It’s a blessing to be raised in the knowledge of Jesus and His love. It’s even more of a blessing when you receive it for yourself. That’s when God’s love heals and changes you.
I was a preacher’s kid who, from the age of six, led worship. I stood on a stage with a microphone in hand and sang my little heart out. Every family activity revolved around the church.
From the outside, our life seemed good. Our family did what church people were supposed to do, especially in serving others. But behind closed doors, our home life wasn’t so perfect.
My mom was my best friend, and we had a great relationship. My father was a good man, but he often brought chaos into our home.
Dad could be such a godly and gentle man, then suddenly become angry and harsh. Years of violent seizures brought on by epilepsy had impacted my father’s mental state. It seemed that each episode took a part of my father with it.
Dad was a church planter, and when I was 11, our family moved to North Carolina to start a new church. We moved into a tiny house with thin walls, and I could hear every word my parents spoke. Some days, they argued for hours. The discord between them was unnerving.
Due to his condition, Dad wasn’t supposed to drive. But he was stubborn and refused to hang up his keys, even though he’d had several accidents. Trips to the hospital were routine for our family, but somehow, he always emerged unscathed.
And then, when I was 12 years old, Dad was in another car accident. At first, I wasn’t worried. “He’ll be okay,” I thought. He always made it home. But I soon learned that Dad wasn’t coming home—he had been killed instantly.
News of his death turned my life upside down. Daddy was gone, and although life with him hadn’t been easy, I couldn’t imagine living without him.
All I could think of was our last interaction. We had argued that morning, and although I couldn’t remember our exact words, I knew they weren’t good. And now I would never have the chance to make it right, to say I was sorry, or to tell him goodbye. I felt paralyzed with shame.
My mother was overcome with grief. She’d loved my father, even though their relationship had often been strained. They had been married for 24 years, and now he was gone.
I hated seeing her suffer, and suddenly feeling responsible for her well-being, I decided I would be a solid anchor point for her from that day forward. That’s an enormous burden for a child to carry.
Being an anchor required me to stifle my own grief. I was determined not to be a burden for anyone, especially Mom. So I put a smile on my face and went back to leading music at church. I did my best to ignore how I felt.
I didn’t tell anyone about my pain. In fact, I didn’t even cry for a whole year. But inwardly, I was asking questions primarily directed at God. “Why are things like this? Why did Dad suffer from seizures and have to die? Why does Mom have to raise me alone?”
And then there was the big question: “Why did You do this to me, God?”
I couldn’t imagine any reason other than I must have done something wrong. Surely God was punishing me. My shame increased as I decided my father’s death must be my fault. These questions echoed in my heart daily, and when I didn’t get any answers, a seed of anger took root. Over time, my heart hardened toward God.
I never doubted God’s existence, but the more I thought about Him, the less I believed He actually loved me. Bitterness took hold. Soon my young mind had concluded that God was just some guy in the sky who had killed my dad. I remembered the verse about the Lord giving and the Lord taking away. He had taken away, all right!
For two years, I stewed privately. Isolation, coupled with anger and shame, can take a person down a dark road—even a child. I allowed steep walls to close me in emotionally, but few people noticed. At the age of 14, I imploded. I became depressed and suicidal. I began inflicting self-harm through cutting.
Outside of the home, I put on a good front. After all, aren’t church people supposed to act like everything’s okay? That’s what had been modeled in all the churches I had attended. It seemed shameful to not be okay. Plus, I didn’t want all those self-righteous people judging me. The one person I couldn’t fool, though, was my mom. She saw through my façade.
I was deathly afraid to be apart from her, so I stayed as close as I could. What if God decided to take her too? I imagined she’d get cancer or get in an accident. Or maybe He’d let something happen to me, and she’d be all alone. These scenarios plagued my mind.
I found comfort in food, and over the next year, I gained 45 pounds. Of course, that only added to my shame; I became so self-conscious. Thankfully, Mom cared enough to take me to therapy and to see a doctor.
Through high school, I lived on a roller coaster of emotions. In my higher moments, I thought about what I could do with my life. I wanted to make my father proud, so I decided to go to seminary. I was accepted and given a scholarship to attend.
But I wasn’t there three days before I had a panic attack. I immediately dropped out, packed my car, and drove to the hotel where my mother was staying. My faithful companion, shame, followed me there. I mean, who drops out of school and forfeits a scholarship after three days? Only a failure, I imagined.
Before going to seminary, I had fallen in love. He was my first real boyfriend, and I thought he held the moon. I desperately needed someone to love me, to think I was great, and to tell me I was beautiful. I found all those things in him. Before long, we were engaged.
