Freedom from shame—innocence reclaimed
Today, I feel like an unblemished rosebud! Thanks to an understanding, through my study of Christian Science, of what I really am, I see the “real me”—my spiritual, totally innocent nature as a child of God. This “me” or identity can never be touched or marred by any human circumstance, as I discovered years ago.
After my mother remarried when I was fourteen, we moved into my stepfather’s house with him and his twenty-year-old son. Our parents’ attentions were suddenly focused on each other, so my new stepbrother and I found solace and comfort in one another’s company. But during the next couple of years, a mutual attraction developed and we began flirting. I enjoyed the attention, but one day when our parents were on vacation things took a turn. He took advantage of their absence. Though I vigorously resisted, he raped me. I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone.
As shocking and devastating as that experience was, my stepbrother convinced me we were “in love” and would someday marry. Over the years we had developed what I felt was genuine affection for one another, and the temptation to be together seemed too great to resist. And so the physical encounters, which were never again forced, continued for two more years, but were kept secret from our parents. Then without any explanation or advance notice, my stepbrother moved out of the house, leaving me feeling emotionally crushed, abandoned, and used. My self-image was that of “damaged goods.” I felt ashamed, robbed of my innocence, with no one to turn to.
However, throughout my childhood I had been taken to a Christian Science Sunday School by a neighbor. Although my attendance fell off when my mother remarried, I never forgot the lessons I learned there, never lost that sense that God is Love and ever present, and that we can rely on God in every circumstance. And that turning to God would always make things right.
And so, I started attending church again, and reading the Bible and the textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, searching for answers and spiritual strength and gaining understanding. First, I came to forgive my stepbrother. I can’t say forgiveness came quickly, but I realized that not only his actions, but mine, were the result of a general misconception about man. Man is the generic term for everyone as God’s spiritual image and likeness. Our thoughts and actions arose from the belief that man is mortal, can be unsatisfied, aggressive, vulnerable to temptation or harm, or can lose, or is without, a moral compass. But when this false concept of my stepbrother came to thought, I persisted in seeing us both as I knew God must see us—as His creation, wholly good, satisfied by our Maker, and incapable of doing wrong or being wronged. This purged from thought any guilt stemming from my stepbrother’s behavior toward me. Science and Health says: “Man’s genuine selfhood is recognizable only in what is good and true. Man is neither self-made nor made by mortals. God created man” (p. 294 ).
These truths lifted from me a material concept of man, and revealed to me my stepbrother’s inherent innocence. As a result, my relationship with my stepbrother normalized. After seeing him on and off for several years at family gatherings, I could finally face him completely free of resentment and with Christly love.
Forgiving myself seemed more difficult. For years I would compare my teen years to those of my friends and felt cheated that I didn’t have typical, wholesome teen memories. However, I felt confident that, with more patient, spiritual study and understanding, I would find those years restored to me, and that a freedom from shame would come.
One day, as I was pondering my spiritual existence and relation to my Maker, it suddenly dawned on me that it was impossible for my teen years to have been contaminated! I saw that the sexual encounters had no actual hold or influence over us, nor could they rob me of my real, spiritual selfhood. “The temporal and unreal never touch the eternal and real,” it says in Science and Health (p. 300 ). During those years, the spiritual reality was that God had not abandoned me.
In truth I was never for a moment separated from my creator, divine Love. When we feel this Love, we can feel no shame nor desire to do anything shameful. As St. Paul says, “Neither death, nor life ... nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8:38, 39 ). This insight unshackled my imprisoned thought. I was jubilant! My heart sang with relief—a relief I had not felt since childhood. The truth had set me free.
The spiritual growth and freedom I gained from this experience turned out to be invaluable. It inspired me to work with others who are looking to find freedom from shame and to reclaim the innocence they feel they have lost. As a Christian Science chaplain, I see many individuals in the federal correctional institution I visit on Sundays who are looking to find this kind of freedom. We read together the Christian Science Bible Lessons, which explain how this innocence is native to our spiritual individuality and how we can rediscover it. So many of the men I meet recognize their mistakes and desire freedom from a shameful past. Having glimpsed something of man’s unblemished nature, I can say to them with great conviction—“You are truly innocent!”
I’m so grateful that the time has come to share this experience with everyone. I want to say, in closing, the spiritual truths that freed me are free to all.
Hermosa Beach, California, US