If you are a Christian girl or woman who is struggling—or has struggled—with guilt, shame, identity, or addiction, then this letter was written specifically for you. I believe that testimonies break chains. Scripture says we defeat the enemy by the blood of the lamb and the power of our testimony (Revelation 12:11). So, I pray that my testimony can be an encouragement and a blessing. If nothing else, know that regardless of the nature of your struggle, you are not alone and shame is a chain that doesn’t belong on your shoulders.
Several years ago, the Lord told me that my life would be a life marked by freedom. Growing up, I would have laughed at anyone who told me that, because I spent so much of my life under the bondage of guilt and shame.
I was raised in a Christian home and grew up in church, but I was only 8 years old when I stumbled across an old video tape with no title. Suddenly on the screen in front of me, I saw things I had no idea how to describe or process. I quickly removed the tape and tried to wipe it from my memory, but a seed had already been planted. It wasn’t long until I sought it out again, followed by many other books, movies, and eventually websites. That one tape started me on a decade-long journey of cycling in and out of pornography addiction.
Because of that, my salvation story did not meet my expectations of what it was supposed to look like when I gave my life to Jesus. I thought I was going to wake up as a brand new person, and none of my old sins or habits would impact me anymore. I didn’t realize that being freed from the penalty of my sins didn’t automatically take away the temptation or pull of sin. So, every time I messed up or even thought about something I was supposed to be free from, I would start doubting my salvation. Every time I heard an altar call, I would re-dedicate my life to Christ, and each time—I would think, “Maybe this time it will work. Maybe this time it will fix me.” But it never seemed to.
Partially because of that de-sensitization to sex at a young age, I was only 15 years old the first time I had sex. Two important women in my life had been raped, and I remember feeling empowered because I was the one who made the decision about “my first time” and nobody could forcibly take it from me. Every time I attended church, I felt both guilty and defiant. I knew that premarital sex went against what the Bible taught, but I told myself I was simply taking control of my own body by making sure it was with someone I chose and loved. Even though those thoughts made sense on paper, something in my heart knew I was really making that decision out of fear, and all of that empowerment and pride left me feeling empty.
The things I had been warned about came to pass: I had my heart broken, and terrible things were said about me. I spent years wrestling with guilt and shame from decisions I had made, and I didn’t believe that I could ever truly be clean or worthy again, so I just kept falling deeper in the hole I had made. My parents went through a difficult divorce, and I responded to that loss of stability by trying to find it in other ways. It felt like everything inside of me was crumbling, so I started trying to make everything outside of me perfect. I focused on making perfect grades, having the perfect body, and saying the perfect things. I forced myself to do things out of guilt and not out of love.
I would compare it to working out because you feel guilty about what you ate instead of working out because you love your body and want to see it healthy and strong. Every time I read my Bible or went to church, I did it out of guilt instead of doing it out of love for God.
It’s the same reason I had a hard time breaking the addiction. I was trying to stop because I felt guilty and because other people told me it was bad, but that ultimately left me always feeling judged by God instead of LOVED by God. I had the right goal, but the wrong motivator. And one thing I have learned since then is that any fuel other than the love of God will not get you very far. When you are fueled by guilt, or pressure, or comparison, don’t be surprised if you run out of gas and find yourself perpetually exhausted.
That’s where I was. I was exhausted, I was unhappy, and I was avoiding God. I didn’t want to pray or go to church because, to be honest, I didn’t want to face Him. If you owed someone money and you knew you couldn’t pay them, would you run up to them and strike up a conversation? Or would you avoid them? That’s how I felt about God. Like I owed Him a debt, but my account was empty.
The Turning Point
I was a sophomore in college when I finally realized there were very real ramifications from my past decisions that would impact my future spouse. I sank to my knees in tears one night next to my dorm bed, apologizing for the years of defiance and anger. I told God I knew I wasn’t on the right path and wanted to re-dedicate my life to Him, and then I asked Him if it was too late. I felt Him flood me with His love for me—and I knew it was His love, because at the time, I didn’t love me.
