Tag Archives: guilt

Harnessing Guilt for Good

19 Dec

A feeling I have often, but especially at Christmastime, is Too Much to Do and Too Little Time. I’m sure a lot of people can relate. This year, I had wanted to take some time everyday to sit down with our family and do an Advent activity. Here it is, December 19 and we haven’t even cracked our Bible. One day last week, I was thinking through all the things on my to-do list and thought, “Wait a minute. How did my schedule get completely filled up?” I thought that I was being modest with my Christmas plans but December has a way of filling up without you even trying.

And as it happens whenever I start feeling overwhelmed by one aspect of my life, I started thinking about all the other aspects of my life that I’m “failing” at – like prayer, Bible study, thoughtfulness for friends, exercise, organization, etc. – and then I not only feel overwhelmed, I also feel guilty.

guilt

At those times, I think most people (including myself) have two main reactions: 1) Try to do it all or 2) Stop caring. In a sermon I heard several years ago by Steve Shank of Sovereign Grace, he told of a 3rd option. Talking about Philippians 4:12, he said that apostle Paul had learned to be content with what he had, while also desiring more. How is that possible? When you recognize that the person who gets you from Point A to Point B, from the reality of your life to what you want it to be, isn’t YOU but GOD, then you can be content with What Is, while still longing for What Could Be.

So I don’t have to choose between trying to do it all or just not caring. I can stop trying even though I care. Instead of swinging to one end or the other of the spectrum, there’s a tension in the middle where I can recognize the things I want to be true in my life, but I don’t strive to make them happen. I don’t stop caring, but I do stop striving.

My reaction to that kind of statement 4 years ago would’ve been “Say what?!? If I’m not the one doing it, then how will it get done?” And the answer is the Holy Spirit. The presence of God. When we have a relationship with God through Christ, we not only have His promise that the verdict is in and we are righteous in His eyes – we also have His promise that He will make us into the people He has created us to be. “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.”

The Spirit is the connection between God’s promise and the reality of it happening. He is the tangible, practical outworking of God’s power in our lives. So when I want to be more intentional about praying for people, I don’t have to say “Ok, I’m going to pray for 15 minutes every morning starting at 7:30.” There’s nothing wrong with that if God leads me to that, but my first response to a conviction shouldn’t be activity. Instead of seeing a problem in my life and determining the course of action to remedy it, God wants me to take that conviction and turn to Him in prayer. Ask Him to help me pray for others more often – and then TRUST that He will help me, by reminding me to pray for others, giving me the desire to pray for them when I do remember, growing my understanding of His love for me so that I think of myself less often and of others more often.

When God is the one leading, real change happens. When I’m the one determining what needs to get done, I eventually lose steam and end up right back where I started – and so the cycle begins again.

That’s why there are no specific commands in the Bible. Because the outworking of the Spirit’s conviction and the Christian life look differently for everyone. God says “Be hospitable” and “Give to the needy” and “Remember the poor” – those are pretty vague. I used to be frustrated and think “But what does that look like?” Answer: Only God can show you. Because it’s different for everyone. You might have the idea that to Be Hospitable, you have to open your home to exchange students, or invite your in-laws to move in. And for some people, it does mean that. But maybe for you, it’s just having friends over for lunch. Or hosting a baby shower.

So when I’m thinking about all the things that I want to be doing during Christmas, or the things that I wish I were doing in life but am not, or the things I would change, I don’t have to cast those things aside as “guilt producers” or stupid “expectations imposed on me by society.” I feel guilty about those things because I really want to do them. I want them to be true of my life. I don’t feel guilty about not going bungee jumping or not being a CEO. Because I don’t want those things. I feel guilty about the things I care about.

I read an interesting article about guilt in a parenting magazine the other day while I was pumping at work. The author said that guilt in the right degree is healthy because only sociopaths don’t feel guilt. That was interesting to me. I have always thought about guilt as a bad thing, as in I shouldn’t feel guilty ever. But now I can see guilt as a tool to show me what really matters to me. And instead of trying to deal with that guilt via self-improvement and to-do lists and productivity, or a Who Cares? attitude, I can recognize that I feel guilty because I wish those things were true about my life. At same time, I recognize that I can’t make them a reality on my own. I need God to help me, to show me the One Thing to do right now, and to trust that somehow, by following His leading on the Little Things, He is shaping the Big Picture into something glorious.

