I really struggle with guilt. Left to my own devices, I tend to feel guilty about everything - even things I haven't done but could imagine myself doing, or things that aren't my fault. In fact, as time has gone on, I have realized that this is the devil's most potent tool in bringing my spiritual growth to a standstill.
Probably the thing I'm feeling most guilty about lately is the fact that I haven't been spending enough time with God. A close second would be my wealth - all the things I have - especially when compared with the poverty of so many I rub shoulders with each day.
One of the problems with guilt is that it tends to drive me further away from God, and stop any dialogue between us. It is paralyzing. Ironically, it worsens the rift between myself and God even further, which gives me more to feel guilty about.
Recently, this vicious cycle resulted in about a month-long period of distance from God. During the Christmas season, all the things I had to do crowded out my time for prayer and study, and the resulting guilt made me feel infinitely far from God. And, though I felt badly about it, I couldn't get back into the habit of regular communication with him.
Then last Wednesday night, I couldn't sleep. The dogs woke me, then Jonah, then Ellie. I dozed a little, but kept waking up again.
Finally, at 3:00 AM, I got up and sat at the kitchen table with my Bible. I felt exhausted, full of remorse for my distance from God, angry that I couldn't be more self-disciplined. But I also felt a strong sense of God's presence, and I knew I had been kept from sleep for a reason.
Opening the Bible, I turned, for no particular reason, to Zechariah. I can't remember the last time I read this book, but this time it got my attention right away with its bizarre, surreal visions and images.
When I came to Zechariah 3, the words almost jumped off the page:
1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD , and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD , who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?"
3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."
Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you."
5 Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.
As I read the verses, I heard God's voice, rebuking Satan on my behalf. I felt the relief of being valuable enough to pull from the fire, to clean up, and dress in new, spotless, perfect clothes, the symbol of forgiveness.
I knew that while Joshua is a symbol of Jesus, he also represented me - someone who, despite her faults, was precious and loved. And as I read through the chapter, I recognized the promises of the Messiah, of Jesus, who did indeed complete his mission, making redemption and forgiveness ours.
As I went back to bed, and through the rest of the week, I was filled with awe and gratitude that God values me enough to get me out of my routine and deal directly with the spiritual struggle I was facing right then. Since then, the crippling guilt has not returned.
I do think that guilt serves a purpose: to point out sin and help us appreciate forgivenss. But I hope that this encounter will help me remember not to stay engulfed in it, like yesterday's outfit, but instead to step into the much more comfortable, newly-washed, and beautiful clothing of grace.