I love bags. Messenger bags. Tote bags. Book bags. All colors, shapes, sizes, and materials. I carry different bags for different things. My “Wednesday” bag houses Bible study materials for my small group. My “Saturday” bag is devoted to those seven-hour jam sessions with the girls at the coffee shop. My “study” bag carries personal Bible study goodies. My “just in case” bag stores random things and possibilities.
There’s another bag, though, that most of us carry that we wish we didn’t. It’s our “past” bag. You know the one. It’s tattered, broken, covered in embarrassing destination stickers, and bursting at the seams with sin and regret. It’s the bag we shove under the bed or hide in the corner of our living room under a potted plant, hoping nobody will notice. It doesn’t fit in the overhead bin (not much does!) in airplanes, so we have to carry it. And after awhile, that burdensome bag can be quite heavy.
I was thinking about that bag the other day when I was in a store and overheard a mother tell her daughter, “Shame on you.” I don’t know what the daughter did, but I saw her reaction and recognized its paralyzing effect. Allow me to share a story from my past.
My second-grade principal towered over me, onyx hair glued to her scalp, arms crossed chest high— their first favorite position— and heaved a gusty sigh. She closed her eyes, pursed her wafer-thin lips and shook her head in disapproval. “You better explain yourself, missy.” She called all the girls “missy” and the boys “mister”.
Tears dripped from my eyes and my chest heaved in distorted rhythms. “I…I…I…”
“Yes?” She moved her hands to her hips—their second favorite position—and took two steps closer to my trembling body. Heat emanated from her, palpably and ferociously.
“I…”, sniff, breathe, sniff, “lied…”
“I know you lied. I caught you, missy, because you are a terrible liar.” She grinned and leaned back. I half expected her to laugh.
“Would you rather I was good at lying?” I was in the second grade. Sarcasm wasn’t in my grasp.
“Don’t you dare get smart with me, young lady.”
Uh-oh. Not young lady. Young lady meant I was in serious trouble.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know I was being smart?” I paused, twisted my right doggy ear around my index finger and contemplated, to the best of my second-grade brain’s ability, her negative use of the word “smart”. Smart was a compliment in my home and deserved a hug. Not crossed arms and a furrowed brow.
“Explain yourself. Now.” Her toe tapped in rhythm with my increasing anxiety.
I let it out. All of it. I told her how I had forged my friend’s name on the student council ballot but thought it would be OK since he told me he was voting for me. It was Texas. A man’s word is his bond. It wasn’t my fault he got sick the day of the election.
[Sidebar: The boy’s last name was Townsend. My seven-year-old spelling skills didn’t extend to last names, so I had actually written the name “Townsin“. Phonetically correct. Spiritually, too.]
“I’m withdrawing you from the race and putting this in your permanent record. You will never run for student office again.” She scribbled some notes on her acrylic clipboard. “Ten swats in my office after school plus one month of cleaning duties.” She pivoted on her clunky heels and stepped away from me. Two paces into her departure she stopped and looked back at me over her shoulder-pad. “Shame on YOU, Heather. Shame on you.”
The pain of that memory is as real for me today as it was so long ago. I got over the blistered backside and the nausea from cleaning toilets and chalkboards. I even ran for student council president in 6th grade and won. Without lying.
The biggest sting for me was the jagged knife across my emotional skin of the word “shame”. That word and all its accoutrements filled up my “past” bag. I lugged it through school and college and even included in my marriage dowry. I suffered under its weight, believing I had to carry it, had to bear the burden of all those past sins. Until I realized that’s exactly what Satan wants for my life. He doesn’t want me to let go of that baggage, because it keeps me buried under a shroud of lies and darkness, keeps me from seeing the brilliance of God’s illuminating Truth.
“I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Hebrews 8:12
He forgives AND he forgets. Forever.
God held up His mirror and showed me shoulders hunched under the weight of sin. The mirror reflected my shame. Not Him: “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18
Remove the veil, my friends. See yourselves as God sees you. Stand up straight, because we don’t need to slouch anymore: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Christ’s yoke is my everyday, anywhere and everywhere bag. It stores my salvation. And honestly, it’s the only bag I need.