“I wake up every day feeling guilty about something.”
I was meeting with some folks for breakfast the other day and eventually the conversation turned to church, religion, and the Christian faith. As a pastor the temptation is to keep these conversations theoretical and not too personal. In a moment of unanticipated honesty I began to talk about the guilt I live with.
When I look back on my upbringing the word “conflicted” comes to mind. I have so many wonderful memories of church and the people who were very influential in the formation of my understandings of God. There was the dentist who met with two of my friends and me every Tuesday morning. We studied the bible and talked about life. There was also youth group where I made life-long friends, met my first girlfriend, and wrecked my first car – a 1976 Chevrolet Chevette. There were after Sunday morning service hockey games on the lake; they were epic and lasted for hours. This list should also include life-changing retreats, playing guitar on the worship team, prayer meetings, and adults who were always ready to be a friend, mentor, or parent.
My story also has another side. I went to my first school dance in 10th grade after convincing my parents that I was required to attend so I could take photos for the yearbook committee. Dancing, or at least moving my body in rhythm to the music, was sin. The first movie I saw in a “movie theater” happened only because I lied about where I was going. The whole time I sat there I was sure God’s back had turned on me.
I still remember the week Hal Lindsey came to town. He talked about the end times and being left behind. I went forward every day that week and accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. In the years following I would sneak upstairs at night. This usually happened after a night of lust-filled thoughts. I needed to make sure my parents were still in their beds. I was petrified that I had been left behind.
I still wake up every day worrying that I have done something so horrible that God has finally disowned me. Being at dances still causes guilt, although I have no ability to move in time with the music. I worry that my growth as a Christian, pastor, and leader has moved me beyond the grace of God.
All of this was playing in my head when I spoke about the guilt I feel every day. I went on to share that the only way I have been able to come to terms with this baggage is to make peace with the guilt. I no longer pray to get rid of this part of who I am. It is always going to be part of me. Making peace with this has helped to disarm the power it has over my life and my faith.
The truth is that all of us carry baggage. It might be about your faith, family, or past. Sometimes we find ways to let go. But other times we simply need to make peace with our past. Appreciate the good, name the crap, and bravely move forward.