Part 4 (with links to parts 12-3)
Forgiveness and justification were life-giving words to me. But the forgotten twins of guilt and shame frequently haunted me on my journey. Through the wounds that I have experienced and suffered some stand out boldly to me in almost every conversation regarding faith. Forgiveness and being justified, contrary to the world view, are true words of freedom. But these deep running wounds often resulted in feelings of guilt and shame, which clung to the memory of my sins.
From my own personal experience the weight of guilt and shame hung around my neck like a millstone. Guilt overwhelmed me in two ways: false guilt (guilt for something someone else had done), and true guilt (guilt for my own sins).
False guilt came through the physical abuse that I suffered from my father’s hand and the berating of my step-father’s words. I continually felt guilt that I had done something wrong, even when I had not. These feelings of guilt affected how I viewed myself.
Genuine guilt (from my own sinful words and actions) often arose by asking the “if only” questions of life. (“If only I would have not said that…, if only I would have behaved…, if only I would have made better choices…, if only I would have stayed in the military…”). Both types of guilt only served to sink deeper into the pit of despair.
Even more I learned the hard way that a life full of regret and disappointment fosters a sense of shame, shame before others and especially before God, for what I had done.
The burden of guilt and shame weighed heavily on me. With every job application, interview, and personal meeting I had with people, the shame of my choices became my constant burden. Even now I struggle with guilt and shame as my poor decisions resurface to drive me back into a pit of despair. The message of the scripture for us to, “…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,” (Hebrews 10:22 NAS) was often lost on me in dealing with these emotions.
In my limited ministry experience I have encountered these feelings of guilt and shame on numerous occasions. Going back into prisons and jails to minister to others, I fight the “if only” statements ring resoundingly like being stuck in a bell tower at the noon hour. “If only I wouldn’t have gotten caught…, if only my parents would have loved me more…, if only the cops wouldn’t have been so quick to get there…, if only I would have made better choices…”
While every circumstance and situation in this environment is different, I discovered a common refrain: the heart felt plea/question of the individual is like my own. This is not limited to a prison life. Recently I sat with my best friend who was taken to the ER for a serious blood clot. Sitting by his side and with his family their words echoed in my head, “If only we would have eaten healthier…, if only I would have gone to the doctor…, if only I wouldn’t have yelled at my dad….”
The separation that sin causes that robs us of the peace, comfort and hope that only Christ can offer; and guilt and shame rise up to push harder against the gospel. I have also learned that two passages help me deal with the guilt and shame:
Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the pledge of a good conscience toward God) through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 3:21 HCSB)
Note that Baptism saves, and cleanses the conscience. Further, my battles with shame were not unique as expressed in the Psalms and Isaiah prophesied (fulfilled in Christ, therefore mine by faith in him):
Guard my soul and deliver me; do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in You. (Psalm 25:20 NAS)
“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; and do not feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; but you will forget the shame of your youth, (Isaiah 54:4 NAS)
In Christ, everything is given freely in Christ: forgiveness of sins, cleansing of conscience, and freedom from shame.
In the wounded healer ministry the gospel alone serves as the sole source of comfort to me or anyone who if feeling the weight of sin.
“A minister is not a doctor whose primary task is to take away the pain….When someone comes with his loneliness to the minister, he can only expect that his loneliness will be understood and felt, so that he no longer has to run away from it but can accept it as an expression of his basic human condition…No minister can save anyone. He can only offer himself as a guide to fearful people.” (Wounded Healer)
The wounded healing of the wounded healer is comprised of making his own wounds a hospitable place for those who are wounded and looking for understanding and consolation. Understanding my own wounds and healing serves as the starting point of ministry with others. It is only when I begin to look at the miraculous restoration and healing that Christ has worked in my life that I can begin to understand that in my woundedness that I can become the source of ministry for others.