When Guilt Grounds Me

I can’t even count how many times this has happened. At some point in the day, I stand in the middle of the hallway trying to decide what to do next. I wrestle with competing priorities. Do I write or exercise? Because there’s not time for both. Do I wash clothes or cook dinner? Because both need to be done. Do I call a church friend who’s having troubles or knock on my unbelieving neighbor’s door? Because Jesus calls us to encouragement and evangelism. So I stand there in the hallway with a dumb look on my face. Whatever I choose, guilt will accompany me.

From where you’re sitting there, outside my life and brain, it probably seems straightforward (I’ve told myself the same thing a thousand times): Organize your life better so you can do both. If that solution works for you, I am incredibly happy for you. In my case, more organization or scheduling just makes my life feel even more crowded. Most days, I have a list, which helps me get started, but all the entries on it are important! And it feels weird to put, “Call best friend” on my list. What I need is a guilt-free decision-maker. If you invent one of those, I’ll be first in line to buy it.

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hot-air balloon inflating (c) Carole Sparks

There’s only one thing which helps me at all, and it takes incredible volumes of self-control. I ask the Holy Spirit to show me what God wants me to do in the next hour…or fifteen minutes (yes, even if it’s exercise or wash clothes) and then I try to let go of the rest. See, I think Satan latches onto us with all those things we didn’t do and loads those otherwise empty “loose ends” with brick-filled bags of guilt until we’re immobile, or at least ineffective. (We’ll come back to this.) That guilt weighs us down like sandbags on a hot-air balloon. The thing keeping me stuck there in the hallway is simple: I don’t want to feel guilty, and so the guilt is already strapping me to the ground.

I use the piles of dirty clothes
as an excuse not to obey.

I don’t think God is particularly concerned with how or when I do the laundry, except when I do laundry instead of obeying Him, when I use the piles of dirty clothes as an excuse not to call a friend or write or something seemingly more holy than laundry. (I say seemingly because I think our entire lives can be wrapped up in His glory, which is holy ground! Check Colossians 3:17 and 23.)

My responsibility is to trust
Him in the ordering of my days.

At the same time, He knows it must be done. So I also have to think He will create a time in my day or week when He releases me to wash all those dirty clothes. The pile may get bigger than I like, but time will open to do it. Even harder than household duties, God will block out spaces where obedience means I rest or spend time relaxing with a beloved friend. All without guilt. My responsibility is to trust Him in the ordering of my days, trust Him that the laundry will get done and the floors swept and the blog posts written.

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hot-air balloon takes off (c) Carole Sparks

You know that feeling of “this is where I need to be right now”? It’s when God affirms that you’ve been obedient, and somehow, in your heart, you know it. Why can’t we have that feeling most—or all—of the time? I think we can experience it a lot more often than we currently do.

When Satan immobilizes us or preoccupies us with guilt, we can’t be effective even when we are being obedient. In those times, we treat His Will like tasks to be accomplished. “Just lower your head and push through,” we think. I pondered this image the other day…

Life with my head down
     ploughing the ground,
No thought to look up
     No “Lord, fill my cup.”
Strain and pull
     cart never full...

Yeah, that’s all I have. I’m not much of a poet, but do you see how God isn’t getting any glory in that image? How it’s all about finishing but never being able to finish?

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hot-air balloon in flight (c) Carole Sparks

He picks one thing for
right now and I let the
rest fall to the ground…

I’ve got to hold my time and my days and my to-do list in open palms where He picks the one thing for right now and I let the rest fall to the ground until later—like cutting the mooring lines on a hot-air balloon. Then I can soar on the updrafts of His Will! Then I can be free to obey without distraction.

Now I’m walking away. I’m going to meet my friend for coffee because that’s what I understand to be God’s will for my afternoon. I am not going to worry or stress over this blog post or the laundry piles or the carpet cleaner sitting in the middle of my living room floor.

At least I’m going to try.

