Points to Ponder: What to do with Anticipatory Guilt?
Points to Ponder
What to do with Anticipatory Guilt?
It was a beautiful Saturday, late afternoon. Our six-year-old was enjoying the play equipment at the Burger King. I was sitting with my iced tea, watching her and appreciating the warm sun and blue skies. I was also hearing my practical little internal voice reminding me that the lawn was overdue for mowing. I'd look over at Joanna having fun, look at my watch, and calculate in my head how many hours of sunshine remained. I don't mow on Sundays. There was a chance of rain Monday. This particular Saturday was perfect mowing weather. I needed four hours to get it done. We were still at Burger King at 4pm. Sunset was drawing closer.
This was time with Joanna. I decided to stay put and give as much time as she wanted. The lawn would have to wait.
Just then, the restaurant audio system began playing Harry Chapin's "Cat's in the Cradle." I mumbled to myself, "I hate that song." It's about a dad who's too busy for his little boy. The father always tells the boy he's too busy for him. The boy's refrain in the song is, "That's okay . . . I'm going to be like you, Dad; I'm going to be just like you." At the end of the song, the child is a man. The now older father wants time with his son and, sure enough, the boy had become just like his dad; too busy to spend time with him. Dad laments, "My boy was just like me..."
I've been very self-conscious about being too busy for my girls. Chapin's song scares me with anticipatory guilt. That's a new term - I just made it up. I sometimes am filled with it. I hear a song or see a program in which someone is playing a role, which I currently live (dad, husband, son, pastor, leader, etc). In these others I see the potential path I could wind up running. And if I've found myself doing "that," I would be crushed with guilt for failing to achieve the higher standard.
So there I am at Burger King, I see my mowing-time window rapidly closing. But then, from a broader perspective so is my daughter's childhood. I can mow later - next week. But I can't get this particular day in our lives back. So I decided to give it to her and let come what may.
It was right after I made that decision that Chapin's song came on. I cringe at the words. I vicariously live in the guilt and regret the song conveys. But, my child was not the boy in that song. And I am not, at least on that particular day, like that dad. It occurred to me that it's so easy to beat ourselves up over things both real and imagined. Particularly the imagined ones. Yet, it is true that there are times when we are actually doing all right - perhaps even very well.
We so easily resort to imagining the anger of God toward us. Could you make a list of things you've messed up, or things you need to do better, but haven't? Sometimes our quick and easy consolation is, "Well, nobody's perfect."
But, don't you think God smiles on you, too? Yes, you are "not perfect"; but you are also not all bad all the time. And God's love is not a merit-based thing that you earn. Scripture calls His love mercy, which means steadfast love. Hear the psalmist's heart as he struggles in the valley of despair.
"But you, O God the Lord, deal with me for Your name's sake; because Your mercy is good, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me" (Psalm 109:21-22).
The context in this imprecatory Psalm is David's complaint against an overwhelming enemy. He petitions God for relief and cries for vindication. How often are you your own enemy because you beat yourself up for not making the high standard? There is a rightful and necessary time and place for confession and repentance. But some of the anticipatory guilt we bring onto ourselves is based on past experiences that no longer apply now. And sometimes, it's just a self-deceptive form of idolatry. This pursuit of perfection is not about pleasing the Lord; it's about lifting up your own image in your own eyes. "I'm not really good enough until I decide I am good."
Scripture calls David a man after God's own heart (that's pretty good); yet he hands himself over to the One whose eye sees what is true: "Deal with me for Your name's sake..." Yes, that's the gold standard. And as for his shortcomings and failures, "Your mercy is good, deliver me."
The Apostle Paul dealt with accusations from without and from within (since he has referred to himself as "chief of sinners"), yet he elevated no man, not even himself, to the level of judge.
"...it is required in stewards that one be found faithful. But with me, it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself ... He who judges me is the Lord" (I Corinthians 4:2-4).
Go to the Lord and trust His mercy (steadfast love). No one knows you better than the Lord.
Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring, MD (1/4 mile east of Clear Spring on Rt. 40). Listen to Pastor Dennis on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs, at 10:45am and 7:50pm, both days); and every Sunday from 7:30-7:45am on "Consider This". www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com