It’s hard to do in practice. Our house projects for moving have not gone according to our plans, and Travis and I both have responded poorly at times. Whenever that happens, I know that the cause is we’ve stopped trusting in God and started trusting in ourselves – in our actions, our planning, our common sense. God doesn’t work that way. His ways are higher. His plans are better. We need to trust and rest. “In quietness and trust is your strength.”

Keeping an Eternal Perspective: Clothing

7 Jul

{This is the second installment of this weekly series.}

For the past several years, I’ve been wrestling through the practical implications of my faith in Christ. If I say I desire to glorify God and that He’s my greatest treasure, what effect will those declarations have on what I buy, how I spend my time, and what my goals are? While God has given me a lot of insight and I am more at peace about these things that I was before, I still struggle with feeling guilty for buying new clothes, spending 6 hours a week training instead of volunteering, and doing things I enjoy just for pleasure’s sake.

Last weekend while we were backpacking {sorry that I haven’t posted pics yet – last night was busy!}, I had some time Sunday morning to sit alone with my Bible. The passage in Matthew 6 caught my eye:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Set your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

These verses showed me the following:

1. God gave me these convictions – I didn’t come up with them on my own.

Ever since I started to analyze my motives and why I do certain things and don’t do other things, God has been changing the way I look at the world. It started out as guilt from buying another $25 t-shirt that I didn’t need when that same money would buy food for a month for a kid over in Africa. It morphed into guilt from doing anything with my time that I alone enjoyed – I was convinced that that was the epitome of selfishness. I couldn’t escape the guilt. It was everywhere. A caramel macchiato from Starbuck’s. A pedicure. A good book. A nap.

But looking at these convictions a different way, I see them as God’s way of inviting me into a life of infinite joy (to quote C.S. Lewis again) – a life of love, selflessness, freed from the snares of material possessions and keeping up with the joneses. He has given me a desire for a simple life:

  • to wear the clothes I own
  • to make wise purchases (after researching options nonetheless!)
  • to fully use everything I do spend money on (and make sure I’ll fully use it before buying it)
  • to treat my possessions well so that they last
  • to only replace things when they need replacing
  • to make the effort to be creative in making things last longer

Anyone who knew me in college would not recognize the girl writing this post today. I am that different in my approach toward money. And God has shown me that this is His work in my life, refocusing my attention on things that are unseen and eternal, rather than things that are seen and transient.

Oswald Chambers’ devotional yesterday said it perfectly:

God gives us a vision, and then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of that vision. It is in the valley that so many of us give up and faint. Every God-given vision will become real if we will only have patience. Just think of the enormous amount of free time God has! He is never in a hurry. Yet we are always in such a frantic hurry. While still in the light of the glory of the vision, we go right out to do things, but the vision is not yet real in us. God has to take us into the valley and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the point where He can trust us with the reality of the vision. Ever since God gave us the vision, He has been at work. He is getting us into the shape of the goal He has for us, and yet over and over again we try to escape from the Sculptor’s hand in an effort to batter ourselves into the shape of our own goal.The vision that God gives is not some unattainable castle in the sky, but a vision of what God wants you to be down here. Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God, and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision. But don’t lose heart in the process. If you have ever had a vision from God, you may try as you will to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never allow it.

It has been a long, hard struggle to get to where I am in accepting that God is in this. That God is calling me to a simple lifestyle and to give up caring about fashion, money, beauty, decorating, etc.

That said…

2. Sanctification looks differently for everyone.

I have just recently realized this on an even deeper level. For so long, I had been frustrated with feeling guilty for shopping “just because” because I had a list of reasons why I believed I could shop in faith. We tithed every month, I wasn’t spending an extravagant amount of money, and the biggest one, I saw other Christian women doing it. If they could do it, why couldn’t I?

A recent situation opened my eyes. There is a young married couple at our church whose wedding I attended. The toasts given by their families and friends all praised this couple for being very godly and strong in their faith. The time I had spent around them in a group setting seemed to agree with those assessments. I viewed this couple as two people who “had it together,” especially in their approach to money (which moved them up a notch in my book). Then I spent some time one-on-one with the woman and heard about their marital struggles, ones very common to young married couples. I realized that they were just human too.

And that got me thinking… those women with the latest fashions at church – I don’t know what’s going on in their hearts. They very well might be able to buy new clothes in faith, but that also could be an area of their lives that God hasn’t yet refined and sanctified.