Let go of the guilt from your unfinished to-do list and fly on the updrafts of God’s will! (click to tweet)

For further reading: Tyranny of the Urgent. It’s a tiny booklet by Charles E. Hummel that examines how we live under the pressure of “right now.”

Does your to-do list taunt you? Do you feel weighted down by the guilt of everything you didn’t do today? How do you deal with it? How do you cut the guilt lines? Please let me know in the comments. I’m still looking for answers!

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The Balance Between Liberty and Licentiousness

I know that’s an old-fashioned word, licentiousness. It just means indulging your sin nature, allowing yourself “license” (the root word) to do whatever you want. It’s liberty taken to the extreme. It’s stretching through purpose for self-indulgence. I just couldn’t think of a more exact word, so I took a risk and used this one.

As I spent my quiet time in Galatians over the last weeks, this verse stood out:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. -Galatians 5:13

So many of God’s good
gifts turn to sin when
we take them to excess.

So many of God’s good gifts turn to sin when we take them to excess. It’s like dark chocolate. One piece of really good dark chocolate tastes wonderful and actually has some health benefits. A whole bar of dark chocolate leaves a funny taste in your mouth and actually damages your overall health. That’s what we tend to do with God’s blessings.

Think about it:

  • Love gets twisted into lust.
  • Food overfed becomes gluttony.
  • The conveniences of life such as curb-side service and internet, when overindulged, generate sloth.
  • The tangible blessings of home, cars, clothes, etc. find us prideful or envious, depending on who has them.
  • Sleep, when overused, contributes to escapism and/or laziness.
  • Even Bible study (How could there be anything wrong with Bible study?!?) can become the end goal, the feel-good thing, a source of pride as we acquire knowledge.

To put it bluntly, we tend to pervert for our personal pleasure that which God has given us for His glory and our good.

God wants us to enjoy His
creation and the blessings
of living in it.

The backlash to a self-indulgent lifestyle is one of asceticism, a rejection of comforts and pleasures altogether in favor of extreme abstinence. But God gave us love, food, sleep, and all these other things. He wants us to enjoy His creation and the blessings of living in it.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights… -James 1:17

In I Want to Live These Days with You (8/11), Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the functional purposes of our homes, eating & drinking, clothing, and relaxation but demonstrates how they are also meant to elicit enjoyment.  Of the ascetic life, he writes, “Where people are robbed of the possibility of bodily joys, when their bodies are used exclusively as a means to an end, there we find an assault on the original right of bodily life.”

So how and where do we find the necessary balance? Let’s consider these four ways to check your licentiousness without losing your liberty.

  1. A greater delight in the Giver than the gift

As you sit down to that sumptuous meal, where does your mind go? To your palate and your stomach or to the one who caused these foods to grow and provided them to you?

  1. A steady diet of God’s Word, and not just the parts we like

Keep yourself grounded by digging into difficult Scripture as well as reviewing the comfortable chapters. For example, test yourself for sinfulness in passages like 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, which covers sexual immorality, but also relish your protected citizen status in sections like Romans 8:31-39. Sit under Christ-centered teaching that doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable commands and standards of the Bible even while it celebrates the love and blessings found in following God.

  1. An intimate dedication to the work of the Spirit in our lives

Learn how to hear the Holy Spirit and practice responding promptly. (There are books for this, or talk to a trusted adviser.) He will prompt you to step away from certain worldly pleasures when you need it. Your willingness or unwillingness to obey demonstrates your attachment to that pleasure. For example, Paul told the Corinthians that married couples might sometimes abstain from sex in order to focus on prayer (1 Corinthians 7:5) even when God normally smiles on sex within a marriage. For me, an unwillingness to fast when prompted by the Holy Spirit shows me that food has taken too high of a priority in my life.

