9/16/13

Why I don't suffer mama guilt

Every few weeks it seems a new post about mama guilt makes its way around the internet. Every time I see it shared in a dozen facebook statuses, I get this bad feeling inside. Not about the post or about the fact that it's being shared, but about the reality of mama guilt and the way it tears down my wonderful mom friends and makes them feel insecure about a job that- in reality- they are rocking.

Sanctuary of another congregation in our church. Empty aisles and pews = guiltless church misbehavior. 
About two weeks ago I saw another one of these posts making the rounds and this time I just couldn't shake those frustrated feelings. I kept thinking about all those posts and all those conversations among women about rejecting mom guilt... and I kept thinking about how little they seem to help the problem. We read these posts, we have these passionate discussions, we all agree to throw off the guilt... and then we go back to feeling guilty about the amount of TV we let our kids watch or the lack of leafy greens we get them to eat.

And the guilt plague rages on.
Misbehaving for his great-grandparents. ;-) Luckily, they are very gracious.
Now, I know I'm just a young mom and I haven't faced the challenges of school-aged or teenage kids yet, but I want to share something with you:

I rarely have mom guilt.

It's not because I'm a perfect or even near-perfect mom. Lord knows I've snapped and yelled, slammed doors, served lazy, loveless lunches, refused to read books or play games and done housework instead, and put my kid in bed because I was ready for bedtime more than he was. I have lots of room for improvement and while I am convicted about my short-comings, I'm not plagued with guilt over my mistakes.

Several years ago I found freedom from guilt- mom or otherwise- and I want to share my story with the hopes that it will help you do the same.

I was attending a Bible college at the time and it happened in a lecture about the biblical book of Hebrews. That semester, I had a personal issue with someone close to me and although I am not going into the details about what happened, I will tell you that I made a big mistake, some bad decisions, and I felt like a total failure in the relationship and as a human being. The things I thought about myself were plaguing me: you keep making this same mistake. You are a bad person. You're a fake. You're a hypocrite. You are not worthy of love. You've used up all your second chances. God won't forgive you anymore.

Try as I might, I could not resolve the issue I had with the other person. I truly believed that I had used up all my grace and until I could fix the problem, I was doomed to live in the shadow of my guilt. I imagined myself charred and dirty, rejected and unclean before a brilliantly white, pure, and holy God.

Enter that Hebrews lecture. The topic of the day in that college class was sin and guilt. Not exactly what I needed to hear about... or so I thought. The professor talked about the weight we bear under our sin: our shortcomings, our mistakes, our failures, and all the things we should have done, but didn't do. She asked us to imagine carrying the weight of every sin we had committed and how heavy our hearts and minds would feel.

It wasn't hard for me to imagine.

Then she told us about ancient rituals of forgiveness. She read passages from the Old Testament of the Bible and explained how the Israelites would sacrifice animals for the forgiveness of their sins, how they would imagine the burden of all their transgressions moved from their shoulders and placed heavily on the backs of the sacrificial animals to be burned up or sent away.

Together, we imagined the relief, the light-heartedness, and the joy we would have felt as we pictured ourselves clean, pure, and sinless before a perfectly good and holy God.

I almost felt like crying as I imagined it. That's what I wanted: to feel pure and clean again. To be rid of all the guilt I was carrying and to know that I was pleasing and acceptable to the God I loved.

And then the professor asked us an awful question, "How long do you think you could stay that way?"

How long, after the animal sacrifice could we keep ourselves pure and spotless? How long before our wealthier or more beautiful neighbor walked by and we felt the pangs of jealously? How long before we snapped at our spouse or children? How long before we couldn't resist the temptation to gossip or complain? How long before we sinned again? Days? Hours? Minutes? Seconds until the burden of guilt began to pile up with its awful, painful weight on on our shoulders? Mere moments of freedom before we dirtied up our souls again?

And then how long until the next sacrifice? How long until we would be able to unburden ourselves from the weight of our sin? How long until we would be clean again?

"Day after day," she quoted from Hebrews, "every priest stands and performs his religious duties. Again and again he offers the same sacrifices..."

"... which can never take away sins."

Wait. Never? Hadn't we just gone through this whole lecture about those ritual sacrifices? Hadn't we just learned that the whole point was to take away sins?

