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.



Donald Miller said it best: “The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: life is a story about me.”

In the last few weeks I have been thinking a lot about what it means to respect others. Somebody recently accused me to being disrespectful. First of all, this made me super defensive because generally I don’t go around trying to disrespect people, so I did what every disrespectful person does- I made some excuses and started throwing darts, as if I was trying to prove that I was still a good person. Hello, news flash, I am not good (read: Mark 10:18). Secondly, my entire life I’ve struggled with boundaries- saying no to others, letting them say no to me, etc. Respect is a sore subject because I’m so, so tired of not being good at it. Do you ever have one thing that you struggle with that you try SO hard to be better at that when people criticize it you want to scream “Do you even KNOW how much blood, sweat, prayers, and tears have gone into getting better at that?!” I want to give myself credit and say, well, at least I’m not like I used to be. Unfortunately that only works if you want to stay where you are and continue to hurt other people.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that conflict with others is God’s way of trying to get us out of where we are. If you have a conflict even if you are convinced you are right, you better pay attention because God is probably trying to point out something in you that makes it hard for you to be who he wants you to be. Regardless of whether the conflict is even ever solved, you have got to look at the log in your own eye and quit worrying so much about the speck in the other person’s. Take criticism seriously.

I started thinking of people that I respect, or people I feel show me a lot of respect and what they do that makes me think of them that way. Here are some:

They listen well.
They give me space when I need it.
They pray for me.
They don’t offer advice unless I ask for it.
They encourage me in areas they know I struggle in.
They pay attention to what I say is not okay for them to do and they stop doing it.
They follow through with what they said they’d do.
They let me do what I want even if they disagree.
They express gratitude for me whether I do things for them or not.
They put themselves in my shoes and try to see things from my perspective.
They put my needs before their own, time and time again.
They consider me worth a lot just because I’m me.

Then I thought about what the Bible says about respect, and it turns out the best verse ever on this topic is a verse that my friend Dale who does ministry in England would talk about all the time…Genesis 1:27:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

When people talk about earning respect, I think of this verse, and how it doesn’t say you earn respect it says that we should automatically respect people because they’re made in the image of God. I read an awesome book called Love Without Agenda once, and it focused a lot on this verse and what it means to be made in the image of God. And how that in and of itself makes us valuable. Not what we do and whether or not it’s wrong or stupid, whether we agree with someone, or are nice to them, or thank them for what they did.

I’ve deeply wounded people because I’ve disrespected them. I want to believe I’m getting better, but I also want to believe that God isn’t leaving me at a place of mediocrity and though it wounds me and humbles me to admit, I need help. I need help seeing people through his eyes and treating every person as if they were Jesus’ favorite, because, guess what, they are. Can you imagine how the world would change if we really saw each other that way every time we talked to them? Better yet, every time we looked at them or even thought about them? It’s actually really hard to do that, but that’s why Jesus doesn’t leave us the way we are and intervenes when he needs to.

I too am a (wo)man.

Sometimes I feel like I am not an open enough person. Some of you will scoff at that, but sometimes I really feel like it. The reason being is because maybe if I were more open about the ways I am screwed up, people wouldn’t seem to get this weirdo idea that I’m perfect. But, the truth is, I relate way too much to Peter in Acts 10, when Cornelius falls at his feet in worship and Peter is forced to pull him up and say “Stand up; I too am a man.”

When you’re a missionary, or even a youth minister, it seems as if that label is synonymous with “perfect.” I can’t tell you how many times people have apologized for cursing around me, or making an off-color joke, as if I am the Cuss Word Police and they are about to be read their rights and lead away to the prison I am apparently collecting people for.

I feel I sometimes have missed out on being a listening ear to brokenness because of peoples’ fear of being lead away to that imaginary jail. I am thankful in part for their feelings of conviction, because conviction is from God and brings you towards him, but shame is not, and it takes you away from Him. It makes you hide. Shame says that you aren’t worth being loved. That you in and of yourself are worthless because of what you’ve done. So many people are walking around under that burden, unable to come to Jesus with it, much less other people. I hate when people don’t feel like they can come to me because 1. I am a HUGE sinner and no better than that and 2. All over the gospels Jesus put himself directly in the path of people burdened with shame so that He could love them and tell them how much they were worth. He put himself on the cross for that same reason. What will it take for us to believe Him? He spent his life and death PROVING IT.

