[Published online by Catapult Magazine, February 2010: http://www.catapultmagazine.com/guilt/article/what-a-friend-we-have-in-guilt]
Guilt. It became my friend. The kind you know is not good for you to hang out with; the kind your mother would call a “bad apple.” A friend that, the more time you spend with her, becomes more adept at reminding you of your faults than loving you through your painful growth to become more like Christ.
Like Christ? But don’t you remember that time? You couldn’t have forgotten! scoffs Guilt. And I’m not talking about just that one time, but that long time of sinning. You were supposed to be “like Christ” then. That was a bust, huh?
I actually made a different friend first after my terrible fall. Contrite Spirit. Yea, weird thing to name a kid, but that was it. She was the one who convinced me to go back home where my Father was waiting for me. He was actually the one who had sent her to find me. Being with her was painful but not in a way that injures you. She just doesn’t let you off the hook. She knows what you need to hear and what will bring you to your knees.
I became buddies with Guilt later. Some people in my life thought I should get to know her better. Even though I was back on track with my Father, who nearly wrecked me with his devastating forgiveness, I kind of dumped Contrite and started hanging with Guilt, who at first seemed kind of like my former friend. Until those calls in the middle of the night when she was on some crazy How Could You Have Done THAT? rant. Those times left me tormented and ashamed all over again.
But I didn’t tell her to go away. Sometimes we’d part momentarily, and I’d enjoy hanging with Peace. She’s got great clothes. Those flow-y kind that make you imagine she would have been a real live hippie back in the ‘60s. I invited her over on occasion, like after church when I had been praising the Lord and feeling uplifted and spiritual. Or when I would be volunteering at the pregnancy center, being all selfless and not paying attention to my own life for a minute.
So what gives? Why didn’t I tell Guilt to get lost? Okay, she has her place but can get clingy if you let her. In fact, she may eventually convince you to believe that your Father’s forgiveness isn’t enough, that you need to keep suffering to somehow make up for what you’ve done, and to suffer adequately, you must keep her close. And that’s easy to do when there are constant reminders of your sin or there are people who don’t let you—or others—forget.
Oh, and Guilt and I have a mutual acquaintance. I introduced them…well, I was one of the many people who did. My friend Jesus met Guilt, although there was no reason for him to know her. Not only did they meet, but he allowed her to cling to him. In doing that, he took away any need for her to be my constant companion. But every time I allow her to wear out her welcome in my life, I am telling the friend who laid down his life for me that it wasn’t enough.