All that to say, I can’t judge which of the Spirit’s promptings I’m going to follow or not based on what other people are doing. Oswald Chambers’ devotion for June 28 says, “At first, Jesus Christ through His Spirit has to restrain you from doing a great many things that may be perfectly right for everyone else but not right for you.” These things that I have been fighting may be perfectly right for others to do, but not me. I have to pay attention to my personal convictions.

All this time, I had wanted to go back to the way things were before. I was rejecting this new way to live. Instead of viewing it as God’s invitation to me into greater, deeper joy resulting from letting go of materialism and my own assessment of What I Should Be Able to Do With Christian Freedom, I had been fighting it and thinking there was something wrong with me, since I was struggling with this and no one else was. But as I drove to work yesterday, I realized that in doing that, I was assuming that I should be “above that.” I should be above materialism and selfishly using my time for myself. Well guess what? I’m not. God wasn’t fooled for one moment either. He knew all along what I’m really like on the inside. The joke’s on me.

3. For me, buying new things should be the exception and not the rule.

You remember my sandal post from a while back? I still haven’t bought any. I can’t decide which ones I want. Actually, I had decided which ones I wanted but then they were out of my size. Boo. I just don’t want to buy the wrong ones and then regret my decision. So I’m at a standstill on that one.

But I don’t feel guilty about wanting those sandals. The difference between this purchase and other past purchases that have given me guilt is that: 1) I’ve been wanting these sandals since I started my new job 2 months ago and 2) They wouldn’t be just another version of something I already have 10 of. So those are my new guidelines for purchases (notice that I said guidelines, not rules): Wait until I know of something I would really like and would be very useful to me. Research the options and pray for the Spirit to convict me if I shouldn’t buy them. Go purchase said item sans guilt. My other strategy is to mention all of the things I would like to Travis “just in case someone asks what I’d like for my birthday.” 🙂

My cousin is getting married on July 30th and I’ve been thinking about buying a new dress for the occasion. I might go peruse a thrift store to see if there’s anything good but otherwise, I feel like the best decision would be to wear a dress I already own – I have one that is great for summer weddings and I’ve only worn once or twice.

Oh and I’ll wear my new sandals. (I’m going to go look at some tonight.)

What does all of this have to do with keeping an eternal perspective?

For me, the question underlying all of this is: Where does my happiness lie? Is my happiness wrapped up in having cute clothes? Or is it in knowing that Christ died for me and I’m going to heaven someday? Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? When I see a chunk of my paycheck every month going to our church, Campus Outreach, and our Compassion child, am I thankful to God for allowing me to participate in growing His kingdom? Or do I wish I could use that money to go on a trip to Hawaii?

Christ didn’t say to store up treasures in heaven instead of on earth just because that’s a good thing to do, or because they really need more treasures up there. Instead, He said this: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” God knows our humanity. He knows that we focus on what we treasure. So He says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” He wants us to keep an eternal perspective.

A Shopping Hiatus

21 Nov

Yesterday, I went shopping at Old Navy. I have been on the hunt for a classic, slim jean skirt that I could wear in the winter with my boots. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I finally found exactly what I was looking for at Old Navy on the clearance rack for $8.50. Can’t beat that.

While I was there, I also found a tank top for $3.75, a sweater for $6.00, another sweater for $9.50, and a scarf for $12.50. In college, I never bought things off the sale rack – I felt like it was too much effort. Now, not only am I surprised by how often I find great deals, I am also surprised at how rewarding it is to save money!

All that aside, I left Old Navy feeling slightly guilty. Even though I had only bought things that were on sale (with the exception of the scarf), and only spent $44.34 on 5 items, something didn’t sit right. I went next door to Michael’s and bought some wooden letters to spell HOPE, which I am going to paint pink and orange, decorate with sequins and polka dots and hang up in my office, as well as a basket that I’m going to fill with lots of food and goodies for my friend D for Christmas. That was another $32.67.

As I pulled out of the parking lot with my purchases, an unsettling yet subtle feeling of guilt stole over me. The same feeling I have any time I buy clothes, accessories, or shoes for myself.  Frivolous things. Unnecessary things. Things I cannot justify needing in any way, shape or form. The feeling is then compounded by spending money on anything additional, even if they’re groceries.

At first, it was the needy, hungry kids over in Africa with their sad puppy dog eyes that gave me guilt over a new sweater. Then, it was the homeless in Denver who needed a Thanksgiving meal that cost the exact amount of a new pair of shoes. And just recently, it was the realization that I was shopping for myself during the holidays, when “everyone else” is shopping for other people.

