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Why You Shouldn’t Be Ashamed Of Your Past

Have you ever felt ashamed of your past? You're not alone. Here's why it's important to tell your story and why your shame doesn't define you!
I'm Stephanie May Wilson!

I'm an author and podcaster and my specialty is helping women navigate big decisions, life transitions — creating lives they love.

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I’ve received an unprecedented number of emails recently from people who are buried in shame about their pasts.

They know Jesus, and they could tell you all about grace and redemption. But for some reason they’re afraid to share the truth about their pasts with anyone, worried that if they do, people won’t be able to distinguish their past from their present.

I totally understand how this feels.

A few years ago I dated a guy who seemed like he had done everything perfectly. He was put together in all the ways I had fallen apart. He hadn’t had sex, didn’t spend his weekends getting drunk, and hadn’t made the kinds of public mistakes I did. He wasn’t in a fraternity, didn’t go to a party school like mine, and his past was squeaky clean compared to the perpetual frat party I’d created for myself.

He was perfect (or so it seemed)—the perfect church boy, the perfect Christian.

We were Skyping the first time he asked to hear my story. His eyes were bright with anticipation. He wanted to know who I used to be, where I’d come from, the experiences that made me, me. But the further I got into the story, the sadder he looked. Finally, as I was finishing up, he lost his grip and his eyes filled with tears. He couldn’t hold them back anymore.

I’d told my story before and watched a few people cry, but they were always good tears. It was always a happy cry. This was not a happy cry.

He hated my story, every bit of it.

He wished I hadn’t told him, tears streaming down his face as his image of me lay in ruins. I wasn’t the girl he thought I was. The stories I had told him didn’t reinforce what he knew to be true about me; they made him question it.

His disappointment felt like a sandbag weighing on my heart. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, I was sorry, but mostly I felt stupid. How could I have thought I was redeemed? How could I have been so blind to think my actions would never have repercussions? The disappointment on his face was burned into my memory—my delayed punishment for what I’d done.

For the first time in my Christian life, I began to wonder if grace wasn’t actually enough.

I began to wonder if redemption was possible, or if forgiveness was like a pity invite into heaven and not a clean slate like I’d always imagined. I began to wonder if I’d always live with this shadow over my life. If love, and relationships, and marriage, and sex would always be tainted by what I’d done, by how I’d messed it up before.

A few years later, I was on one of my very first dates with a new boyfriend when he asked me the question I’d come to dread.

He wanted to hear my story.

My heart froze. I didn’t want to tell him. I didn’t want to watch his face change, couldn’t handle his disappointment. So I gave him the clean version. “I was in a sorority once, I partied, I didn’t handle relationships in a Godly fashion,” I told him, relying on clichés and platitudes, and glossing over the messy parts.

Before he could press me for any more details, I vacated the hot seat and ushered him into it. “Your turn!” I told him, dodging the bullet like The Matrix.

Before I knew it, I was swept up in the story of his life. He didn’t hurry, didn’t blush, didn’t apologize. His story wasn’t clean, and he didn’t gloss over the messy bits. He told me the hard parts and the great parts, the disappointing parts, and the painful parts. I was nodding emphatically as he spoke, amazed at how many moments, revelations, and experiences we had in common.

When he was finished with his story, I was in tears.

I was looking at a man who was nuanced and well worn in the best way. I was looking at a man who really knew God, not because it was the right thing to do, or because he was a perfect Christian. He knew God personally because he’d needed Him just like me. Also, I didn’t know it at the time, but that man would soon be my husband.

When he was finished, we sat quietly for a long time. Then I finally broke the silence and said, “Can I try my story again? I think I left out some important details.”

That day Carl reminded me of something I’ve known all along but forgot for awhile: our stories are not something to be ashamed of, they’re something we can proudly stand next to, a glorious before and after.

We have a past, every single one of us. Some of us wear ours more publicly—divorce papers, bankruptcy, an affair, while others of us can carry our mess more privately—pride, greed, selfishness. But every single one of us has things to be ashamed of if we really want to play that game.

But shame isn’t a game I’m willing to play anymore. I don’t think any of us should.

Because allowing ourselves to sit under a mountain of shame after what Jesus did on the cross is a tragedy. Jesus paid for our sin, gave us grace, and freedom, and redemption, He gave us a clean slate, a fresh start, and a new life, shame doesn’t have anything on us anymore.

And in response to that freedom, we need to tell our stories—the whole story not just the clean parts. We need to be honest about what we’ve been through and how God saved the day because we need to remind each other what He’s capable of. We need to remind each other that there’s a way out when we feel stuck, or that we won’t be broken forever.

We need to share the brokenness so we can share the redemption. He can make us new, and better, and whole again, and that’s a story worth being proud of.

Have you ever felt ashamed of your past? How would your life change if you really believed God's redemption covers all of your mistakes?

