Faith, Grace, Life, Philosophy

Guilty

spooning by hermitsmoores flickr

When I was a child, one of my family’s favourite places for a weekend meal was the Flower Drum Chinese restaurant in Colombo.  The food was delicious, the jasmine tea was hot and plentiful, and the staff were gracious and efficient.

One day we sat around the table looking at the menu, and I absent-mindedly picked up my big soup spoon.  As I perused the menu, I dangled the spoon from my mouth, licked the smooth inside bowl of it and the flat outside surface, pretended to sip soup from it and licked its sides, and placed it back into its original position on the table as I closed the menu to signal my readiness to order.

The friendly server came along and took our orders. To our disappointment, our favourite crab-and-corn soup was not available. We decided to forgo the soup course – so the server efficiently gathered up the menus and the soup spoons.  She placed the menus in a pile in the reception area, and she put the spoons back in the clean-cutlery drawer.  I watched all of this industry open-mouthed; and my astonishment gave way to mortification as I watched that licked spoon being placed with the clean spoons for re-distribution…

Of course, my family saw the expression on my face and we all saw the funny side of it – my face alone, I’m told, was utterly hilarious – and we were pretty helpless with mirth for a while.  And then we were helpless with indecision because, I mean, what do you say??  There just seemed no remedy for it. I guess we were all healthy so hopefully nobody would’ve got sick from using the spoon; but I still felt rather guilty about that dirty little secret.

Another time during my childhood (back in Canada), on a trip to Ikea my sister and I spent some time in that favourite little germ-circus known as the ball pit.  We had (‘scuse the pun) a ball.  And when I got home, I discovered that I still had a ball – one had come home with me in my jacket pocket (how??!).  This realization gave me heart palpitations and cold sweats – that’s how guilty I felt.  As far as I was concerned, I had stolen that plastic ball.  I wasn’t sure if Ikea would phone my house first or just go to the police.  Or maybe they’d just bar me entry next time I wanted to go there for meatballs with my family.

As if my criminal past weren’t enough, I have experienced this kind of guilt more recently as well.

A few weeks ago I was at the physiotherapy clinic for some work on my shoulder.  When my appointment was over, I pulled my jacket from the hanger on the wall.  As I did so, I thought I’d dislodged a metal hook that had been hanging there with some pulley-ropes.  I searched the inner pockets and folds of my jackets and gave the whole thing a shake, because I could just picture the hook clanging out and making me appear to be some sort of kleptomaniac.  But my search came up empty, so I assumed that it had landed up somewhere on the floor.

I bid my physio goodbye once again and pulled the jacket over my arm, and as I walked away what should fall out of the sleeve with jangling resonance but that blasted hook.

And of course, I hadn’t taken the hook on purpose – but I felt kind of guilty anyway.

I thought about this funny phenomenon as I walked away from the clinic that afternoon.  What is it about the possibility of being perceived to be guilty that makes us actually feel guilty?  And what purpose does the feeling of guilt serve, anyway?

Well, I have this theory about guilt.  I think that it is, by and large, a wasted emotion.  I mean, does it motivate us to do better?  Or does it just make us wish we hadn’t been caught (or imagined to have been caught) doing something wrong?  Do we do better because of guilty feelings – or do we do worse?  My money’s on the latter.

And that may seem like a strange theory for a Christian to espouse, especially to those of you whose experience of religion has been that it is an instigator and perpetuator of guilt.

But here’s the thing:

My God is not a God of guilt-trips.

Jesus didn’t come and walk our earth to point the finger.  He didn’t waste time telling all the people what all of them were doing wrong. That’s not to say that he didn’t think that those wrong things were wrong things – and his call to follow him did require people to leave their old lives (and sins) behind.  But that was it.  He didn’t lay guilt trips on them and parade their past transgressions before those forgiven people.  He doesn’t do that to us, either.

We are changed through love, not through guilt.  We are motivated by hope, not by the despair of feeling like I’m so bad.