Most forms of guilt are from the devil. I know this because the Bible explicitly disputes the things the devil tells me to feel guilty about. Like I’m not good enough. I can never change. I’m not a loving person. I only think about myself. In Christ, those things are utterly untrue.

But when it comes to clothes and the like, there are no Bible verses to back me up. In fact, the only verses I can find actually point to the opposite:

“Keep your life free from the love of money and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5).

“For they gave according to their means…and beyond their means, of their own free will” (2 Corinthians 8:3).

“Do not let your adorning be external — the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing…” (1 Peter 3:3).

“But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Timothy 6:8).

“But God said to [her], ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the [clothes] that you have [amassed], whose will they be?” (Luke 12:20, bracketed words changed for emphasis)

“If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21).

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

All of these are very persuasive but none penetrated deeper into my heart than Romans 14:23, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.”

Even though I don’t believe that shopping or clothing are sins in and of themselves, and I do believe that many Christians can shop and buy clothes in faith and with thanksgiving, I cannot escape the fact that I, right now, am not one of them. My guilt cannot be rationalized away. Believe me – I’ve tried!

I’ve tried to tell myself that since we donate to our church, support 2 campus ministering couples, and sponsor a Compassion child, I can spend some money on myself. I tell myself that I don’t buy clothes very often – maybe once every couple months – and that I usually find the good deals. I analyze each purchase to make sure it’s exactly what I want and that I love it. I try not to buy things that look exactly like something else I already have in my closet. And hey, I’m a lot more financially responsible than I used to be!!

My heart doesn’t buy it.

Alas, I have come to accept that since I cannot buy clothes in the freedom of faith that I am pleasing God, buying clothes (or shoes, accessories, purses, etc) is, for me, right now, a sin. As I was driving home feeling guilty, God asked me, “So if you feel so guilty every time you shop, why do you keep shopping?” I paused… and then said, “Good point.”

The deep feelings in my heart about this are written very succinctly by Thomas Merton, “The more goods I  keep for my own enjoyment, the less there are for others. My pleasures and comforts are, in a certain sense, taken from someone else. And when my pleasures and comforts are inordinate, they are not only taken from another, but they are stolen. I must learn to deprive myself of good things in order to give them to others who have a greater need of them than I.”

I cannot escape the conviction that I should not be buying more things that I don’t need, at the expense of giving those resources to someone who could really use them. I have been fighting this feeling while continuing to shop because I wanted to know WHY I felt this way. It’s not a sin to shop – so why can’t I shop? But this morning, when I stopped and asked myself why this fight continued and I didn’t just yield to the conviction that shopping was a selfish desire and repent, I realized I hadn’t conceded because deep down, I want happiness in the forms of clothes. I wanted that more than I wanted to obey.

“Surely God isn’t asking me to give up buying new clothes,” I thought.

“But what if He is asking that?”

“Then I guess I have to give it up.”

So here I am, still not understanding exactly why this is a conviction of mine, but out of love for God and a desire to be obedient, I am going to stop buying clothes. I figure I have about 7 years before I’d literally need anything new. (Good motivation to workout I guess!) And I will only start again when I can do it in faith. Sans nagging voice in the back of my head telling me my money would be better spent elsewhere. Maybe this is the beginning of something big.

Rescued

10 Sep

I drove up to Boulder today, a nice little 30-minute jaunt from my house. I usually use that kind of prolonged time in the car to think out loud about issues I’m dealing with (which also helps me to not fall asleep).

Today, I was thinking about something the pastor said in the sermon on Ecclesiastes I was listening to this morning during my run. He said that God wants us to have pleasure – He wired us that way. Since I attended John Piper’s church for over 2 years, I had heard this before. But I heard it with fresh ears today because I realized – I don’t believe that.

For a while now, I’ve been questioning the point of doing stuff that I would consider “fluff” – things that are done purely because they are fun and enjoyable. Work, hygiene, chores, bills – these are not fluff because they must be done. Going to the movies, painting your nails, shopping, cooking new dishes, making crafts – these are fluff. They are done purely for enjoyment. I have not been able to enjoy these things like I used to because I have felt like Solomon – all is vanity, a chasing after the wind. At the end of the day, what do I have to show for these things? Nothing of significance.

