A New Kind of Clean: A Woman’s Perspective on Shame and Acceptance

March 27, 2016 // Articles

The book of Leviticus is riddled with laws about what makes you “clean” and “unclean.” Don’t wear this. Don’t eat that. Don’t touch. While our relationship with the Law has changed because of Christ, but it still has a purpose, and I’ve actually been rather encouraged as I’ve meditated recently on its content and implications.

I used to get frustrated with what the law constituted as “unclean.” Menstrual cycles?!? We can’t even avoid that! Think of the desperation the Law caused the woman with the issue of blood, who reached to touch Jesus’ cloak for healing (Luke 8:43-48). Because of constant hemorrhag-ing, she was, by the Law, labeled “unclean” for 12 years (Leviticus 15:19-30). She had spent all her money searching unsuccessfully for healing. On top of that, anyone with whom she came in contact was “dirtied” by her. “Unclean” basically means you are unfit for worship, and purifica-tions were needed for cleanliness. Since worship and activity at the temple played a central role in their society, her touch would be undesired and burdensome, causing those around her to have to achieve “clean” status again.

Although not currently operating under the Law and its sacrificial regulations, we often struggle with our identity—we do not really feel “clean” or accepted. We often let other sources define us—our failures, a certain ideal of womanhood, a social event to which we were not invited, im-ages in a magazine, or even our own critical thoughts can unconsciously label us as “not enough,” “unwanted,” or “dirty”. Shame.

At times it seems the Law only repeats that message: we are “unclean”. We know we should be better, and most of the time we are sick of hearing it. That’s why I am so quick to be defen-sive. It’s why I feel the need to explain why I am late or remind my husband how difficult today was so he knows I am not a slob when he sees the house. I feel an inner need to prove that I am “enough” and worthy to be accepted. I explain and justify or I may try convince myself that “this person’s negative opinion doesn’t really matter because…”

On a macro level, various worldviews, religions, and cultural political opinions, also attempt to explain or fix our desire to be accepted whether it be tolerance, morality, social justice or more. Each point a finger at who or what is causing our divisions and provide a moral implication of what we should do. Amidst all our the opinions, is the common desire the world to be made “right”.

Being ceremonial clean according to the Law meant you could participate in worship. You could come before a Holy God, Who is the essence of “rightness”, and be declared “right” or accept-ed. The idea of “unclean” is a necessary reminder that outside of Him, there is no “right”.

However, God also provided the Law was to remind us that such a thing as “clean” exists. There are many patterns in my life that are so closely linked to my personality and thinking they feel as unavoidable at times as a period—almost a part of who I am. They keep coming up. I get frustrated or even feel like a failure, and I am labeled again. Yet, I thought, if there was a “clean” for even those naturally occurring things such as a period, there is hope for all my flaws. This makes us hungry–hungry to be declared “clean”, good enough, and wanted. Hungry for the removal of judgment and condemnation for our “uncleanliness.” Unfortunately, Law and, by association, behavior modification, are not enough to make us clean and leave us repeating and repeating those methods, never seeming like “enough”.

Everything the woman with the issue of blood touched became “unclean”. Everything except Christ. She wasn’t just hoping for a miracle. She assumed Jesus was different than everything else, including the Law which had, seemingly, condemned her. As she sought a better source of cleanliness, so can we.

Our “dirty” is our stupid, futile search for something more outside of Him . More wisdom. More worth. More respect. More acceptance. Sin is simply faith in a false source. False source of hope. False source of acceptance. False source of truth or definition of “right”. All of my justifi-cations and explanations, my search for social acceptance, my guilt and self-condemnation for not doing more, my self pity when I am lacking—these are false sources. And they leave us unsatisfied and dry.

Can we simply decide to start “doing right” or add more good in our life to reconnect to Him? No, because, quite simply, I would be doing that in my strength, in my will power, and deciding, according to me, that it makes up for all other wrongs. I would be the false source.

Our reconnection can only be initiated by God. Thankfully, we are made ‘clean” through faith— and I believe a good definition for faith is “active rest”. Actively laying down our “dirty”—our stu-pid search for that something more outside of Him. Accept His offer to be thought of and treat-ed as clean by God Himself. Behavior modification is not His intention. He gifted us Christ’s righteousness. Christ did all you were supposed to do so you can be immediately accepted “as is” and credited as “righteous” and to begin thinking of others in light of His treatment of us.

When I stop striving for acceptance, I no longer need to gossip to feel close or important. I no longer need to be angered or offended at someone’s disrespect but can respond with grace. I don’t have to shield myself with a “I don’t care what that person thinks of me.” I no longer need to be suffocated by all the things I could or should be doing.

Now I am free to ask, “Father, what would You have me, (whom you have created with a specif-ic personality and strengths), do today?”, and I can be assured that He will energize me to ac-complish it. I like this kind of “clean.” I like this kind of purpose. He covers our shame, and we have been invited to “Follow Me” as he told his disciples. His invitation is not “Stop doing that!” but rather, an offer to walk with us through the process of purifying our perspective, habits, and thinking. All the while, He gives no condemnation, no eye rolls of irritation, no sighs of annoy-ance—like I sometimes do as a parent, sheesh. We are not treated as our sins deserve , but gracefully re-created by his truth piece by piece.

As a mom, this means something else to me: If the law was not enough for me, it’s not enough for my kids. We all want our kids to turn out well and hopefully avoid some pretty awful pitfalls along the way. Yet, we often use the law as our only weapon. In other words, we sometimes think that another rule, a bigger consequence, or some other combination will finally change their behavior. Our correction or behavior modifications, by themselves, only echo the whis-pers of shame. “Unclean”. “Not enough.”

The fact is, I will watch shame burden my kids. They will look to peers, entertainment, self-condemnation, money, pleasure, or any other false source to speak words of acceptance louder than the voice of shame. Seeing them struggle stirs up all sorts of fears and mother-bear-like anger in me ready to “fix” it. But they don’t need more condemnation nor human-made words to build up self-esteem; neither can completely remove shame. I need to lay down my fear and temptation to do more to “fix” them. I can plant the seeds of truth, point them to a better source, but I have to rest and wait for the growth. I can’t reach into the ground and force a seed to grow. That’s my way, through my strength. I can only plant it and let God’s process do its work. Rest.

We want to fix ourselves and others—to be “clean,” good enough, and wanted. We exhaust all our strength and power trying to prove or earn our acceptance, but God invites us to stop toiling and rest. I want a new type of clean and a new power to achieve it. Not my clean but Yours. Not my strength but Yours. Not my will, Lord, but Yours.

Article written by Michal Rudolph