P.S. Here's a podcast episode on how to turn your mess into your message! And here's a blog post more about how to be vulnerable with those closest to you.

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Have you ever felt ashamed of your past? You're not alone. Here's why it's important to tell your story and why your shame doesn't define you!

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  1. LOVE and 100% agree with everything…XOXO

  2. kiara says:

    I seem to always come across just the right post of yours at the perfect time. I know God will continue to use you and your story for glorious and righteous reasons. God Bless!

  3. Absolutely fantastic. Honest, real, vulnerable, and it got me right in the feels. Loved this.

  4. Kelsey says:

    My Pastor once said: “You know your faith is maturing when you can easily forgive yourself.” THAT hit me like a sandbag. How many times have I put myself, or let others, put me back on the hook of shame. How many times have I done it to others, too, making them feel like grace is pretty big, but not THAT big. I love this, thank you for your honestly and for giving us permission to forgive ourselves, because Jesus already did.

  5. Emilee says:

    I am so so thankful for this story.

  6. Denise says:

    Refreshingly honest. This is so etching I’m working on now too.forgiving myself for my mess ups. I’m reading through Genesis in a bible study group and the mess ups that standup Christians such as Abraham Isaac, Jacob and the whole line that Jesus came through is filled with mess ups. God used these persons to show us, I believe, that out of our messes He produces His work and the thing about remembering our messes is to keep us humbled by way of a gentle reminders rather than an accusatory finger pointing exercise

  7. Dawn says:

    beautiful honest wisdom as always Steph- can’t wait to read your story!!

  8. Scotty says:

    Love this. Still trying to learn how to tell about me. “No guilt in life, no fear in death, This is the power of Christ in me”

    I’m sorry you weren’t always shown grace in your story.

  9. Alyx says:


    Thank you so much for this. I struggle with my past a lot; not necessarily regarding the things I did in college, but my overall history. The last ten years in particular have been very complicated, as I’ve struggled with depression and low self-esteem, while not really having the closest relationship with either of my parents. I wasn’t raised in a Christian family and my parents were in a very unhealthy marriage, so a lot of the painful things that I went through in life (bullying, loss, and sexual assault) I went through without their emotional support.

    Through God’s grace, therapy, and writing, I’ve spent the last two and a half years processing everything I’ve been through. Despite what I saw with my parents, I still believe in love and marriage and would like to experience that for myself. I’ve chosen not to date right now, but I still struggle with the idea of sharing my history with any future significant others. I realize that this is not always a dealbreaker for some, but I’ve heard a lot about Christian men wanting someone who is family oriented. That’s definitely a quality that I would like as well, but I wonder what that even means sometimes. I love my parents dearly and no mistake or imperfection is ever going to change that. It’s just that right now I’m accepting that we may not be the best of friends, particularly while they’re still in the process of getting divorced. I’m working toward forgiving them and learning how to build individual relationships with each of them, it’s just that it’s tough right now because they’re filled with so much anger and bitterness.

    What I’m afraid of is that a man won’t want to be with me because of all of that; that he won’t want to love me because my background is messy and complicated, not to mention that I’m deep and sensitive and generally an emotional person.

    It’s frustrating how relationships have become all about finding a sense of completeness in a person or making ourselves happy, when it should be about growing together and bringing each other closer to God.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Keep writing and keep being a blessing!


  10. JuliE says:

    Thank you for this. He does make us new. God is constantly at work in the story of our lives, and it’s so cool to see wherever we are on the journey that there are others walking along, too, and it’s all pointing to redemption…
    So glad I found your writing :).

  11. Agnes says:

    Stephanie, thank you. This is so, so beautiful and says it all, so perfectly. As a single ‘older lady’ (42) I definitely have stories to tell, and don’t expect (or want??) now to meet a man without some stories of his own. However, when I was younger, I put so much stock into being a ‘good Christian girl’ who never did ‘bad things.’ Until I did. And I lived with so much guilt for so long. It took me years to accept God’s grace for my youthful mistakes. I pray for each and every one of your readers to forgive themselves, receive God’s grace, and not allow another minute of JOY to be stolen from them, as that is not from God. Isaiah 61:3 xx

  12. Catherine says:

    I can’t help but think: How can I NEVER be that first man in your story? There is the tragedy, there is the wrong response. I want to be someone who is never shocked, who is never unable to hear someone’s story. When I forget my own past, it’s a lot easier to be repulsed by someone else’s. We have to remember our own redemption story in order to share redemption with other people.

  13. Jenna says:

    Steph –

    I’m going through and re-reading some posts, and I just love your heart. And you. So many hugs doll.

  14. Hi Stephanie,
    wow, God Bless You for sharing and the encouragement from this message. If it were some time back, I will not be commenting on this post. I really needed this. It is only God who can make us want to write uplifting messages such as this. More Grace sister!

  15. Courtney says:

    Crying as I am reading this. Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to hear.

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