Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Guilt Factor

Okay, let’s see if I can work this out by typing it out. Bear in mind that I’m working on this halfway hung over, so I will either be quietly elegant, because there won’t be a lot of brain clutter, or I will make no sense at all. Wheeeeeeeeee!

Detractors of organized religion will always point to “the guilt factor” as why they don’t like it. Both Roomies Heckle and Jekyll grew up Catholic, went to Catholic schools, and both are lasped now, so I’ve heard “the guilt factor” mentioned a lot.

And I’ve been feeling a truckload of guilt lately. This week was another week from hell at the temp gig at the Unnamed Movie Studio, where I’m pulling 14 hour days and hating every single minute of it, but my Christian sensibilities and professional integrity prevents me from walking out on them.

So my two daily devotionals? Haven’t read them. Homeless Karaoke this past Wednesday? Didn’t go. Prayer time with God? Reduced to me talking to God on my morning drive time, and me saying the same things over and over again, “God, I’m so tired. I’m so stressed. I’m so tired of saying I’m tired and stressed.” Because I don’t have any other thoughts than that.

And God knows I’m tired and stressed. What kind of meaningful dialogue can you have when the other Deity already knows everything you’re gonna say? I’m talking to God because I know I’m supposed to, and I guess I’m hoping that there will be some sort of meaningful realization or breakthrough. This is where the lack of communication on His part really bugs. Because without His input, I’m just saying the same things over and over again, like a marathon hamster on the wheel. Does God really wanna hear that? He wants to hear about me, and what I’m doing, and I’m being honest. I really AM stressed, I really AM tired, I’m not lying about that. But I can’t help but feel that God must be tired of hearing it. Because I’m tired of saying it.

So yeah, I feel guilty. There’s this Guilt Monster inside of me that’s continually kicking my insides: You didn’t read your devotionals this morning! YOU’RE GOING TO HELL! You missed Homeless Karaoke! YOU’RE GOING TO HELL! You didn’t give thanks before wolfing down your lunch. YOU’RE GOING TO HELL! You’re thinking unChristian thoughts about how you’d like to drown your co-workers and boss in a vat of gasoline. YOU’RE GOING TO HELL!

And I don’t know where it comes from. It’s not how I was raised. I grew up going to church, but it was Presbyterian, so no thundering from the pulpit. My parents didn’t beat me if I missed Sunday school. Things were fairly laid back when it came to religion. Nobody forced anyone to do anything.

So where does this guilt come from? Why am I so hard on myself? There’s something bumping around there about grace and forgiveness, I think. I had a conversation with a guy a few months ago who recommended a book that boiled it down to a scale. One of the one end is Grace, on the other end is Truth. If you’re too far over on Grace’s side, you tend to engage in dishonest behavior, because you know you’re forgiven. If you’re too far over on Truth’s side, you don’t have a lot of compassion for yourself or other people.

And if I’m truly honest with myself, I have to say that I’m too much on Truth’s side, except it feels more like guilt than Truth. I’ve never been able to wrap my head around the concept of God’s grace. I’m not stellar at forgiving myself, and I crucify myself on a daily basis for the stupidest things. You didn’t ask how your co-worker’s weekend was. You didn’t smile at the security guard. You took a second cupcake from the Christmas basket. You mispronounced the word “banal.” I like to think that God forgives me, so I don’t have to. But dealing with this much internal bitch slapping is exhausting. And I wonder why it is that God doesn’t take some of this off me. Casting my metaphorical burdens at His feet? They’re still here. They don’t go away.

How do you teach someone to forgive themselves? You can’t. It’s some switch they have to flip on their own. And I suspect that someday, I’ll find it, though it’ll most likely be out of sheer exhaustion, where I won’t have the energy to kick myself around anymore.

But I always find that energy.

Man, what a depressing post. Okay, hang on, hang on, there’s gotta be something I can come up with. Oh, today at church, I sat in the back row with Native Chick and Giggly. T-Roller was sitting in front of us, so it was like a mini Katrina contingent. And I felt a bucketful of relief. I’m where I’m supposed to be, sitting with people I adore, in a place I want to be in. And one of the songs we were singing was “Your Grace Is Enough.”

Har de har har.


Midlife Virgin said...

Our inner critic is sometimes louder than God's voice, I think. Don't be so hard on yourself. Sometimes you have to remind God that you are stressed and tired and angry. Just let your self be and God will take care of it... even if you can't see it. Sending much love...

Allison said...

I think the inner critic is the price we pay for being highly productive geniuses. :)

And my mom would say you're thinking about this the wrong way. You can't possibly forgive yourself. Shift the focus to God's forgiveness. It is His grace that is enough, because ours certainly isn't.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome, Amy. Man, I can totally identify. Thank you for writing it out. I really like the Grace and Truth scale. Makes sense to me.

Have a Very Merry Christmas... and now I am going to critisize myself for knowing there are spelling errors and I don't have damn spell check!!

LA Thomas

Richard T said...

Did it ever strike you, Amy, that your anger and exhaution is God's way of tell you to stop putting yourself through the ringer?

I mean, after all: biologically there's a reason we feel phyisical pain: it's a warning that we're doing something that might have unpleasant consequences to our bodies,leading to loss of sensation, mobility or death. Right? So spritually, can it not be said that that lead in your stomach is the non-corporeal (like God, say) telling us to CUT IT OUT for the sake of our spiritual health? What else are you looking for that you would believe? An inter-office memo that says "Amy -- quit being so hard on yourself. I know you're going through a rough patch, but I help those that help themselves. Have a good Kwanza, God."?