I sat across the restaurant table from my precious sister-in-Christ rejoicing about her new-found life in Jesus while simultaneously grieving about the pain she had to work through. “Jane” had become a Christian just a few short months ago, and I counted it a privilege to have a front-row seat to her journey of faith and freedom. “You know,” she contemplated with tears in her eyes, “I know I’m forgiven. I can accept that for most of the things I did. I’m not proud of being a waitress at a topless bar, but I can get over that. But there’s this one image I can not get out of my mind. One night, my husband and I were wasted on the couch. My son stood at the top of the stairs yelling ‘Mom! Dad! Feed me!!! I’m starving!’ Tonya, I wouldn’t even feed my children. I did not care. There were so many days my kids were left to fend for themselves, making themselves ramen noodles while I fed my own drug addiction. I can not forgive myself.”
What do you say in a scenario like that? The darkness is evident—no right-thinking mother wants this to happen to her children. How do you get over this guilt? One doesn’t forget these types of things--that image will linger in her mind for years to come. But it doesn’t have to haunt her forever. Here are some ways to work through the sins we’ve committed that carry huge life consequences.
1.) Rejoice that you now see clearly.
Jane did not feel guilty when she actually WAS guilty. The very fact that she can now feel guilty is a sign that she can finally see the difference between right and wrong. Her conscience is no longer seared; she has moved from “dark” to “light”.
2.) Understand what controlled you then and now.
In Jane’s case, she was controlled by drugs. They overpowered her every decision. Now, she is empowered by the Holy Spirit. As she continues to walk in the Spirit, she will yield to a different Master who will teach her love, mercy, service, kindness, and self-control.
3.) Stop trying to forgive yourself.
The reason so many people have trouble forgiving themselves is because the Bible doesn’t tell us to. We are to accept God’s forgiveness that He extends to us, accept forgiveness from those we’ve wronged, and then extend that same mercy to others.
4.) Use guilt as your motivator.
Guilt is useful as a safeguard and indicator, as I discussed earlier. But once the damage is done, we can not repay what has been lost. We can’t “make-up” for sin. In Jane’s case, she doesn’t now need to feed her kids whatever they want whenever they want, buy them excessive toys to make up for her past neglect, or excuse any bad behavior now or in the future. She needs to use that past life as fuel for the next life, like Paul did. When someone carries out the desires of her flesh, she will neglect and abuse even those that she loves. How much more motivated then, should we be to carry out the commands of the life-giving Word of God? I told Jane to keep that image of her son on the stairs. Next time she wants to fall down in depression over past transgressions, she can use that image to remind her of how she really needs to be nourishing her children. “Your children will never be able to articulate their need for spiritual food like they can physical food. But when the soul is neglected, this is the type of desperation our kids feel. Feed them Jane. From here on out, teach them the Bible. Teach them about God. Teach them about Jesus’ forgiveness and freedom and that we no longer have to be slaves to the things of the world. Feed your kids the love and mercy that God has given you.”
I can happily say that Jane did and she does. As she would read the Bible to her kids, it would be the first time that she had read it for herself. Occasionally she’d email or call because a passage blew her mind, or a kid asked a question that she didn’t know the answer to. Jane’s questions about God and the Bible taught me so much, and challenged me to find good answers to complicated passages. She was reading and learning with fresh eyes and a curious spirit. She once felt the heavy weight of condemnation, but is now motivated to live a God-centered life where the “yoke is easy and the burdens are light.”