I grew up in a church and a family that used guilt as though it were a choke collar. Even though I was a child who never strayed very much, I still endured frequent, sharp applications of the noose of guilt intended to jerk me back in line.
The most lasting effect of this upbringing was for me to believe that at my core, I was completely, irredeemably unacceptable and unlovable. My emotions were bad, my needs were bad, and my normal desires for independence and self-expression were bad. So I grew up believing not in the bogeyman, but in the dark uglies. These monsters lived not in the closet or under my bed, but deep within myself. The dark uglies were so horrible that if anyone else saw them, I would be rejected instantly and forever. So I locked away the dark uglies without examining them too closely.
Even now, I cannot give you a list of what was so terrible about myself. I can't say that it was my temper, judgmentalism, lust, whatever. You see, the flaw went much deeper than just personality traits. What was unacceptable was me, my very self.
This belief made it difficult to trust in God's salvation or to fully accept his grace. I never felt secure, and yet I struggled on in my relationship with God trying to make it better. After college, I left the fundamentalist church in which I had been raised and started a long journey of denominational exploration. I went through bouts of therapy. Slowly, and with great fear and trembling, I slowly revealed bits of myself to my counselors and to the fellowship group I was part of. I began to claim my own path in life, moving to the city, pursuing a vocation as a writer, even though these were not the future that my family had envisioned for me.
Still, the dark uglies haunted me. I would go through times of feeling so lonely that I thought it would drown me. I was certain that no one would ever truly love me because they didn't know what was locked within my core. Foolishly, I hoped that I had hidden this terrible secret shadow even from God.
Then in my late twenties, we had a set of special meetings at church. I no longer remember what the meetings were about. They might have been a series on healing, or they might have been something else entirely. It no longer matters. What's important is what happened to me internally, not externally. During one of our times of worship, God gave me a vision. In my mind, I saw a closed door, and I knew that behind it was locked everything that I thought made me unacceptable. I imagined ogres and fiends and horrifying creatures of unimaginable darkness.
Then God commanded me to open the door.
I was petrified. The door itself seemed to be pulsing with the energy of what was behind it, clamoring to get escape. I knew that once they were free, there would be no putting them back again. I wouldn't have the strength.
And God said to open the door.
With the fear that I was about to encounter something that would completely shatter me, I obeyed. As soon as I opened the portal, out flew . . . a flock of butterflies. They hovered for an instant in a brightly colored cloud of flapping wings and then they dispersed.
The butterfly has long been an image of transformation, and I believe that's why God used them in my vision. I think now that the horrible things I had locked in my closet were misplaced fear and false shame and a wrong understanding of God. Through his mercy, he transformed them into freedom and beauty.
Since then, life has had its ups and downs, and I still have my periods of depression. But I've never again felt the power of the dark uglies. They have flown to the winds.
Is there something that you have locked away from God? Perhaps it's finally time to consider opening the door.