As it turns out, God redeems us. When we are called to be his we are refined into more precious things by his love, not bludgeoned by his censure. To him, we are golden – precious and beautiful and, through his grace and forgiveness, brand new.

So God isn’t a God of guilt.

He’s a God of gilt.

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

2 Corinthians 5:17

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Marriage, Relationships, Uncategorized

Miss Understood

Misunderstood

I can trace my origins back to a simple misunderstanding.

My parents (to be) met at a party.  It was the twenty-first birthday of a mutual friend (or friend-of-a-friend), and a young man – who would eventually become my father – asked a young lady to dance.  As they moved around the dance floor, they attempted conversation, but the music was loud – and so it was that my mother (the young lady), keeping herself at a modest distance from her dance partner, mistook what he was saying for a querulous demand to know why she was holding herself so primly apart from him.

What she heard was, “Don’t you trust yourself?”

To which she replied (in her usual witty and forthright manner),  “Of course I trust myself – it’s YOU I don’t trust!”

The young man blinked in confusion, and it took him some time – maybe until the end of the song (when the music quieted) – to regain the gumption to clarify himself:

“Actually, what I asked you was, ‘Did you make this dress yourself?’.”

Some time later, that same young couple became engaged.  My Dad had proposed without a ring, as he wanted them to choose one together, and so my Mum was waiting to be adorned with that special symbol of their commitment.  Christmas was coming, and with it the perfect opportunity for him to give  her the bling.

Unfortunately, nobody had read Dad the Memo.  Instead of a diamond, he gave her:

  • An umbrella, and;
  • A very nice pen

Fortunately, my Mum is the forgiving sort.  In due course, they designed a ring together and he bestowed it on her and all was well.  They’ve now been married for four and a half decades, and there have been plenty of funny misunderstandings (and opportunities for forgiveness), in the intervening years.

My folks do share some important similarities to one another.  Both are kind, both have great senses of humour (although they’ll laugh – and joke – about very different things), both are genuinely caring and compassionate, both are generous to a fault, and both share a faith in God and a determination to live out that faith in their everyday lives.

But in other ways, my parents are quite different.  For one thing, my Mum is a word person.  She’s a great writer and communicator, and she is very wise about matters of the heart and soul.  My Dad, while not exactly the opposite of that, is much more of a mathematician and scientist – brilliant when it comes to numbers, but not always as astute when it comes to the nuances of social behaviour (and, my Mum would argue, codes of dress).  Mum loves the idea of a relaxing holiday – going somewhere familiar, and having some down-time together; Dad, on the other hand, prefers his vacations to involve lots of activity and he enjoys discovering new places more than returning to old haunts.  But in spite of their differences, my parents have managed to make their marriage a strong and harmonious one. They have been through lean times and times of plenty.  They have loved and supported one another through job transfers and international moves, the raising of children, the loss of parents… the list goes on and on.  They have lived their lives together.

Now their children are married, too.  My sister and I have both married men who are, in ways, quite different from ourselves.  I, a logophile like my mother, am married to an engineer like my father.  I am chatty; he is a man of few words (more on that in my next post).  I’m big on emotion and can usually interpret the emotions of others (this is a necessary aid for my less-emotionally-aware hubby).  He has all the answers when it comes to matters of science, or at least he knows where to find them.

A. asked me a question the other day – something about oxygen in space – and I didn’t have a clue what the answer was.  I told him, “That’s the kind of question you can ask Daddy – he knows all about that kind of stuff.  But if you have any questions about words or feelings, I’m your girl.”  A. was very appreciative of this: he replied, “Uh, yeah.”   So perhaps he’s leaning more towards Westley’s communication style.

The thing is, we’re different.  We think differently, we process things differently, we express love differently.  Because of these differences, it can be easy to misunderstand one another.  And where there’s misunderstanding, there is opportunity for offense and hurt.  But there is also opportunity for forgiveness.  And if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching my parents in their relationship, and from hearing the story of how they met, it is that – as long as you have forgiveness and a sense of humour – sometimes great things can grow from little misunderstandings.

