave it at the cross. That’s where Jesus took care of it.”
So I prayed, and I pictured wrapping up my shame, and leaving it at the cross. And Eleanor was right. From that moment on I stopped hating myself, and seeing myself as a loser or a failure.
I had an experience that the Bible describes in Psalm 34:4-6:
I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.