I’m writing this on my lunch hour, the phone timer set so my imaginary demons won’t report to the world that I’m spending work time on personal business. Because I feel such guilt over walking out the door at 4 or when I spend too long in the break room and my heart is always forever pushing back shards of shame. It’s my former government employee and youth director mentality I’ve never been able to get over, punctual and ethical in all things. Do more, exceed expectations, never lie and always proofread. But guilt is a wrecking ball, and after so many years it chips away at an otherwise stalwart heart.
God has given me an amazing gift of perseverance. I’ve faced near-death and cancer and divorce and heartbreak and turmoil and yet somehow my internal clock still beats incredibly strong, and my default sensors are always half-full, and I tend to always get back up and start whistling. But the devil’s found this loophole, you see. An enormous guilt that sweeps over me like a sulfur wind. Because God expects me to do certain things in His image and I’ve gone off and failed him. And Jesus died for my sins and I can’t manage to carry out the stupid trash or concentrate on a managed care contract. Seriously, what good am I.
So here goes the rampage of emptiness that fills my heart – a guilt that starts like a small fire I can so totally control. But let’s be honest: we all know fire jumps protective lines and travels where it should not and thus I allow guilt to creep into my smile and my laugh and my brain and all the various crevices of me. And what remains is a hollowed-out version.
Oh, precious children whom I love. There are moments I want to hold you so tight you might suffocate and I sit cross-legged in your rooms and watch how you contort your lips like a fish and my whole body is full of you. I draw little hearts alongside of you on crisp white paper and make up silly songs and for fifteen glorious minutes I build castles out of magnatiles with the pointy ceilings that click together just so. And I hold your hands on our long family walks so we can discuss wildflowers and beetles but then like a flash I simply want to get off the floor and tell you to find your own peace and quit fighting and watch a show because can’t you see I need a minute? Can’t you see I need to sit alone on this front porch and see if he’s texted or if updates have arrived because I have to awkwardly navigate the real world with a broken heart? I need to be free of you for a little while.
And these beautiful ones say so softly “Put the phone down momma. Why don’t you ever play with us anymore?” Because one moment I’m hot and another I’m cold. And my entire life’s fortune is in front of me blinking and the guilt of knowing this ravages a hole into my heart.
Oh, God whom I gave my life years ago. My weak, sagging life has always been unequivocally yours, from the moment I gave it to you in that small chapel with dirty stone floors. My servant-hood has never varied, and you know this. And yet I do not seize you. I do not throw myself in worship and I am not an example as I wish to be. You know me. I so love the piercing shrill of a curse word and I like to sip on sparkling champagne on a summer night too often and I’d rather read fiction than Colossians and I don’t want to give up things and not do things and the Bible is sometimes just a wee bit more boring than I’d like. You know I want to eat broccoli and yet sometimes I have a hangover and I sulk on the garden floor half-heartedly pulling weeds and visit with you behind clenched teeth. I need to be free of my suffocating expectations. Can’t you just let me feel happiness for once and not rip it out from underneath me?
Oh, relationships that end. Come on, now. I have blue eyes and I’m funny and bubbly and supportive and smart. I wear a slinky dress one day and cowboy boots the next. Isn’t this something that’s desirable to the hearts of man? And yet when things don’t work out for good solid reasons that are mature and understandable I sulk and stomp because why wouldn’t men want me despite the crushing odds? Can’t we all just walk through life in a blissful state of romance and turn the truck around and you show up on doorsteps with bundles of flowers? Is this really too much to ask? I am so excellent with being alone, but lonely is another issue entirely. I recoil and spin in all directions and have no willpower. And because I’m dramatic I then tear up and cast side glances to God and wander around my home and my town and the aisles of Whole Foods and I feel all random and tied up in knots. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I should have done more. Maybe it’s me that is the reason for the leaving. The guilt in reaching out too much and playing my hand and being too open with my emotions fills me with dread. Damn guilt, it crept in again through an open portal.
There are times I am not a writer and not a lawyer and not a mother and not a lover and I’m just a flat-out mess as real life walks over me like a homeless bum, desperate and lacking. There are days I want to lay flat on my back and just stare at the ceiling for hours upon end and hope the day passes to another sun and another moon and another season and another everything. And yet we are to use the time given to us and delight in the toil and trust that God will forever be faithful, so guilt creeps upon my eyeglasses and taps though the glass into my one working eyeball. “Hello in there? You realize how lucky you’ve got it, woman?” And I rise again, crawling to sit and half-rising off the bed to sore feet and a bruised heart and I half-ass my way through another day, another life, another dinner, another weekend.
But slowly a hint of a smile returns. And quietly a voice starts to hum from inside, where the spirit lives. It’s barely audible, the prayer that forms. But it’s there, like an imprint God has sewn into the fabric:
Enough. I have done enough and loved hard enough and God is enough and therefore I release you, stupid ugly guilt that has crawled through my veins and is tearing at my spirit. I will walk down the hallway after eating this protein bar for lunch toward the restroom, since the timer is about to go off. I will go to a meeting. I will respond to emails with thoughtfulness and I will refrain from making bad decisions and will not reach back to the past. I will take deep breaths and drink more water. I will hug my children today when I see them. But if I don’t? If I sulk for a few more days and still do stupid things and drink a soda and tell my children to watch another show and text the dude? That does not define me. That does not make my life less worthy. And it certainly has nothing to do with how much God delights in me, and desires me, and loves me. Oh, God, let me refocus my life not for me, but to delight again in you. To find peace in a love that is calm and replenishing. That is enough. My dear Father, that has always been enough.
Now, it’s back to work. There are contracts a-waitin, and they ain’t gonna write themselves.