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Redeeming Guilt

In the last several weeks, I’ve had some peculiar interactions with a few people.

I’ve had several acquaintances who, as a result of not having the capacity to invest as much in our relationship as they’d like, have asked that we no longer have any contact whatsoever.

They’ve struck me as odd requests, and I can only attribute them to one thing: a feeling of guilt.

These people feel bad about not being able to do more, and in order to relieve the feeling, they’re opting to completely remove the option of association. There is a sense of failing to have met a self-imposed expectation, and so by removing the relationship, they are able to let go of the expectation and thus expunge themselves of the feeling of guilt.

Wow. This indicates one thing to me: guilt is an incredibly powerful force. It is able to destroy relationships that barely exist. It is able to impose a bizarre form of emotional and relational slavery, which begs deliverance–even at great cost and sacrifice.

At the root of guilt seems to be this sense of an unmet expectation of self, often expressed as, “I know better than that.” I did something, and I shouldn’t have done it. Or, apparently: I didn’t do something and I feel like I should’ve.

So guilt is when my expectations of me go unmet. I think that shame then is when others’ expectations of me go unmet. It’s a violation of the desires of those who are loved and respected, or of the community’s standards and norms.

It’s possible for us to shame people into guilt. By expressing our expectations for someone, and pointing out their failure, we can lead them into a sense of letting themselves down, of not following through with a particular expectation held by a community with which they associate.

Thus guilt can be achieved in either of these two ways: originating from others or from self. But are we then stuck there?

While guilt may fester and plague us for some time, perhaps we may hope that it leads us to sorrow and repentance.

What are these?

I think sorrow is feeling distraught about a reality. The awareness of some unpleasant circumstance causes us discomfort. Being caught in the wrong with punishment impending (perhaps in a state of shame) may lead us to sorrow. Receiving news that someone is sick may cause us to express, “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

So then, repentance? Repentance is the re-setting of a new expectation for self. It is a new formulation of how we expect ourselves to behave, leading us to change our direction and mode of operation.

Having felt guilt, we are sorry for the results, and we work to avoid feeling guilty again, and so we resolve to act differently, to make different choices. Hopefully, this new standard leads us to future freedom from the slavery of guilt. But in order to do that, these repentance-driven expectations must align with God’s expectations.

If that realignment happens, then guilt isn’t necessarily without value. The internal drive to reform ourselves, if it pushes us toward the expectations that God has for us, can be an important part of our spiritual growth.

But if we remain ridden with guilt, if we succumb to the embarrassment of public shame, then we remain enslaved after all–to the sorrow of our lives, the guilt of the moment, and the activities that begot it.

Some people would prefer to avoid the word guilt altogether–because it sounds so negative. But we are guilty, culpable of wrongdoing, and if the experience of internal regret pushes us toward a renewed and refocused life, than we shouldn’t feel the need to run and hide from this notion.

True, we are free in Christ. We are forgiven people. But we are not infallible in our life’s journey. We need recalibration of our personal GPS when our wanderlust causes us to stray. And God may use guilt, or shame, experiences of sorrow, to bring us onward to repentance and thus back to Himself.

We are not beyond redemption. And neither is our guilt.

 

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2012 in Life, Theology

 

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Excruciating

This is holy week. Not because my birthday was yesterday (though I was born on Good Friday), but this week is sacred because we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I learned recently that the word excruciating was actually invented to provide an adequate description of the sufferings Jesus endured. It means “out of the cross,” and is intended to take us back to the intensity of suffering that was undergone as Jesus was beaten, impaled, and suffocated–sufferings which are depicted all too clearly in the 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.

I’ve had aches and pains, but I have never really suffered physically. Having learned the origins of the word excruciating, it makes me shudder to think that I may have used it to describe my own minor discomforts. Whatever injury I have suffered, it wasn’t as a result of injustice. It wasn’t a display of defaming mockery. It wasn’t fatal. And it probably wasn’t a result of love, either.

But for Him, it was.

Jesus can rightfully claim to know, to have experienced, excruciating pain.

And I can’t tell him, “I know how you must’ve felt.”

But I can say, “I’m sorry.”

And also, “Thank you.”

This week is a celebration of completion, an opportunity to approach the cross, to experience and remember through religion and ritual, to learn the meaning of the word excruciating, and then to be awed and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the news that what Jesus endured was a love-driven merciful act of grace and forgiveness, which was culminated by His resurrection victory, forever impacting our eternity.

We have hope and love; He got excruciating pain and death.

His sufferings were once for all. Our contemplation and gratitude must never end.

 

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Life, Theology

 

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Overwhelmed

“I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?”

The teenage schoolgirl answers: “I think you can in Europe.”

Can you name the movie this quotation comes from? It was my first exposure to actor Heath Ledger, and also to actress Julia Stiles, and it’s a film that has stuck with me for a number of years.

I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately, though in the best sense imaginable. At times, we use this word to describe a season of stress and fatigue, but I am feeling overwhelmed by an act of generosity.

A friend recently gave us a high-dollar gift certificate and I find myself wildly whelmed, paralyzed by possibility.

In some sense, a lesser gift would be much easier to handle. It doesn’t take quite so much imagination to consider the ways to use it. But a gift of this magnitude causes me to consider many things.

How do I use this gift well? How do I act as a good steward of this amount of spending power? What opportunities are now open to me with this degree of resourcing available?

It’s exciting, but also intimidating: I don’t want to waste or abuse this gift.

I am overwhelmed, in the most wonderful kind of way…and it’s just an e-certificate.

It makes me ask myself: how often do I find myself overwhelmed by the love and grace of God? Do I perceive that the doors of opportunity are thrown open before me as I consider the magnitude of what has been given to me? Am I moved to contemplate and entertain glorious visions of what could be as a result of what’s been handed to me?

Or am I content to just have the e-certificate sitting in my inbox, truly mine, but without ever really letting it impact my life in all the wonderful ways that it could?

We’ve had the gift certificate for several weeks, and still haven’t been able to determine how to spend it. I’ve had the gift of God’s love and grace for many years, and I’m still trying to figure out what all the possibilities are for what my life can now be.

But there is one difference. I may end up spending the gift certificate unwisely, purchasing items that last only temporarily and that end up providing little benefit or blessing to myself and others. And then it will be spent and gone.

But God’s love and grace are practically begging to be used, even at the risk of misuse. And they come with a wonderful promise: they can never be expended, the availability will never expire in this lifetime, the balance will never be exhausted.

So, what I’m waiting for? God is inviting us to a spending spree–and He’s buying! We can be paralyzed by the possibilities, reticent due to the realities, or uncomfortable with the uncertainties, but the worst thing we can do is to let the news just sit in our inbox, and never see where this truth can take us.

Whether it’s overwhelmed or underwhelmed, whether it’s in Europe or our own backyard, let’s see where this generosity takes us!

 

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2012 in Life, Theology

 

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