  1. An ongoing identification with the person of Jesus

Jesus could enjoy a good meal with the best of them…and the worst (e.g. Zacchaeus). He supplied wine for a wedding (John 2:1-11) and a picnic for a crowd (John 6:1-14). He probably enjoyed the foot rub that came with having oil poured on His feet (John 12:1-11), and He could let down His guard to play with children (Luke 18:15-17). This was a man who enjoyed His earthly life. But He also knew when it was time to get serious, to say the hard things, and finally, to release it all.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! -Philippians 2:8

What is the purpose
of sheets?

Imagine you just bought a new set of sheets. They’re 600-thread-count Egyptian cotton, and they feel good. You crawl under the covers and snuggle down. But your purpose in the bed is not to enjoy the sheets. It’s to sleep. What if you were so busy enjoying the sheets that you didn’t sleep? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? The purpose of the sheets is to help you sleep better, and they will, if you keep everything in the proper perspective.

In the same way, God gives us so many good things to help us live this life on earth not only with purpose but also with pleasure. He told the Israelites, “Open your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). If we’ll stay grounded in the four things above, we’ll learn how to enjoy the pleasures without obscuring our purpose.

4 ways to enjoy the pleasures of life without obscuring the purpose. via @Carole_Sparks #NotAboutMe #ChristianLiberty  (click to tweet)

What do you think? How do we balance the pleasures and the calling to purity in the Christ-life? Honestly, I’m just trying to work through all this, and I’d love some input. Leave a comment. I’ll try to give a thoughtful reply.

The Crutch: a Short Story

The muted tip of Jack’s crutch played counterpoint to the flop of his one sneaker. If the hall hadn’t been so crowded, there would have been an echo. He liked the echo. He decided to ask permission for early dismissal in his next class so he could be alone in the hall.

“When you gonna get off that thing, Jack?” Carly was the only one who seemed to dislike his crutch. The rest of his friends thought it was cool…or maybe they were jealous of the extra attention he got because of it.

“I don’t know.” Jack shrugged with the shoulder that wasn’t over the crutch. “The doctor says another week or two, but I can move pretty fast on it now, and it’s actually comfortable.”

“Looks to me like you want to keep it.” Carly’s brow furrowed and her lip turned up, like she had caught a whiff of the cafeteria dumpster. She veered toward her next class before he could drum up a suitable answer.

Jack did want to
keep his crutch.

The truth was, he did want to keep it. He felt more in control of his path with the crutch, and he didn’t stumble over his own feet like he used to. Plus, people were so encouraging. Complete strangers at the big department store applauded his maneuverability and kids on the bus moved so he could have whatever seat he wanted. If people would just try it, they would see how much better life was with a crutch.

Jack shared his thoughts with his parents over dinner. They were such good listeners. Later, his dad climbed into the attic and pulled out an old wooden crutch. He used it to walk around the garage on one foot for almost ten minutes with Jack calling out pointers and trying not to laugh when his dad bumped into things. Jack’s dad hobbled over to Jack’s perch on the workbench. “You know, Jack, I think you’re right. I’ll have to build up some strength in my arm and shoulder, but I can move around fairly well with this crutch, and I’m sure it’ll get me some attention at work.”

The next evening, Jack’s dad came home with a shiny metal crutch for his mom. There was even a pink bow on the shoulder rest. “But I’m not hurt,” she insisted. Jack and his dad worked for half an hour before they convinced her to give it a try. Jack smiled to see that his mom finally had something to lean on while she cut vegetables for dinner.

They walked with Jack’s
familiar thump-squash stride.

Later in the week, Jack rummaged through the dumpsters near the hospital and found two used crutches. After applying some Clorox and a little duct tape, he presented them to his two best friends. They laughed. They fell down. They resorted to sword-fighting at one point. But after six juice boxes and a bit of cajoling, they walked home with Jack’s familiar thump-squash stride.

When Carly saw the three classmates using a crutch, she just rolled her eyes. Two days later, however, another five students came to school with crutches. By the end of the grading period, at least twenty percent of every class walked with a crutch. This fact slowed class changes and bus loading in the afternoons. Before long, the cafeteria created special lines for those on crutches and the library recruited student volunteers to carry study materials for the same kids.

