When Jesus Touches Our Shame

3 Minutes of Courage Devotional Series
There is something about mental health recovery that looms over us like a gray rain cloud. We walk into a crowded room believing the stares comb over our countenance like a rake; we hear the hum of people and assume they're estimating the cause of why we suffer the way we do. No, we do not limp with a set of crutches to support a wounded knee. Instead, our spirit limps with the shame of unseen wounds–perhaps the worse kind of of them all. Exposed in the waters, we sense the slow drip of our red blood leaking into the deep blue sea, guiding the ravenous sharks of judgement to circle around our drowning spirits.

We imagine they shout, "Unclean! Unclean! Unclean!" while we shrink into our reproach and dodge into the shadows.

It has been my experience that seasons of dark depression are often accompanied by a swelling sense of self-consciousness. The people who pass us by may know nothing of our struggle, and yet we feel as though their harmless smiles are mere veils for the opinions "they really have" about us. With this hypersensitivity, we become increasingly presumptuous about the looks we get and the words we receive. Even if people mean well, our distorted gray cloud context won't allow us to see their good motivations as genuine.

Is it any wonder the experience of mental health recovery can be such an isolating experience?

The gospels describe a woman who experienced twelve years of social and religious isolation due to her continual discharge of blood (Matthew 9:20-22). Because she couldn't remedy the problem medically (Mark 5:26, Luke 8:43), she was considered ceremoniously "unclean." This uncleanliness ostracized her from the entire community (Leviticus 15:25-27). No companionship, no worship. Only shame and rejection. There's no doubt of the degrading stigma she lived with on a daily basis. No one could touch her without themselves becoming unclean for a time. Her bed. Her blankets. Her clothes. Anything she touched while she was bleeding: unclean.
While we may imagine the stigma of uncleanliness in our recovery, this woman lived the reality of it for at least 4,248 days.
Unclean–alas, untouchable–for 4,248 days.

Many of us know the story of the bleeding woman. We know she found healing by relentlessly pursing Christ through the crowds, going against all societal/cultural/religious norms pertaining to her condition (Luke 8:46-48). We could take such an application away from this devotion and perhaps find some level of encouragement in it: just draw near to Christ and he will heal whatever your brokenness might be.

But I'm afraid that's too light a consideration of the story–too much about our efforts. Too superficial a saturation of Christ.

We must be wise and not miss the message of the miracle Christ performed for the bleeding woman. Don't miss the wonder, dear one! She touched him, technically making Jesus "unclean," and yet they both walked away pure. Christ had no need to cleanse himself from the woman's touch–this was unheard of! Her uncleanliness was no match for his purity. Her red stains could not bleed into his white robe! In a day when lepers were cast beyond the city walls to suffer and ooze in solitude (Numbers 5:2), Christ bent down and touched them despite their shame–and perhaps, especially because of it (Mark 1:40-41).

John MacArthur comments about the exchange:
"Jesus did not care that her touching even His clothing would make Him ceremonially unclean in the eyes of fellow Jews. He was touchable even by the untouchable. Throughout His earthly ministry, thousands of people came in contact with Jesus, and many hundreds of them talked with Him and touched Him; but many of them were not touched by Him...He knows the difference between the person who approaches Him out of mere religious curiosity or sense of adventure and the one who comes to Him in desperation and genuine faith."
According to the ceremonial laws, the woman could return to regular societal and religious activity after being free from the blood discharge for seven days (Leviticus 15:28). After spending 4,248 days in shame and rejection, faith in Jesus Christ had given her a renewed hope for acceptance and purity in the future.

The same bodes true for those whom his power tenderly touches by faith: with Christ, we enjoy tangible hope for purity no matter how long we've felt unclean because he promises to make us what, through him, we already are (John 15:3, Hebrews 10:14, Romans 8:28-30, 1 Corinthians 6:11, Philippians 1:6).

In our shame and rejection, it's important to remember that Christ specializes in touching the untouchable. We may feel isolated or cast away, but our Lord will embrace us kindly. He will peel back the protective layers of our self-imposed armor ever-so-gently and remove the war-torn rags we find ourselves in (Isaiah 54:6). He replaces our stained garments and drapes his robe of righteousness on our shoulders–and what a warm wrapping it is (Isaiah 61:10)! He looks upon our scars and our wounds and our vulnerable places, and then invites us to sit next to him at his table (Ephesians 2:6, Revelation 19:7-9). Robed in white. Pure as sunlight. Loved as well and as rightly as one could ever hope for. After all, isn't that what our shame and rejection threaten to steal away from us? The blissful satisfaction of being fully known yet fully loved? The settled assurance of being naked and unashamed in the presence of our Maker?
In Christ, we are loved as well and as rightly as one could ever hope for.
People may gawk and stare, but our Lord has smiling eyes for us (Zephaniah 3:17). Crowds may hum and gossip, but our Jesus only speaks words of truth and grace (John 1:14). We may cower into fetal position, dejected and scorned, but our Father caresses the cheeks of his children and wipes the tears from their eyes (Revelation 21:4).

If shame and rejection is something you battle against, make this prayer your own:
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Christine M. Chappell
Christine Chappell is the author of Clean Home, Messy Heart, and is a guest contributor at Desiring God. She writes frequently about mental health topics at her blog, has completed biblical counseling certificates with the Institute for Biblical Counseling & Discipleship, and is currently pursuing certification with the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors.
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