Two years ago I taught at a community college in New Jersey. After class, on my way to the parking lot one afternoon, I walked past a bulletin board that asked the question:
What Do You Feel Guilty For?
There was a pad of Post-Its attached to the board along with a pen. Every few days the board was filled to the maximum w/scribbles about guilt. It was covered with confessions that most people would solemnly take to their graves. Anxiety gripped me when I walked past it. I never actually saw people sticking their guilts to the board but every few days it looked like an open confessional where professors, students, and staff stole precious moments when the hallways were empty to relinquish custody of the heaviest burdens plaguing them.
My personal list was excruciatingly long but I never wrote mine. Out of some deep-seated need for release, I wanted to but I didn't and the reasons vary. Why draw attention to things I had either buried for years or tried to convince myself I was forgiven of? Why be that vulnerable? Why lament over lost time?
As a Christian, I understand the concept of forgiveness. I grew up learning all about a Jesus who saves, sets free, delivers, cleans up, and makes new. Honestly, it was the most beautiful and exciting thing in the world to hear about... until the moment I realized my own personal need for saving, setting free, deliverance, cleaning up, and making new.
More often than most of us Christians would dare to admit, I stand at a particularly difficult intersection of my life and wonder what my God thinks of me. Looking down one path, I see a trail of errors, bad habits, mistakes, strongholds and disobedience that I have tried to forget, live past, and do better than for a long time. When I turn and look forward, I see a path littered with grace and forgiveness, new opportunities, trust... the list goes on and on.
I think that board made me so nervous because there are times - though I know what God did for me on the Cross - when I still carry the weight of my past indiscretions. There are times when I think of His love for me and I stop, shake my head in disbelief and whisper to the sky,
And while an unending awe at God's ability to love and forgive will never be wrong, the internal decision to disconnect from His ability to love and forgive ME is problematic.
Why NOT me?
And what was it? What was causing the disconnect? What was causing me not to believe God counted me worthy like He did everyone else? What was causing me to carry around guilts that I wanted to throw onto a random bulletin board in the hallway of a community college?
The parallels between that board and the Cross blew my mind when I stopped to think about it. Every few days the board was cleared of guilt and shame of passersby. It was wiped clean with a fresh pad of Post-Its displayed. The symbolism was striking.
When I think of Jesus heading up to Golgotha, holding the weight of the Cross on his bloody back, then being nailed to it, then it being erected... If I believe He took everything that was ugly and broken and messed up about me - became all of that, even though He was perfect - and eradicated it by sacrificing Himself up there high on a hill for all the world to see, what is my hold up? Why did that bulletin board scare me? If He was stabbed with pain and rejection, embarrassment and loneliness, yet, bled love and forgiveness, why am I holding onto all of the things He's long forgotten? With one all-encompassing act of love and regeneration He was saying that we have no reason to be ashamed anymore. All is forgiven. Move forward. Be well. Be better. Be whole. Be free.
Reflecting on that board has been a reminder to let go of what has been long forgotten by the One who purposed my life in the first place. Sometimes that is the most difficult thing to do. We're constantly reminded of who we used to be, bad decisions we've made, impossible situations we found ourselves in... Often, it's the people closest to us who keep reminding us and dangle guilt and shame over us like a cloud. Sometimes, it's just us doing it to ourselves.
Starting today, I have decided to relinquish custody of every ounce of guilt and shame I have carried through the years. I have decided to be well. I have decided to lighten my load because guilt is too large a burden and it is not mine to carry. Sometimes I'm giving up guilt moment to moment - in prayer, journaling, mentally talking to myself, reminding myself to breathe and move forward. It's 2016 and I am doing whatever it takes to be whole by acknowledging where I am broken and actively taking the steps to call the pieces of me back together.