The guilt starts early. I wake up and look at the clock, blinking the sleep from my eyes to make sure. The digital numbers proclaim 8:06. I've done it again. The alarm went off at 7:30, but I silenced it and fell back to sleep. Instead of spending that half hour with God, I spent it with my face smashed against the pillow.
Rolling out of bed, I stumble to the closet to find an outfit, then downstairs to eat a speedy breakfast. Having made no conscious decisions, I am sitting at the kitchen table, indulging in a plate of syrup-drenched waffles.
Oh, wait. The first bite is sweet. Warm butter oozes from the waffle. I was going to eat oatmeal this morning. The decadent waffle adopts the flavor of sawdust. So much for eating healthy.
On the forty-minute drive to work, a stream of songs from the radio lulls me into a stupor. Much later, I remember my intention to use this morning's commute for prayer, since several friends are in the midst of difficult trials. I groan and hit the steering wheel. The weight of guilt gets heavier.
So it continues. Good intentions melt like chocolate in a hot car. A day of purposeful living turns into one of laziness and apathy. By the end of the day, I'm staggering under the weight of accumulated guilt. Like Paul in Romans 7:18, "I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." With minimal resistance, I yield to the surrounding temptations and choose to indulge my flesh. Instead of serving God and others, I serve myself. It's easy. It requires no effort. Selfishness comes naturally. Guilt follows at its heels, falling on me with the weight of a thousand bricks.
This type of guilt disguises itself as humility. Shouldn't I beat myself up for skipping quiet time? It seems right to feel guilty.
The problem with accepting such guilt is that it allows me to continue the self-deprecating thoughts. I'm a failure, a loser, and a lousy Christian. I shouldn't bother trying again tomorrow or pausing at this moment to check in with Jesus. I'll only disappoint Him again. How can He put up with someone who professes to know Him but forgets to spend any time with Him?
Sometimes I feel like God can cover the "big" sins but not the "little" sins. Why can a person fall on her knees to receive healing and forgiveness for a sexual sin, but she can't accept the same grace for surfing the internet during her prayer time? Perhaps because the little mistakes—the daily ones—seem "easy" to avoid. I should be able to get up and read the Bible every morning. I should remember to pray for my friend who has cancer. If I can't even do these things, well, I'm a failure at life.
That's right. On my own, I am a failure at life. I can't remember to seek God or even desire to seek Him without the work of the Holy Spirit. In life's darkest hours, I realize that and depend on Him for the strength to do the simplest tasks. When life is numbed by routine, I forget my weakness and try to use willpower to serve God. But it doesn't work. Because I can't measure up, the weight of guilt comes crashing down instead. I end up believing end up believing that God's grace is not available every day: only on special occasions.
The language of the New Testament confirms that God does not want me to be trapped in an endless cycle of guilt like a hamster on a wheel. Paul writes that "the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). He tells the Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). It's clear that Jesus came to set His people free from sin and its resulting guilt.
According to Paul, the secret of evading the magnetic pull of life under the law is to live consciously in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit does not mean complete avoidance of temptation and sin. In the world, I will be tempted and make mistakes. These facts are depressing, but there is better news. Christ's sacrifice is complete. He has paid for every sin and for every mistake—past, present, and future. When I confess sin, He forgives it. Just as a musician stops at the moment he plays a wrong note and goes back to get it right, so I must stop at the moment of self-indulgence and settle the matter with God. Yes, it's disappointing to fail. I'll accept the natural consequences. But I won't shoulder a single brick of guilt. God says that confession results in forgiveness, and forgiveness means freedom from guilt.
It's the twilight of a long day, and the drive home after Wednesday night Bible study provides time to think. At the study, I felt led to share something. Because of fear or laziness, I didn't say it. As the sunset's rosy fingers splay across the western sky, a familiar temptation approaches and I can almost feel the weight of guilt. Something prompts me to stop, consider, and remember. I take a reluctant moment to pray, admitting to God that I didn't obey and asking for His help when another opportunity comes.
I take a deep breath. Freedom. Finally, I'm weightless.