So, I cracked open my Bible again. I started going back to church, and within a few months, I met a boy. I was used to boys who rolled their eyes when I mentioned Jesus or church, so I was ecstatic to have finally met someone who seemed interested in both Jesus and me. When he started asking me about my past, I decided to be honest with him. It was like a gut-punch when he told me he no longer wanted to pursue anything with me. He told me that we had different moral codes and that he didn’t want to spend his life unequally yoked. I remembered reading something about that phrase in Scripture, but hearing him use it in this context threw me for a loop.
I started to wonder if my past had disqualified me from ever having a Godly husband. That started me down a spiral where I realized if I had been disqualified from a Godly husband, I was probably also disqualified from any call that might have been on my life. And then I began to question if my past would also keep God from ever being able to love me fully. I knew He loved me, but was it less than He used to love me? I started avoiding the men at church—I figured I just needed to find someone who was a lukewarm Christian and wouldn’t care so much about the things I had done when I was younger.
PRAISE GOD I met my husband, Matt, when I did. I met him right after graduating from college, and I liked him so much it scared me because he loved Jesus in a way I had never seen before. He pursued me for over a year before I finally decided to share my past with him, thinking he would drop me like a hot potato. We went outside on the porch, and I looked down to hide my face and my shame as I told him about the things I had done. When I finished, he lifted my chin and said, “Why would I judge you for something that Jesus has already forgiven?” I just stared at him before finally asking, “…What do you mean Jesus has already forgiven me?”
Here’s the thing: I knew that Jesus loved me. But I still thought God was punishing me and that I deserved that punishment. When I shared those thoughts, Matt simply pointed out that for the woman caught in adultery, grace came first. Jesus didn’t say, “Go live your life perfectly, and then you will be forgiven.” He released her from her past and then told her to go and sin no more. He showed me in Scripture that Christ had removed my sins, “as far as the East is from the West.”
So, just in case you need to hear this: Your past has not disqualified you from the future God has for you, and nothing can keep Him from loving you just as much as He did when He sent His Son to the Cross for you.
After that conversation, I went to a quiet place and asked God if it was truly possible for Him to still love me the same way He would have if I hadn’t fallen into addiction and sexual sin. Once again, it was like this dam broke, and suddenly I felt like I was sitting in the middle of God’s heart. I was overwhelmed by the all-consuming love of my Father for me. And I have never doubted His love for me since then. In fact, everything I do stems from it.
Matt encouraged me to start diving into the Word of God, which had always intimidated me before. I always felt like it was a book of rules, and I had already broken too many of them. But I was on a mission to understand the heart of my Father, so I opened the New Testament, read through the Gospels, and asked Holy Spirit to renew my mind. And the Word came to life. I was introduced to Jesus in a whole new way. Scripture says Jesus is the exact imprint of the nature of God, and I realized that meant the heart of Jesus mirrored the heart of God. Jesus, who gravitated most naturally to sinners and sufferers. Jesus, who was moved by compassion to wipe the tears of those who wept. Jesus, who told the leper: Of course it is my desire to heal you. Jesus, who forgave and then embraced those who desired but did not deserve His forgiveness. Jesus, who rejoiced every time someone was willing to receive something He offered them. Jesus, who did not leave people in the sin that would only bring them pain and death, but out of an abundance of love showed them how repentance was the key to the light of life. Jesus, who came to finally bridge the gap between God and man and Heaven and earth forever. Jesus, who never gets tired of meeting us with fresh forgiveness, fresh grace, and fresh mercy because that was the joy set before Him.
Friends, I fell in love. Head over heels in love with Jesus. And the more I learned to receive His love for me, the deeper I fell in love with Him, and the easier I fell out of love with the things of this world. I couldn’t get enough of Scripture. (I promise you that was NOT always the case. It started as a discipline before it turned into a desire.) I started journaling and practicing listening prayers, where I would come to the Father with a question and then I would just wait and listen for His response so I could learn how to hear His voice. And I finally, finally started to understand that I has been dead in my sins, but when I gave my heart to Jesus, I was raised to life with Him. Immediately. Eternally. And while that resurrection was instant, my heart transformation was (and is) ongoing, driven by His love for me and His Presence in my life. It was nothing I could do on my own.