And that’s just my problem. I had been questioning the value and merit of anything that didn’t contribute directly to the bottom line of Christianity (knowing God and making Him known). Praying, worship, reading the Bible, evangelizing, volunteering, serving the needy, working, maintaining a household – these are things that have either a tangible outcome or a direct impact on our eternity with God. But gardening? Running? Decorating? Shopping? Haircoloring? Trips to the zoo? Things like these are done for pleasure. What is the point of them?

Then I asked myself, why do I feel like I can’t engage in things that don’t contribute to the “bottom line”? I didn’t use to feel this way about everyday things so what changed? Guilt. I feel guilty when I do those things because I feel like I’m wasting time. And I feel like I’m wasting time with tedious, trivial little crap because I should be out there doing better, more productive things with my life. I should be doing more.

And there it is. The elephant in the corner. “I should be doing more.” I’m reading the book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World right now and I tell you, the book couldn’t be more relevant to where I am in life right now. I just read this section:

“…While there are many things that need to be done, things I’m capable of doing and want to do, I am not always the one to do them. Even if I have a burden for a certain need or project, my interest or concern is not a surefire sign that I need to be in charge… Service was never supposed to be our first priority. Work is not our first order of business – even working for the Lord. In fact, our own efforts are so far down the line when it comes to what God wants that they didn’t even register in Jesus’ conversation with Martha… Only one thing is needed – intimacy with God.”

I have been so focused on doing more for God that I have taken my eyes off Him. I have focused more on my own contribution to His kingdom than on the price He paid on my behalf. And the ironic part is that the more I focus on being externally selfless by donating my time and money, the less I see how I selfish I really am on the inside. I was just confronted yesterday with a list of all the self-centered things I have done in the past 4-5 days. It was a reality check. I have been living in Kathy’s World. Everything is about me. And dwelling on my problems and cares just magnifies my already natural, sinful tendency of making everything all about me. I have been so busy thinking about me that I didn’t even realize I was only thinking about me. Imagine.

So to bring this full circle, I see that my cynicism about life has come from an incorrect belief that the only thing that matters and is worthy of my time is service to God and things that contribute to the bottom line of my Christian walk, like prayer and time in the Word. That incorrect belief stems from a feeling of guilt caused by the notion that I should be doing more with my life because surely (I thought) that is what God expects and desires.

But I have left out the idea of God wanting me to experience pleasure, to have fellowship with Himself and to become more like Christ on the inside. God wants me to know Him, to enjoy Him, to enjoy life. Living a selfless life grows out of a deep, intimate relationship with the Father – it doesn’t come from some divine ability to be the Incredible Christian Superwoman. Instead of trying to live an externally selfless life filled with service, I should focus on becoming less selfish on the inside through spending time with Jesus.

As for those things that I consider “fluff,” God created me and everyone else to have certain interests and hobbies – which are good things! He does not expect to sacrifice all things we enjoy for the sake of serving His kingdom. God is not all work and no play! He created these things for us to enjoy them (1 Timothy 4:4-5). It is good that God gave me a passion for endurance sports and reading and an interest in cooking, health and nutrition, and wine. I can enjoy these things by thanking God for them, by seeking to know God more through them, and by using them in a way that glorifies and magnifies who God is.

God has also given us all unique personalities and dispositions. He created me with a need for downtime and relaxation in order to maintain my sanity. I cannot go, go, go. And because of that, I know that I cannot take on any more than I already have on my plate because the only result would be me having a nervous breakdown. And that doesn’t serve anyone.

So instead of focusing on everything I’m not doing (and feeling incredibly guilty), I see that I need to focus on being faithful and the best I personally can be with the roles that God has called me to fill at this stage in my life (in order of importance): 1) a follower of Christ, 2) a wife, 3) an employee, 4) a church member, 5) a friend, 6) a volunteer. I don’t want to overlook how I interact with and serve the most important people in my life just because I’m too concerned with how I’m not serving the poor and needy, not throwing perfect dinner parties, not wearing the latest fashions (or even always changing out of my pajamas), not the thinnest or the prettiest, not a fast runner, not successful, or any of the other things I obsess about in the course of a day.

This has gotten to be a long blog post but I can’t say how much this revelation has literally changed my life. I have been stuck in a rut of joylessness for SO LONG, not knowing how to get out of it, nor having the strength even to try. I feel like the psalmist when he said:

“He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters…He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:16,19).

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God” (Psalm 40:2-3).

God has rescued me.