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Faith, Grace, Motherhood, Parenting

Grace

“The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

-CS Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

It had been one of those days.  Or weeks. Or months.  In fact, for as long as I could remember, A.’s behaviour had been driving me up the wall.  He was seven (nearly eight), and it seemed that for most of his life I had been battling his attention-seeking naughtiness, lip-jutting defiance, and mercurial mood-swings – add to that the nail-biting, thumb-sucking, and eye-rolling nervous habits that were slowly becoming more and more worrying, and  I was at my wit’s end.  Finally the end of the day had come, and with it the blessed relief of some kid-free time (much of which, it must be admitted, I would spend searching out ways of dealing with the aforementioned issues).

I flicked on the TV for some background noise as I pulled my laptop onto my knees and began to catch up on emails.  There was some sort of musical show on that I hadn’t seen before (in retrospect, it might have been ‘Glee’), and in it, a couple of teenagers were falling in love.  Such sweet, enthralled innocence as they declared their fledgling love.  Their enchantment with one another caught my eye, and I abandoned my online tasks as I watched the scene play out.

The young girl rested her hand on her new beau’s shoulder and gazed up into his smiling face; and I suddenly imagined this scene playing out in my own eldest son’s life as he fell in love for the first time. I was stricken with a thought: What if this was the first time he has EVER really felt loved and accepted UNCONDITIONALLY??!   It was with gut-wrenching clarity that I realized that my love for my son had hitherto been expressed with so many conditions as to hobble his very sense of worth.

This was a child I had loved from before he came into existence; one I had wanted, and prayed for and delighted in; one I would give my very life for.  Of course I loved my son unconditionally. This was the child who, when given a special snack at preschool, would insist on a portion of his helping being bundled up to take home to his little brother.  The child who deferred to the wants and needs of almost everyone else before expressing his own preference for anything.  The child who approached others with open arms and ready hugs, even before he had been properly introduced.  And yet this child of mine, who loved and forgave transgressions in others so readily and so completely, was suffering because I was not demonstrating that love and forgiveness to him.

I was spending so much time and energy trying to change what I saw as A.’s problematic behaviour that he could have been excused for imagining that I was oblivious to all the things he was doing right.  I was so focused on the negative that, in fact, I was becoming blind to the positive.

I made a decision right then – one I have returned to again and again (because I, too, am a work in progress) – that I was going to have to change my perspective.

I had to start focusing on what A. was doing well.  I needed to let A. know that I loved and accepted him unconditionally; he didn’t need to wait until he was perfect.  He didn’t need to worry about messing up, because there would always be forgiveness.  He didn’t need to worry about me missing all the good stuff by nit-picking over the little flaws I saw, because I was going to start pointing out how wonderful he was.  And I was going to try to stop seeing some of those flaws, too.  Because when we love each other, we need to be blind to some of one another’s failings.  We have to be prepared to extend grace.  I kind of already knew this, as a recipient of Grace, as a Christian – I knew that God never waited for me to be worthy to extend His love and mercy to me – and yet somehow I was unwittingly withholding that grace from one I hold dearer than life itself.

I didn’t make that decision because I wanted to see change in my son.  I made that decision because I needed to see a change in me.  But grace is grace – and grace changes everything.

My little boy has blossomed.  Yes, he still has some nervous habits and he still struggles with his feelings and he still makes bad choices sometimes.  He still conducts experiments that result in destruction and he still blows up with frustration when he gets overwhelmed and he still sometimes acts defiant… But he knows that he is loved.  He is so quick to apologize when he messes up, and he’s so sincere about that apology.  He is such a loving and cuddly kid, even at age nine when some of his friends won’t even hug their Mums in public.  I delight in him, and he knows it.  Sure, I sometimes yell – we laugh about it, because he knows that I’m a work in progress, too – and then he forgives me.  So now I don’t worry that he is thirsting for love and acceptance.

I’ve chosen grace, and grace changes everything.

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