The principal tried to keep this…phenomenon…quiet, but #crutchlife exploded on social media, which led to news crews clogging the entryways and phone lines of the school. On the second day of media coverage, one of the reporters leaned on a crutch to record her story for the camera.

Carly noticed the becrutched reporter out the window of her civics class. While Mr. Lewis droned on about moral codes and the “rule of law,” Carly searched for a cast or brace on the reporter’s favored leg. There wasn’t one.

After tripping over two crutches on the way out of class, Carly sought out Jack. “What are you doing, Jack?” Carly’s hands stretched stiff at her sides, elbows tight, eyes wide. “This is crazy! None of these people actually need crutches!”

Jack lowered himself onto the cafeteria seat and laid his crutch carefully under the table. He gestured toward the vacant seat beside him without speaking to Carly. She sighed as her body cascaded into the seat. Another sigh propelled her head to face Jack’s.

“My crutch makes
me a better person.”

He smiled kindly and patted her hand. “Carly, we’ve been friends for a long time, haven’t we?” He waited until she nodded slowly before he continued. “Then I feel comfortable telling you this. I have realized this crutch helps me move around in a way that I can’t on my own. It makes me a better, stronger person because I am now in control of my movements. I always know exactly where to find it and how to use it. Don’t you see? I am more free now.”

Jack’s patronizing tone made Carly want to vomit, but it was his words that drew a flush to her cheeks. “Have you lost your mind? You have two feet. You learned how to walk from your parents. You can go anywhere…run even. Now you’ve tied yourself to this crutch. It was supposed to be temporary, but you’ve gotten so comfortable with it that you’ve made it permanent. You are not better. You are not stronger.”

With that, Carly jumped up and ran away freely, on her own two feet.

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? -Galatians 3:3

What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God [to Abraham] and thus do away with the promise. -Galatians 3:17

I’d love it if you shared this with some friends…

The Crutch: A short story and allegory via @Carole_Sparks. #NotAboutMe #legalism (click to tweet)

Can you see the allegory? Have you found yourself leaning on something that was originally helpful but eventually harmful? Want to share an example (doesn’t have to be personal)? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Illumination

Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.  -Paul (Ephesians 5:1)

Born in the dark
blindfolded
hands tied behind our backs

.

We stumble around
hurting ourselves
hurting each other
hesitating while navigating the pitfalls
and the pleasures
without sight or touch

.

Why are we shocked by the pain?
Why can’t we stifle the screams?

.

This can’t be right.

.

We know we’re in bondage
even while we claim to be free
We walk and speak
            well, stumble and squeak
and puff up our chests with fake freedom

.

We make attachments
tying our bound hands to hers
trying to quell confusion and pain

.

But the opposite occurs
            the confusion coalesces
            the pain progresses

.

so we tear off the attachment
tumbling teary-eyed toward anyone

.

No one answers

.

Then we hear the step of Another
who doesn’t stumble or scream
still through the blindfold
we sense more than see

.

Light

.

for the first time
            and we’re scared

.

Another knows something we don’t
Another reaches out with free hands
Another touches our bindings and blindfolds

.

But we jerk away
afraid of this foreign Freedom
            not founded on fortune or fate

.

Another comforts
Another holds our hand
willingly
without ropes or regulations
until real Freedom feels like a friend

.

Then Another cuts the bindings
our newly-freed hands lift the blindfold

.

We blink

.

Our pale eyes crease
our pupils release
Light surrounds us
Freedom fills us
Understanding inflates us
Love saturates us

.

Eyes adjusted
we see Reality beyond this Light
            and it is dark

.

Locate the Light
Another doesn’t hold it
now Light sourced in us
shines out of us

.

and we turn to free the next stumbling stranger

.

I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness. –Jesus (John 12:46)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. –Paul (Ephesians 5:8)

Want to share this image? Illumination: a poem of salvation (click to tweet)