The Truth About Shame and Grace
Memoir is truth-telling. About one’s own life, yes, but also life. As Elie Wiesel said, “with memoir you must be honest, you must be truthful.”
In Even in Our Darkness, Jack Deere has written a moving memoir that tells the truth. Through his unvarnished story of the Christian life, Jack guides readers in overcoming life’s disappointments and learning to hear God speak in unimaginable ways.
One pathway Jack offers guidance is through the shoals of shame, and the importance of grace in finding victory. Through unvarnished honesty, he explores how each of us have a role to play in other’s experience of both shame and grace.
In one childhood anecdote, Jack recalls cussing out his mother. The next day, his dad told him to go to the dreaded “Back Bedroom” for a talking to. Not only did Jack confess to the crime, he also “told him my entire lexicon of profanity” (29, 30). Expecting a blow, he got this instead:
“Son, you are smart and strong. You don’t need these words.”
Then he asked, “Do you think any of those words describe your mother?”
“No, Dad, I don’t. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t ever apply those words to your mother again.”
“I won’t, Dad.”
I prepared to prostrate myself for the punishment. Instead Dad said, “Okay, Jackie, go back outside and play.”
With Saint Peter’s scales, my father painted an image of judgment that caused me to give up on God, but his demonstration of God’s grace would reverberate throughout the rest of my life. (29–30)
Throughout his book, Jack shows how the extension of grace can profoundly affect a person, particularly their understanding of God.
Fast forward to life as a teenager, and shame began to wrap itself around Jack like a noose. Then he met Scott Manley, the leader of the Young Life club at his high school. He describes the first club meeting, where the twenty-something introduced Jack to an important characteristic of God:
Then Scott talked about a God who liked us, whether we were drunk or sober, pure or impure, whether we made A’s or F’s—not an authoritarian deity who would drown you in a swimming hole for skipping church.
As he closed in prayer, some kids wiped tears from their eyes. It was over in an hour, but everyone lingered.
In my bed that night, I thought about what I had just witnessed. Since Dad had died, the only heroes in my life were Steve McQueen, Sean Connery, and Clint Eastwood. I still carried a razor blade in my billfold so if a bad guy jumped me in the bathroom like the bad guy who jumped Steve in The Cincinnati Kid, I could humiliate him with a razor blade to the throat. For the first time since Dad threw me away, I had a real-life hero. I wanted to win hearts like Scott. I wanted his happiness and his speaking ability, and most of all, I longed for his confidence, because a boy without confidence just stumbles through his life feeling like a mistake. (70)
Jack often returns to this theme of God liking us. Do we model a God who likes us, instead of shames us? Do people walk away feeling confident that God likes them, or feeling like a shameful mistake instead?
Through Scott’s modeling God’s grace, Jack opened himself up to him about the shame he carried, which led to healing. Another encounter had the opposite effect.
While attending seminary, Jack let a professor into a shameful part of his life, which led to an unfortunate conclusion:
During the first semester of seminary, I learned that I could not talk to professors about my real life, only about a sanitized version of my religious life.
Two of my friends and I took a professor to lunch. He and I stood outside the car, and I told him how I almost had sex with my college girlfriend, but God had intervened to protect us. I wanted to tell him more, but I saw the pained expression on his face. As soon as I paused, he changed the subject. I thought, ‘Note to self: Jackie, this is not an acceptable conversation around here. Keep your secrets to yourself.’
I followed that rule as long as I lived in that community.
Every time I heard a pastor talk about their wedding night, they proclaimed gratitude that they arrived with their virginity intact. It was unthinkable for any Christian leader to stand before a congregation and confess that they had followed the path of David and Bathsheba.
So I took my sin underground and suffered in the dark silence. I no longer knew who I was, but I knew what I was. (130)
What if we not only created the kind of space Jack needed to open up about his shame, but ourselves opened up about our own shameful David-and-Bathsheba past?
Perhaps none of us would have to suffer alone and instead be able to bring our shame into the light, finding freedom and release.
“Even in Our Darkness is filled with the raw pain, beauty, mystery, and grace that our hearts were meant for,” writes Matt Chandler, lead teaching pastor of The Village Church and president of Acts 29 Network. “I found the vulnerability and transparency of this book to be shocking, and a desire arose in me to live all the more in the light as God is in the light. This book will encourage you.”
Jack Deere’s book helps readers see the beauty of God through his unconditional love for us as he brings harmony to our broken stories and healing to our shame.