At this point I was getting angry. And probably- humorously- sinning a little as I swore in my mind well then what the hell were those sacrifices for? 


Shadows. She said they were shadows- greyish pictures representing a greater reality. Shadow sacrifices, preparing us to witness a greater, better, more perfect sacrifice to come. 

"But when Jesus had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God... For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

The class was quiet. In my chest I felt a warm glow, getting brighter. 

The professor continued: 

"One Sacrifice. 

One. 

By one sacrifice, he has made you perfect, forever." 

While those ancient priests stood, going about their rituals and offering sacrifice again

and again 

and again for the sins we do 

over 

and over 

and over... 

Jesus sat down. Because his sacrifice was it. Forever

As the class went on, the reality of Christ's sacrifice became clear to me as if for the very first time in all my years of being a Christian.

I do not bear the weight of my sin. I am not guilty, anymore. The sacrifice has been made for me. Once. For all time. I am not guilty, anymore."

This is where that important distinction between guilt and conviction comes in: 

Guilt is the terrible weight of our sin. 

Conviction is being certain about the truth. 

The truth is that by his one sacrifice, Christ has made me guiltless before God.
The truth is that I fail all.the.time as a parent, but what I need is not to suffer the weight of guilt but to apologize, repent, repair, and pray for the grace and the strength to do better next time. 

Guilt tells us we are unworthy, unredeemable failures.
Conviction tells us that our failures can always be redeemed and provides a way forward. 

When I walked out of that college classroom, I did it with a beautiful, joyful, warm fire inside and it was the last time I ever felt overcome by guilt. Today, when I feel guilty about a parenting move, I look to Christ's sacrifice and I remember what he has done for me. I remember that my life is defined by my spiritual reality: I am forgiven. I have received mercy and grace.

So, my mama friends- here's my offering for you: the next time you feel weighted down, ask yourself is this guilt or conviction? It it is useless guilt, throw it off, look to the cross and pray for the grace to live into the forgiveness Christ died to give you. If it is conviction, look again to the cross, repent, remember that there's grace, and trust that the Spirit will show you a better way forward and give you a new tomorrow.

Most importantly, remember what God has said about us:

Their sins and lawless acts
  I will remember no more.

Praise the Lord. 


xo

8 comments:

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I so needed to hear this.

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  2. Ya know? There's just nothing wrong with running about in church. He looks like he's at home.

    This is unrelated, but the post from one of my favorite-est bloggers today made me think about you. I've been in the middle. You've been and you're again in the middle. It's not fun. Sending fertility hugs to you :)
    http://my--fascinating--life.blogspot.com/2013/09/pace.html

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  3. Such a beautiful story and post! Thank you for sharing :)

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  4. Great point! I am not a mom, but it is still a great message for me too. :)

    I grew up attending the church that you took those photos in! I remember, every Sunday, admiring that stained-glass image of Jesus at the front of the sanctuary. The church building has changed a great deal since I was little. It has since been added on to. (When I was little, you could see daylight outside the windows on both sides of the sanctuary. Now, the windows on one side open up to a lobby area, which I'm sure you know.) :) I assume you're trying to maintain some level of privacy by not revealing which church John works at and which city it's in... but I take it, it's the one that starts with a "W?" :) My family had already switched churches to another one in town (long story, but no hard feelings toward "H" CRC) before "W" started, but I have attended services there before and loved it! I hope you love it too!

    I have such fond memories of "H" CRC... just seeing those photos from within the sanctuary makes me smile! :)

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  5. Anonymous9/27/2013

    Well that was just beautiful. Thank you.

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  6. I struggle with guilt BAD. I can take both sides of a decision and feel guilty about both. The day I first read this, I was standing in the milk aisle at the grocery and the heaviness of my guilt just hit me. I knew I'd feel guilty if I spent the extra money to buy organic milk. Or, I knew I'd feel guilty if I bought conventional. Just an every day decisions, not one the affects eternity, but it was just a tiny example of the guilt I feel about everything. I just came back to reread it and comment, to let you know how much I appreciate.

    I also wanted to let you know that I'm thinking of you often and praying for you.

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  7. Amazing! Thank you for your perspective!

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  8. Amazing! Thank you for writing this!

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