Messy Faith,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings,  Recovering Perfectionist

Standing Under the Broken Heart: How Shaming Leads to Legalism

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This post is part 2 in a new blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I talk about the part of my life when I struggled between rejection of legalism and fully embracing God’s grace in my life. You can read the introduction to this series here this post, some self-observations about legalism, and come to a better understanding of how I define legalism here in this post, what is legalism?” This post speaks to how imagery of a broken heart taught me about shame.


I was in Kindergarten the first time I ever remember feeling shame. The punishment system that my teacher used when her students misbehaved was to have them stand under a big red broken heart for a set amount of time.

I don’t remember what I had done or what rule I had broken. I don’t remember how long I had to stand there in front of the class. I don’t remember if I cried. I just remember how I felt.

Hurt. Embarrassed. Ashamed.

There were other students in the class that had to stand under the broken heart every day or even multiple times a day.

But this was my first time under the broken heart, because I was a good girl.

No, this isn’t happening! Not to me! 

Fourteen years later the same good little girl got in trouble again.

It was my freshman year of Bible college, and I had broken a rule.

I had asked ahead of time for an exception to the rule, as there were some extenuating circumstances that I felt warranted such an exception. (I never did follow the “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” line of thought.) I was met with different answers from different authorities and was told different conditions of how and when the rule could be broken.

At the moment that I broke the rule, the fact that I was breaking a rule was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I even thought I had permission.

It turns out that I was mistaken, confused. I had misinterpreted what one of the authorities had said and in so doing directly broken the rule.

It wasn’t intentional. But it didn’t matter.

Words like rebellion, deceptionindependent spirit, and discipline problem were hurled at me and felt like a sucker punch to my gut.

“Deliberately, maliciously disobeyed!” felt like a knife.

As much as I know they are lies crafted by the devil, I don’t think I will ever be able to forget those words or how they made me feel.

I didn’t mind being called out for breaking a rule. I didn’t even mind the punishment that they doled out. But having my intentions and my heart so sorely misjudged thrust me into a dark world of pain and confusion.

No, this isn’t happening. I’m a good girl! I want to obey! I have a truly submissive heart! I even tried to do the right thing about being honest about my intentions from the beginning instead of sneaking around! If they only knew the real me…if they would only understand that I didn’t mean to do this!!

There was no broken heart to stand under. Instead I sat in the front seat of my brother’s car looking up at a beautiful blue sky filled with big bright puffy clouds. It mocked my pain. My perfect world was crumbling down in pieces all around me, and the sun still had the audacity to shine down on me.

This was the pivotal moment when I was thrust into the wilderness. When I realized that even the slightest misstep can make you out to be a very bad person. When I realized I would never be good enough. 

I stood under a big invisible broken heart and received this message:

“Your heart and intentions don’t matter – only your actions and how closely you can follow our system of rules. If you break the rules, you have a rebellious heart. Cased closed.”

And this is one of the biggest lies of the legalistic system: that actions trump intentions. 

While I took my punishments with grace and little protest and apologized to everyone I had wronged with tears–I fought this falsehood with all of my being.

A war had been started within my soul. Part of me that believed that their opinion of me was also God’s opinion: that I really was a rebellious person if I didn’t follow their rules. But part that knew that there was a much bigger picture than that, that God cared more about me and my heart than how closely I followed a set of rules. The fight raged between these two ideas within me for several years to come.

Even good girls break rules. Sometimes they can even break rules and still have a heart that wants to please God. When they try to please God and are told it’s simply not good enough it produces a heavy load of guilt and shame that stays with them day after day.

Please come back tomorrow as I will be sharing how this experience affected me and how I viewed myself, and what happened in my life as a result.

Have you ever experienced this lie in action? Have you ever been judged to be a rebel because of your actions when your intentions were in the right place? What were the results in your life? I’d love to hear your story! 


To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.

Next post, part 3: hiding in shame, packing up my dreams

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