Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday, dear . . . me. Happy Birthday to me. Well, it’s that time of year again. Another few days and I’ll be one year older. I guess it’s inevitable that another birthday has rolled around, but it sure feels like they come a lot more often than I’d prefer.
I used to get so excited about my birthday. Weeks, even months before, I’d remind everyone of the special day that was coming up. Just in case they’d forgotten, I’d remind them that December 3rd was a very important day in the history of the world. Narcissistic, yes, but I couldn’t help it. I loved celebrating me.
Thanksgiving was a holiday I looked forward to almost as much as Christmas because celebrating Thanksgiving meant that my birthday was only a week or so away.
A much-anticipated ritual of turning another year older was partaking of the red velvet cake my mom made each year. Mind you, this was before red velvet cake was all the rage which makes us way cooler than anyone else. (Boy, I really am into myself today.)
This year, rather than giving out my usual present requests, I’m going to make a new request, a strange one you might think. I’m asking God to help me live a guilt-free life. Not too much to ask, right?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m saying, “God help me to not feel guilty when I eat the entire cake by myself or steal my husband’s hidden chocolate stash.” No, I’m not asking for a get-out-of-jail free card. It’s not that. I don’t want God’s permission to do things that are clearly wrong and against his laws.
Here’s what I am looking for though: relief, peace, a sense that I am loved beyond imagination.
You see, I am a person guilty of always feeling, well, guilty. Guilt is not just an emotion for me. It’s a state of being—one that’s impossible for me to shrug off. And it’s only taken me forty-four years to figure out that I need to let go of the guilt that hunts me down, haunts me daily, and preoccupies my every waking moment.
As I’ve been contemplating all of this, I’ve mentally noted what types of situations or circumstances leave me feeling shamefully guilty. Some might seem funny but most of these events are things I truly obsess over every single day:
Top Ten Things I Feel Guilty About.
10. I haven’t spent enough time communing with God lately.
9. I’ve eaten way too many pieces of chocolate in one day.
8. I’ve eaten more ice cream than I should have. (9 and 8 are kind of hooked together since I usually top my ice cream with chocolate chips.)
7. I’ve messed up as a parent.
6. I’ve messed up as a friend.
5. In general I’ve just messed up. (5-7 go hand in hand. Basically, when I feel I’ve let someone down, I feel guilty.)
4. I spent too much money on purse number 115 of my all-time-purse collection. (My husband would agree with this one.)
3. I spent too much money at Target. Unfortunately, this makes me feel guilty but also good. Shopping at Target is a blast.
2. I didn’t walk my dog enough this week. (This one is pretty over the top. I mean it’s not like the dog is keeping track of the number of times I walk him in a week.)
And the Number One reason I feel guilty:
1. I feel guilty about always feeling so guilty.
Crazy stuff, right? At one point when I shared my struggles with someone, I made the passing comment that, more often than not, I’m motivated by guilt rather than grace.
This problem of guilt has consumed me for far too long. Really, since I was a child. Back then the only place I felt safe from guilt was in church, but the moment we were headed home from the service, guilt took me captive in its tyrannical grip. I couldn’t shake it off no matter how hard I tried.
Oftentimes, I felt like God was up in heaven shaking his fist at me for screwing up for the 1000th time in a day. Guilt left me cowering in the corner, hiding from the God I was sure was disappointed in me.
But deep down inside there was this place that knew God didn’t want me to carry that great burden of guilt around with me every waking moment of every single day. I mean that was the whole point of sending Jesus, right? Why would God have given his beloved Son for us if all he really meant was for us to wallow in our guilt and sin—sin that Jesus already paid for. Jesus came to set us free. Remember when he said that?
Luke 8:31-32 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
Jesus came to set us free.
So what’s the cure for guilt? I think the answer is clear. It’s love. Pure and simple, love. A love that is higher than the heavens are above the earth. A love that is deep and wide—deeper than any guilt I feel, wider than my uncomprehending mind can wrap itself around. That’s what I want to be motivated by. Love, not guilt. Grace, not guilt.
I know I’m not quite there, but in this my 44th year on this planet, I’m asking God to set me free from guilt so that I can run in the path of his commands. Here’s to another year of learning to live in God’s grace. Happy Birthday to me!