I applied to a local college, determined to get a degree in something—anything. About the same time, I started attending a new church, Opendoor.
It was the first time I remember being ministered to by others in the church. I had always been on the stage singing, even when going through dark moments. But there in that seat, still before the Lord, God’s Spirit touched me. I began to weep as years of grief, shame, and pain erupted from my soul.
Open before the Lord, I sensed Him revealing how He had created me to worship Him. He had given me a gift. I was caught off-guard by the Lord’s comforting presence and His small, still voice. Maybe He wasn’t a big guy in the sky who was out to get me after all. I sensed Him inviting me into an authentic relationship with the Creator of the universe. And I accepted.
For the next six months, the Spirit of God began to bring light and order to the darkness of my life, just as He had to the world in Genesis 1:2. And then, gently, He began to deal with me about my fiancé.
I knew this guy wasn’t God’s choice for me, but at 19, getting married seemed like the thing to do. There were many warning signs, but I stubbornly ignored them. I also ignored the godly wisdom of others. As a result, I experienced trauma that brought much shame back into my life. I became that shut-off, scared-to-death, 12-year-old girl all over again. And I no longer sensed God’s presence or the work of His Spirit in my life.
I know now that God’s Spirit didn’t leave me—I had turned from Him. Like Adam and Eve, I had hidden from God because of my shame (Genesis 3:8). I kept attending church, but I closed off my heart from God and other people. Thankfully, God pursued me.
During a season of corporate prayer and fasting at our church, I sensed the Lord’s presence again. Inwardly, I heard Him speak to me about my relationship with my fiancé. “If you marry him, I’ll bless you,” the Lord said. “But if you don’t marry him, I’ll abundantly bless you.”
It was like God was saying to me, “Hey, I see you, child. I know your thoughts, fears, and desires. I know your pain, too, and I want to take that pain from you. I also want to bless you beyond your wildest dreams.
“Mary Beth, I’m not angry with you. I’ve never been angry, nor am I a God who punishes you by taking away your father or causing other bad things to happen. I am the giver of life who has good things in store for you. But know this: this marriage will not lead to the abundant blessings I have in store for you.”
Not long after, I broke off the engagement. But I continued to date my now boyfriend for almost a year longer. God had given me a way out, permission to leave, but I hadn’t taken it.
I stayed with him for several more months. I wanted out, but I couldn’t find the courage to end the relationship because I believed the lie that no one would ever love me but him.
Fear and shame kept me bound. Satan loves to hold us hostage to deadly emotions so that we isolate ourselves from God’s love.
Thankfully, God highlighted my fragile self to leaders at my church, and they took me under their wings. I felt safe with them and let down the walls around my heart. Being with these authentic Christ-followers helped me find the courage to choose God’s best for my life, and I finally left that unhealthy relationship.
Allowing myself to feel and face emotions with God and His people brought healing. The minute I put down the façade and said, “No, I’m not okay,” was when God’s complete and tangible presence became so evident. And in His presence, I was made whole.
I wish I could say that I don’t ever experience shame or unworthiness anymore. I can’t—those emotions still raise their ugly heads now and then. But God has stayed close and continually helps me unravel my thought patterns so that I can tear down the shame-filled lies and rebuild my mind on His truth.
And here’s the truth. God was never punishing me; He was never angry at me.
Now on the other side of that pain, I can see God’s constant love and presence in my life. He’s always been there guiding, protecting, and providing for me, even during the dark, painful moments of my life. The Holy Spirit has held my hand and fought my battles.
And God has been faithful to His promise and abundantly blessed me. One blessing is the healthy relationship I now have with a godly man. He loves me as God intends and encourages me in my relationship with the Lord.
I pray you will choose God’s abundant blessings. If you’re afraid, ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Philippians 2:13 promises that God will not only give you the desire to follow Him, but the power to do what pleases Him too.
You are not alone. God is holding your hand and fighting your battles. Embrace that truth and open yourself to Him. You can trust Him with your past, present, and future. Those who trust in the Lord will never be put to shame (Isaiah 49:23).
Don’t fall into Satan’s trap and isolate yourself from God. And don’t settle for Satan’s lies. Come out of hiding. It’s okay to not have all the answers. It’s okay to admit that you’re not okay. The moment you put down your walls and open your heart to God, you’ll find freedom and healing. Processing trauma and emotions takes time, but it is worth the investment.
Mary Beth Barefoot serves on the creative team at Opendoor Church. She shares her story in hopes that people will overcome shame and step into healthy, authentic relationships with God and His people.