Guilt. That silent foe that can yell louder than any outside distraction. That internal voice screaming from within that diminishes any joy or life meant to be lived. I’m very conversant with this inner voice. Not so much in words, but in feelings. Not visible to others but always felt. Like a CD stuck on a scratch, jumping, repeating, and skipping over and over. Always heard, it becomes a familiar part of life. In the business, it may fade into the background but it’s always there, following me like a shadow. A guilt shadow.
I grew up as the child of both missionaries and ministers. Most of my childhood was exceptional. I have many wonderful memories and experiences that I find myself drawing from more and more as I grow older. However, like any child, my parents could not control everything in my life, and certainly not how I would interpret different events. Somewhere along the way, guilt crept into my soul. Like a subtle, dark shadow that followed my every move. Guilt for what I did and said. Guilt for what I didn’t do or say. Guilt for how I looked and what I wanted. As a primary aged child, guilt was my constant shadow, blocking the light.
On one level it could simply be due to my personality type and a deep conscience. However, in recent reflections, I have come to recognise it as a tool used so well by the “enemy of our soul”, paralysing me from hearing and following the call of God.
What does this have to do with mission?
For many years as a young adult, I wrestled with this shadow for not being a missionary or in Christian ministry. Instead, my husband and I lived in an idyllic, picturesque country town in South Canterbury. Sure, we were involved in our local church, but I felt guilty that it wasn’t ‘real ministry’. Every time I listened to a visiting missionary or watched something on TV about aid work overseas, the guilt shadow would cloud my vision, hindering me from seeing anything else. In hindsight, I realise I allowed it to be my reason for avoiding God. After all, how could God call me when I was so full of guilt?
Sometime in the midst of this, I read the following passage:
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask because we keep His commands and do what pleases Him. And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us (1 John 3.19-22).”
The context of this passage is the assurance of salvation as evidenced by our actions of love for each other. This was truly living water for my parched soul. Although my own heart condemned me, I realised that God was greater than any guilt, or false conscience. God alone knew the depths of my heart and my desire to live in love for Him and for others. God also knew that for so long, this desire had been overshadowed by the guilt shadow.
What you see when the shadow fades
I began to see that the guilt for not doing things in a certain way was actually hindering me from following God’s call to believe in Jesus and to love others. Guilt for not doing was preventing me from doing!
In the light of this truth, the guilt shadow gradually began to fade and my eyes began to see. Loving my husband and teaching my children was ministry. Taking soup and flowers to the new Mum who moved into town was mission. My heart sang when I saw light in my friend’s eyes as we talked about the grace and love of God she had found. I began to sense the smile of God as I helped to clean when a family was moving house or agreed to look after a child while their Mother went to an appointment. The more I spent time with God, and read the Word, the more confidence I felt in the Spirit’s call on me to actively look for ways to show love to those around me.
How often do we sit in guilt for what we are not doing in Africa or Bosnia, when we do not even know the name of our next door neighbour? How often do we forget to see the love and care for the elderly and the sick in our communities as mission and ministry just as equal to working in the slums of Kolkata if God has called us to it? The Spirit whom Christ gave us is the One who calls us to where God’s love can shine the brightest through us! For some, that will be with war victims in Syria. For others, it is with the lonely widow next door or the special needs child at your son’s school. Perhaps the lowest caste of Bangladesh is where the Spirit calls you. Or maybe it is to the professional woman at work who looks immaculate but is eaten alive by regret. The road worker on your street whose son committed suicide last year. The 90-year-old, loyal church attendee who is afraid of death. The enemy revels in believers who stay trapped by the guilt shadow to live a pale, dim version of who they are created to be. But no matter who or where we are, living out the love of Christ is what we’re all called to do.
So I invite you: acknowledge and repent of living under the guilt shadow and remaining paralysed. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes to live in love, whether that’s in your street or on the other side of the world. Wherever you are, if you are living in the love of the Spirit, you can be confident you are living in God’s Mission.
Questions to consider
In what area of your life do you feel paralysed by guilt? Ask God to reveal any lies you’ve believed and replace them with the light of his truth.
What opportunities are available for you to reveal the love of God? Ask God to highlight a person or situation to you.
Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.