Since I started this project, I have been slowly expanding my capacity to show grace. A grace that has saved a lot of sleepless nights and at least one friendship.
But there is still one person who I struggle to show grace to. Even though I’ve been told she’s a nice girl, I don’t always believe it. Maybe it’s because I know her so well. I know that some days she’s just putting on an act. If I’m honest, she disappoints me more often than anyone else in my life.
That girl is me.
When I finished my last post, I realized that even as I was busily wiping the slate clean for everyone else in my life, I continued to leave a whole lot of regrets scribbled on my own. Things I said that I can’t take back. Promises I made that I was unable to keep. Confidences that I had broken. Opportunities that I missed or ignored. Trust misplaced. Projects abandoned.
I knew in my head that all these things were forgiven- forgotten- but I still held on to them. I reasoned that if I let myself forget about the mistakes I made in the past, that I would repeat them. Maybe I believed that the cure to my insufferable carelessness was to continually remember the look on my friend’s face when I let her down with my thoughtless words.
But surprise, surprise. Reliving those regrets- instead of making me an amazing, careful, perfect friend and Christian- left me just as careless, just as flawed, and filled with guilt.
Guilt is a vicious disease because it ruthlessly attacks us and then makes us feel as if we deserve the pain that it causes. And that is not in God’s plan for us.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV)
There’s no room for hoarding guilt in a life that is full and abundant. An abundant life means having nothing that blocks us from our Creator and Sustainer.
Guilt has a very specific purpose- to bring us to a place where we see our need for forgiveness and grace.
Instead of driving us away from God, our guilty conscious should send us straight into His arms. When guilt drives us to despair or self-loathing or cynicism, we missed our exit.
But when our guilt and regret leads us to see God’s incomprehensible grace in a new way, then maybe we no longer need to regret what has happened to bring us to that place.
I know that some regrets run deep. Deeper than we care to admit, even to ourselves. But I also believe that there is something at work that makes anything we’ve done or anything that’s been done to us pale in comparison. Something that culminated in a moment 2,000 years ago when a young Jewish man was executed for a crime he never committed.
” You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)
If I truly believe that Christ died so that I wouldn’t have to suffer the punishment for my sins, how unbelievably ungrateful am I if I continue to go through life as if I have to constantly atone for my own mistakes?
The real reason guilt is such a powerful enemy is because it takes our focus off of that amazing reality. Guilt is self-centered. It turns my attention to what I need to do better, how much I have failed. As if I had the ability to do anything about it.
And that’s where, once again, grace makes all the difference. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Before we even realized that we needed it, the debt was paid.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:7-10 ESV)