There are so many times when I admit I have done the same. I, too, have made many idols. I wanted love so badly that I looked for it from other people. I spit in the face of my Creator. I found counterfeit loves, and they never loved me back; I was never satisfied. I could never seem to get what I wanted. Out of desperation I went to Jesus and laid it all out on the table for once. All my mess. But he didn’t run. If you run away from Jesus, in Romans 1 Paul doesn’t spare strong language to tell us where that path leads.

God INVENTED love. He created us FOR him. I imagine when Peter was pulling Cornelius up he was thinking, “Man, if you only knew. If you only knew how badly I will fail to live up to your expectations. Don’t go down that road, bro.” I bet he knew from experience, too. And I bet he also knew Love, the kind of love we were created for. And he wanted that for Cornelius. And I want that for us.

Reasons why having a dog is awesome

  1. You automatically get way more exercise.
  2. You are outside a lot more.
  3. They love to snuggle.
  4. Someone is there to greet you when you get home.
  5. They make you laugh.
  6. Germans are much more friendly and even stop to talk to you about your dog. Bonus points when they are good looking German men.
  7. They follow you everywhere, even into the bathroom (I think this is adorable).
  8. Talking to yourself is no longer weird, you are just talking to your dog.
  9. It makes you less selfish, i.e., “I don’t feel like playing with you, I want to be on Facebook.”
  10. You make strangers smile.

This video makes me cry.

Blind Dog Living in a Trash Pile Gets the Most Beautiful Rescue – The End is Amazing from iluvanimals on GodTube.

And yes, I love dogs. But there’s a deeper reason why this makes me cry. It’s because I love teenagers. Let me explain.

This dog has everything in common with the military teenagers I see every day. For example, when the rescuers first approached the dog, she got angry and defensive, trying to look intimidating, baring her teeth, because she was scared. She didn’t have any reason to trust anyone, because her previous owners had abandoned her. She was sick and dirty and lost and trapped. On top of that, she was blind and didn’t know what was real and what was true. She had to smell the strangers in order to know if they were okay. She was so terrified, and yet as the rescuers started showing her affection by petting it her you can see that her defensive exterior was softening. As they took her home and shaved her flea-infested fur and gently gave her a bath, you could see her slowly coming alive again. The extra efforts of the rescuers in taking her to the vet gave her vision back in one eye, allowing her to see. She could play and jump around and be free again. You could see her wagging her tail, licking those who had rescued her, able to finally trust them.

The more time I spend at this high school, the more conversations I have with teenagers, the more I see on Facebook and Twitter, the more I realize all the brokenness that’s here. I’m hearing about and seeing more physical and verbal fights. These kids are angry, defensive, untrusting, lost, and feeling trapped in some awful situations. At first glance all you see is the anger, all you see is them baring their teeth. Some might be tempted to write them off as just “angry teenagers” but each of them has a story. And if you take the time (sometimes years) to get to know them, you’ll get to hear that story, and you’ll wonder why they haven’t gone completely out of their minds. Seriously, the lives some of them live has been so full of heartache, physical and verbal abuse, deployments, abandonment, loss, and neglect that some of you would be shocked that they’re still functioning.

That’s why when I see them bare their teeth at one another, and sometimes even to me, I give them some grace, because I would do the same if I were them. I wouldn’t trust me. I’d just assume I was another adult trying to hurt them, or another hurt waiting to happen. So the next time you’re tempted to write them off as angry, badmouthed, mean teenagers, get to know them. There’s a reason they’re that way. There’s a reason I believe in listening to their story, because you can break up fights, but fights are only a symptom of the brokenness inside.

Jesus spent His life like this rescue team, finding people huddling in corners, broken and abused and rejected by everyone, and He slowly and lovingly brought them back to life. They didn’t scare him away. He knew they were hurting. That’s how I want to spend my life, too. Bringing these broken kids to the feet of Jesus, one by one, where He will wash their feet, their lives, and their souls.