The Father’s love and His Word helped me finally break my addiction for good and for the right reasons, so it couldn’t come back again. I realized I had partially been avoiding God because I was afraid He was going to ask me to give up all the things I found fun or exciting. And that simply wasn’t true. The sin wasn’t the pleasure or the excitement. The sin was trying to gain those outside of the loving boundaries God had put in place for my benefit, and the resulting feeling of emptiness was not a punishment from God. It was what He had been trying to protect me from.
As soon as these revelations finally sank into my heart, I wanted to shout from the rooftops. But I had to go back to the Lord and tell Him, “I don’t know how to tell people about this. I didn’t go to school for this. And I never paid attention to this part in church because I didn’t think I would ever be the person sharing my testimony. I didn’t make the best choices. What qualifies me to tell anyone about You?”
And the Lord, in His kindness, let me to two passages. The first was the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4)—the first person to whom Jesus openly revealed that He was the Messiah. I love her story, because she spent time in the presence of Jesus, had a revelation about who He truly was, and then couldn’t help but go tell everyone about it. She didn’t have a sparkling reputation or any religious training. The only thing that qualified her to tell her entire village about the Messiah was the time she spent in His presence. And Scripture says that many came to faith because of her testimony, and they all flocked to Jesus because they desired a personal encounter. And I realized that’s who I want to be. I want to share my story in a way that everyone who hears it runs straight into the open arms of Jesus.
And the second passage He gave me is in Acts, when Peter and John were arrested and stood before the high priests. Acts 4:13 says, “The council members were astonished as they witnessed the bold courage of Peter and John, especially when they discovered they were just ordinary men who had never had religious training. Then they began to understand the effect Jesus had on them by simply spending time with them.” Bold courage to share our stories comes from time in His presence. And if you keep reading, in Acts 4:20, Peter and John say back to the council, “It is impossible for us to stop speaking about all the things we have seen and heard.” That is my testimony. Spending time in the presence of God broke decade-old chains of guilt and shame off of me and allowed me to experience a fullness of freedom that is so overwhelming, the shame of my past seems insignificant in comparison. And I want to tell everyone. Not because I have some degree, or some perfect history. But because I don’t. Because He loved me before I was “fixed,” and that is what set me free. I am not an expert in anything. All I know is that it is IMPOSSIBLE for me to stop speaking about the things I have seen and heard.
So, I want to leave you with this: Don’t be afraid to bring your sin into the light. I thought my pornography addiction and sexual history would be secrets I took to the grave. Even though I had repented of them and turned away from them, I was so afraid of what people would think if they knew that I let them become burdens that weighed me down with guilt and shame. But my husband encouraged me to share my past, if for no other reason than to bring it into the light and take the shackles off of my shoulders. So, I did. I shared openly about my history for the first time, and I was flooded by stories of girls who had struggled with the same addictions.
Not only that, but for the first time, I understood what it meant to feel freedom from that weight. The devil had no trump card. He had no piece of me anymore. I entered into the fullness of freedom that Jesus died to give me, and I knew I never wanted to go back again.
1 John 1 promises that if we will bring out sins into the light, God will be faithful to forgive them. Repentance is a beautiful gift and a lifestyle. In the Greek, it simply means to change our mind. And not only to change our mind but to “take another mind”—to adopt the mind of Christ.
When I pray, “Father, search my heart,” He sometimes reveals hard truths, but I know that He does so as a loving Father. And if He finds something I need to lay down or let go of, I know it will only bring me deeper into freedom. He never just dumps a sin habit in my lap and asks me to fix it. He reveals it out of His grace for me, and then He helps me walk through the process of changing my mind about it.
Cultivating a relationship with God (and sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit) has changed my life. There is NOTHING better than a relationship with Him, and there is nothing that can keep you from that relationship if you want it. He promises that neither death nor life, angels nor demons, present nor future, any powers, height nor depth, nor anything else in ALL of creation can separate you from His love for you.
Chin up. Stand tall. Be bold. You are the beloved daughter of the only living God. You are called. You are equipped. You are unbelievably, irrevocably loved. And your Father is right here in the room, with open arms. I don’t claim to know much, but I can promise that this is true: The best decision you can make in life is to run into those arms and never, ever let go.
“I don’t depend on my own strength to accomplish this; however, I do have one compelling focus: I forget all of the past as I fasten my heart to the future instead.” –Philippians 3:13