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H and I get together about once a week to chat.
Jesus said that when you leave everything for the Kingdom, you receive more than you left in the Kingdom. H is one of a few women who’s sort of filled the mom-role for me here. (My mom is awesome for advice on improving as a musician, gardening, food-prep, lots of very practical tasks, but when it comes to worldview and relationships, I have to talk to someone who read their Bible that morning.)
We have tea, talk over life. Usually at her house, sometimes at a bookstore coffee shop. There’s some other overlap – I watch munchkins for two hours one midweek morning, and three of them are her granddaughters. We’re in the choir together. But this is the time when nothing else is pulling our attention, and I can pull out the drawer of everything weighing on me right now. H listens, and offers practical advice, based on years of teaching, raising children, being married, and leaning hard on God through all of it.
One of my favorite pictures is when she gathers all three of her kids (the middle one is my age, so this is years back) close and says, “Okay everybody, we’re going to stop for a minute and pray that God will give mommy more patience.” Love it. It never entered my mind to pray FOR my parents when I was a kid. Give thanks for them, certainly, but the idea that God could help my parents handle things that they couldn’t handle without Him – mindblowing.
So, this week we’re talking over about seven different things at once, and somewhere in there comes the concept that one of our marriage-mentors believes Rick and I keep having the same issue because of some unconfessed sin between us.
H knows me. She hears me out about my mom and my sisters, my frustrations, my goals, my marriage, my confusion about what I’m supposed to be doing in all this, and she’s been doing it longer than I’ve been married. So she listens to my bafflement, because I can’t think of anything I’ve been keeping from Rick, and I know Rick isn’t keeping anything from me (because he can conceal important information from the person who needs it for maybe all of ten hours). She was calm, “No, you’d know if you had some unconfessed sin.”
And then she reminded me of something – I do guilt. It’s a pervasive part of how I understand my place in the world. I am guilty. Not in a logical sense. It’s, “I am guilty,” in the same sense that, “I am female,” in my mind. It was a major part of my growing-up; I didn’t understand that my parents had problems, I thought that my parents were wonderful and *I* caused the problems. If I could just be a good kid, they wouldn’t have these issues.
This is something I have to work through, and get past. Same way that H has to work through being emotionally demonstrative. She didn’t grow up with it, her husband did, and it was a long time before she could be comfortable with hugs.
The thing is, this dovetails with what this marriage mentor is seeing. It doesn’t have the same root cause, but a lingering, pervasive sense of guilt is usually the result of some hidden sin. And it can easily produce the things that he’s seeing and hearing in our marriage.
I haven’t actually been doing anything wrong. I don’t have to DO anything to be female, I just am. It’s similar with guilt. I don’t have to DO anything to be guilty, but it’s very easy for me to accept that I’ve done something wrong and it’s my job to figure out what it is.
This was one of the hardest parts about Christianity for me, by the way. Christianity isn’t about guilt. You have godly sorrow over doing something ungodly. Guilt is like a brand, or a bad smell hanging around you that you can’t get rid of. You sorrowfully bring to God what you’ve done that’s ungodly, and He considers a broken heart a worthy offering. He lifts you up at the right time, and you’re free, and you have joy again. I’ve experienced this so many times.
For H, demonstrations are separate from love, and she has to work to link them. After several decades, she’s pretty good at it now, though she still isn’t very emotional. (I am TOO emotional. When I learned that H never cries in front of her husband, because she doesn’t want to upset him, I took that to heart as swiftly as I did learning that J never denies her husband sex. Made it my goal to never cry in Rick’s presence. This was fairly exasperating for him.)
For me, guilt is separate from action. I can ACT guilty, the way I can act more feminine, or I can try to ignore it and distract myself, the way I can dress frumpily and swear like a sailor*. The best remedy for this I’ve found, so far, is to read gobs of Scripture. Big, big chunks. Like, let’s knock out the book of Acts this afternoon.
*Okay, meaning no disrespect to your personal definition of femininity. Culturally, my sisters and I grew up with the ideas that women are to be lovely, well-read, kind, and above all, gracious.
Because I’m not fighting an idea, a statement. I’m fighting the sense of who I am. That’s not something that gets answered in a one-time wilderness experience, not for me, anyway. I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods. In the woods is where I go to meet with God and haul out the pieces of myself that are sunk in the landscape like truck carcasses in a redneck lawn. It’s where I go BECAUSE of who I am, not to find who I am.
I’m one who needs God. I’m one who God loves.
I read Scripture in big pieces because I have big pieces of guilt culture. Some Christians have to fight the sense that they’re the wrong gender. Some have to fight the sense that they’re married to the wrong person. I have to fight the sense that I’m guilty.
Let all tears turn to gold
And all the hell I've raised
Lord, let it fade away
As Your glories unfold
Give me a part to play
Grant me another day....