Thursday, September 29, 2011

Unhealthy Guilt

I think God has been trying to get something through to me.

It's in books I'm reading, sermons I'm hearing, video ads I'm viewing, conversations I'm having, counsel I am receiving.  I am beginning to get the message, I think, although it has a ways to go to sink down from head to heart.  I'm not even certain of all the implications.  But I think God is telling me I'm looking at myself the wrong way.

I'm not a sinner, in need of God's mercy and grace.  I'm a sinner, already saved by grace.

The distinction is subtle, but critical.  The first perspective puts the burden on me, the sinner, to come to God, to repent, to ask for what I need.  The second viewpoint puts the emphasis on God, on what He has already done, and not just for me, but for all sinners who have put their trust in Him.  It's not even something that "I just need to embrace," as I wanted to write just now.  It's already embracing me.  If there is anything I need to do, it's just to be thankful.

As Brennan Manning says in The Ragamuffin Gospel:

The saved sinner is prostrate in adoration, lost in wonder and praise.  He knows repentance is not what we do in order to earn forgiveness; it is what we do because we have been forgiven. It serves as an expression of gratitude rather than an effort to earn forgiveness.  Thus the sequence of forgiveness and then repentance, rather than repentance and then forgiveness, is crucial for understanding the gospel of grace.

Growing up in a tradition that didn't emphasize regular repentance, there was something about weekly confession in the liturgical service that appealed to me, that felt right and good. I'd like to say that it was an expression of gratitude, as Manning says, but in hindsight, I'm thinking it appealed more to the "good girl" in me, looking for ways to please God and earn his approval...and my own.

I'm not sure what it is in me that thinks I must earn what I could just have...or thinks I need to judge whether I deserve it or not.  But it's been a revelation to discover that in fact, that's what I've been doing...when I could just delight in what is already mine.

For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change.  (Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel)

More pleasing to Me than all your prayers, works and penances is that you would believe I love you.  ~Jesus' words to Marjory Kempe in 1667 (quoted by Manning, TRG)

Preoccupation with self is always a major component of unhealthy guilt and recrimination.  It stirs our emotions, churning in self-destructive ways, closes us in upon the mighty citadel of self, leads to depression and despair, and preempts the presence of a compassionate God.  The language of unhealthy guilt is harsh.  It is demanding, abusing, criticizing, rejecting, accusing, blaming, condemning, reproaching, and scolding.  It is one of impatience and chastisement.  Christians are shocked and horrified because they have failed.  (Manning, TRG)

That's upset with myself because I fail on a daily basis. I fail to be the wife, the mother, the daughter, the neighbor, the pastor's wife, the parent, the teacher I feel I could and should be.  And how else am I going to be any better, I think, if I don't reproach and scold myself about the ways I fall short?

Turns out there is a way of grace and freedom that I'm only beginning to glimpse.

The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to his goodness and the question becomes not "What have I done?" but "What can he do?" release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you have been forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down.  There is grace to help in every time of trouble.  That grace is the secret to being able to forgive ourselves.  Trust it.  ~John R Claypool (quoted by Manning, TRG)

I think that's where I'll leave it.  I'm not very far down this road yet.  I'm only just beginning to heal, to build up a layer or two in those places I've been tearing down for so long.  And I'm grateful, in a way I haven't quite experienced before.

Thank you, Lord.


Papa Bear said...

So true! Three things I've learned in seven years as an Anglican:

Every week, when we pray,

"Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspirations of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord."

my mind would be deluged with the most inappropriate thoughts you can imagine. If I had been raised Pentecostal, I would have thought it was a demonic attack. (Sometimes I wondered anyway.) Given my upbringing, I immediately began wrestling with my own mind. The harder I pushed those thoughts away, the deeper and heavier they pressed in on me. One Sunday, after several years of this struggle, I realized this prayer was not God commanding me to clean up my act; it was me asking Him to do something I couldn't.

It always puzzled me that the Confession comes after the Prayers of the People. I was taught that unless my heart is first pure, God can't hear me. Only recently did I realize that His mercy (and only in mercy can He hear our prayers) is not contingent on our performance, or even our confession. Our confession is a response to His mercy, and not the other way around.

The church I grew up in was always asking, "Are you saved? If you died tonight..." We were very concerned with who was in or out *at that particular moment.* Salvation was like a light switch that could be turned on or off instantly. It took me years to realize that the God who was preparing me for His kingdom could not be taken by surprise at the timing of my arrival. I have been saved, I am being saved, I shall be saved.

At A Hen's Pace said...


Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing your own journey along a similar path!


Anonymous said...

thank you, J. i was just telling Steve last night in bed that I was tired of trying so hard. that all I do is try try try ( and beat myself up) for all the things I don't do, and also wonder why i don't get out what i put in (in regards to relationships especially)...

i watched this little video and it really spoke to me in ways that I was surprised by:

rambling thoughts, have to keep thinking (not far on the road either) but i am grateful for your sharing. comes at the right time for me.


jill said...

That's beautiful. It's pretty much what I try to make my ministry all about, but I still need to be reminded too. I have that book on my shelf upstairs--time to get it down and read it!

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite hymns expresses it beautifully, and this applies not just to our salvation, but to daily life------Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,--Yonder on Calvary's mount outpoured--There where the blood of the Lamb was spilt.
Grace, Grace, God's grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within, Grace, Grace, God's grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin. I rest in this truth, and He knows I'm human with failings and loves me anyway, and did from the beginning, before I came to Him...Pianomum

Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

Thanks for writing this. Definitely something I need to hear again.

I'm sending all three of my blog readers over. :)

Marsha said...

Thank you for sharing this. Now I want to read Manning.
PS @Amy, make that 4 blog readers. :-)

At A Hen's Pace said...

Hey Everyone, thanks for your comments! Somehow, I wasn't receiving notifications for them, so it was kinda like a bouquet of comments when I discovered them all on this post this morning. :)

Glad you were all blessed. You certainly blessed me!

Sarah, I'm off to watch that video now...


At A Hen's Pace said...

Oh, Sarah, that's the same video I linked to!

Yes. Yes, me too!