“She had not known the weight until she felt the freedom.” – The Scarlet Letter
Two years ago I was finishing up The Scarlet Letter with my Juniors and Seniors in English class. I felt myself identifying far to closely with the character of Hester Prynne. Though our situations were different in almost every respect, I shared one thing in common with her — a feeling of shame, despair, and solitude. I remember wishing to have some physical symbol to clearly remove me from the community instead of the slow dissolution of relationships I was enduring.
Around the same time, I remember discussing both the stories of Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well and were a woman of the city anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume and tears. What I couldn’t even say out loud in those moments. In those stories, I felt most connected to those women. Alone. Ashamed. Condemned.
Yet, shame was not the complete story — for these women or for me.
Hester Prynne showed kindness and compassion toward many. She accepted responsibility for what she had done and carried herself with dignity. She didn’t sink down into shame and bitterness. She rose above it. She became known for the good she did for others.
The Samaritan woman was the one who got to introduce her town to Jesus. She believed what Jesus was telling her and she had the courage to share this news with people she was probably too ashamed to associate with.
The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and washed them with her tears showed incredible determination. She sacrificed everything to honor Jesus in this way. Financially, her gift of perfume was expensive. She would have had to sacrifice pride and risk being humiliated by those with much higher status than her. She came in humility, knowing she was sinful and undeserving of Jesus’ attention, and Jesus forgave all of her sins. He sent her off in peace.
As I have been peeling off the layers of shame and unworthiness, I was hoping I would find I no longer identified with these women. Instead, I have begun to be drawn to them more. Though they are women who are most notably remember for their sin, they all have parts of their stories I want to follow.
These are women who have found redemption and hope. They are women who showed dignity and courage. The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet received complete forgiveness from him. She may have borne consequences for years to come, but in that moment she could go in peace and without condemnation.
As I have been losing the layers of shame I was carrying, I have felt a freedom I didn’t know was possible. I have received deliverance from the life I was in. The weight has been taken away and I never want it back.
I was first connected to these stories because of shame and isolation. I hope to continue to relate to their dignity and courage.
(Click here to read the rest of this series)