guilt v. remorse and other real talk

I can’t sleep, but I refuse to believe it’s because of the coffee I consumed after 6pm. I’m not that old, right?

Instead it’s probably because something is rattling around in my soul and needs to come out.

Recently God has been convicting me to be a little bit more vulnerable. I wouldn’t say I’m a closed off person, but I’m not exactly an open book either, especially after having so many people go in and out of my life while I was in Germany. It just gets exhausting opening yourself up after awhile. (You military families can relate.) While I was at Southwind Wyldlife camp a couple weeks ago, I started feeling sorry for myself as I was surrounded by so many people yet I felt lonely, and God kept pestering me to be more open so that He could become an even bigger Savior, and I could have some actual real friends who knew me. I ignored Him, naturally, but unfortunately He got me again- I just read Henri Nouwen’s words in In the Name of Jesus about how Christian leadership is not about pretending to have it all together (if we are honest, NONE of us fit in that category so really all of us are just pretending) but about showing others how Jesus is walking with you in the midst of your brokenness.

Something I tend to fall into a lot- the biggest “thorn in my side” that I carry- the lie that I am constantly tempted to believe- is that I’m not good enough. I could go into all manner of reasons why, but I’ve already done that in counseling and you don’t need to hear the gory details. The point is that guilt eats at me like you wouldn’t believe, it even caused me to spiral into a deep depression in college, where Jesus thankfully and mercifully met me, but even now I forget. Even now I am constantly in a battle in my mind where I have to preach the gospel to myself every day, otherwise I fall into the trap again, into an endless cycle of guilt and shame, and it takes a long time for Jesus to dig me out of it, and usually some relationships are ruined in the process and habitual sins creep back in.

Recently since being back from Germany I’ve been in a couple of situations where I just messed up. I was tested, and I messed up big time, and I hurt some people. I could easily blame it on readjusting, or being tired, or sick, or whatever…I was truly so busy when I arrived that I wasn’t listening to God, practicing solitude, or paying attention to how I was doing, or treating others. But in all honesty (we’re being vulnerable here) I know it’s really the sin deep inside me, just revealed now on the surface because of all the stress I’ve been under. I’ve been selfish and unloving and distant and a complete jerkwad, basically, because I wanted to. Because I wanted what I wanted and was willing to run over people to get it. I was on the throne. Serve me. Love me. Give this to me. This is what I am expecting. Blah blah blah.

As I was getting real with some people in my prayer group tonight at church, one of them put it like this: I was “clotheslined” by my own self-centeredness. You know that opening scene in the movie Ghost Ship where this line snaps and cuts all the people dancing on board in half instantly (you’re welcome for that mental image)? That’s what I feel like happened to me. Here is where the battle gets bloody…right in between guilt and remorse.

When I screw up, because of that inner struggle with not feeling good enough, if I don’t immediately give it to Jesus, I tend to beat myself up big time. I call myself all sorts of names, and I get really down on myself. If I’m not careful, depression rears its ugly head again and I become even more distant from people. Guilt is good only if it leads to true remorse.

I’ve been doing a little reading, and a lot of praying, and a lot of listening to God in the quiet in the last few days (finally) and realized there is actually a huge difference between guilt and remorse. Huh. If you’re feeling guilty, you’re essentially just feeling bad because you were bad. “I should’ve _______ but I ________, I’m such a bad person.” But if you feel remorse, you are more focused on how your actions hurt the other person. Guilt brings about zero change. Guilt is selfish. It’s me-focused. All about how I feel, I-I-I-I. It’s surfacy and behavior-focused. Remorse is focused on the other person and never wanting to hurt them again. It’s about changing. It’s about letting Jesus change your HEART, not just your behavior. Where you become a servant, because you are no longer looking for identity and affirmation in another person, you are free to love. You forgive yourself, because Jesus died for your forgiveness. That’s remorse.

They say that returning missionaries struggle with wanting others to serve them. They want to be noticed, appreciated, listened to, but usually the opposite of what they’re expecting happens, and so they get angry. You attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who did not come to be served but to serve. EVEN WHEN YOU’RE COMING BACK FROM ANOTHER COUNTRY. People aren’t going to call you to hang out, you have to call them. People are going to forget you live here, you need to forgive them and get over it. It’s not about you, it’s about serving others and it always is, but you can’t do that without a focus on Christ and by being filled with His love first. My focus has definitely veered off of Jesus and onto myself, onto my desire for affirmation from others to tell me I’m good enough. In the topsy-turvy transition and exhaustion and grief of the last several months, I’ve forgotten the cross, I’ve forgotten the work is already done for me, I’ve forgotten the freedom that comes with knowing that Jesus has covered for me and it’s finished. Period. I’ve forgotten that it’s not all about me, that the world does not exist for my benefit, and I’ve forgotten that it’s okay to not be okay. I often thank God for my experience of depression in college because if I hadn’t gotten real with God, we wouldn’t have had a real relationship. So I’m getting real, with Him and with the people that matter the most to me, remembering that, as another good friend reminded me in a recent “getting real” conversation, the two most important things when it comes down to it are really Love and Truth.

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“I believe you and I are in far greater spiritual danger than any of our brothers and sisters in Iraq, in Iran, and in other parts of the world where the cost of following Jesus might end in your physical death or in the torture of your own life or those you know and love. There is no great angst coming in to worship this morning. There is no, “Please, God, encourage my spirit. Please, God, protect us. Please, God, move.” No, it’s just comfort and a cushy chair and, “Give me a good coffee. Man, it’s a little cold in here.” It’s dangerous. It can just be an add-on. My point is this. Whether or not Christianity sits at the center of a culture, has been pushed to the margins, or is illegal, the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be stopped.”

-Matt Chandler