By: Staci Stallings
Every so often I go through a period of INTENSE learning. It’s like God sets up these graduate courses in His Ways, and I don’t see them coming until I’m in the middle of them. This one started with the “guilt” book that I’ve been talking about. Then God followed it up with one coming at the issue of WHY it seems God’s Ways don’t work sometimes, why Christianity sometimes leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless and disasterized.
The new book is aptly called, “Spiritual Burnout.” It is by Malcolm Smith, and I highly, HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who suffers from guilt that springs not from “what I’ve done” so much as from “who I am.” “What I’ve done” guilt makes sense to most people. It is eating off the evil part of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We recognize these kinds of sin–drunkenness, drug use, sexual promiscuity, lying, cheating, stealing. We look at those, and we know those are sins. We understand the guilt from those sins because they are clearly wrong.
However, what we don’t understand is when we feel guilty not so much because of what we’ve done but because of who we are. For example, let’s say that there is a young girl. We’ll call her Staci for simplicity’s sake. Now, Staci looks very good in her behavior. She is a straight-A student. She is very respectful. She is very responsible. You give her a big project to do, she will have it done before schedule and if you expected a 10, it will be at least a 12. Anything she puts her mind to, she excels at. She has a long list of accomplishments. She is to the outside world a success.
Now, explain why Staci feels so guilty. She’s doing everything right (or as close as possible). She doesn’t drink. She doesn’t do drugs. She doesn’t even smoke… ever. She doesn’t cheat nor lie. When she gives her word, she comes through no matter what. Her outward behavior is impeccable. And yet, she is consumed by guilt that doesn’t go away no matter how many times she goes to confession, no matter how many good things she does. Staci still feels worthless and afraid and weak, and she feels very, VERY guilty for not being strong and solid on the inside. When and if she tries to tell someone this, they do not understand. How can they? She looks like she has it altogether. In fact, many are jealous of her and can’t seem to fathom that she is in fact dying inside, shredding her own spirit over every little perceived failure–real or imagined.
Until I read the guilt book and really thought about it, I didn’t understand this either. In fact, I went a lot of years in a state of confusion because I knew I should feel okay about myself and yet I didn’t. Everyone else thought I was the embodiment of success, so why did I feel like such a total and utter failure?
The understanding of guilt was my latest turning point in understanding why my outside reality didn’t match my inside reality. I felt guilty not so much for what I did, but for who I was.
And let me tell you, that’s a hard one to deal with. Because how do you go about changing who you ARE? How do you explain to someone that you feel like such a failure and explain the guilt that springs from that? How do you explain that you feel like you’re living in hell when to everyone else your life looks like heaven?
I’ve looked for a lot of years to find an answer, and now I think I have found it. The truth is, I found it a few years back, but I didn’t understand what I had found, nor could I put it into words for others to be able to understand.
Now, I have.
The answer is that we ARE weak. We ARE afraid. We do not have all of the answers. Our wisdom and understanding is pitifully lacking and insignificant in relation to the problems that we face. WE are pitiful and insignificant in the face of the problems that come our way.
This is not a problem. It’s reality.
It is not something to fight against, something to overcome, or something to justify. It is the truth.
It was in accepting that as truth that I finally was able to relax and be me. I no longer had to run around trying to impress everyone. I no longer had to race to keep up and be the best and put on a show so that no one found out the truth. I was finally, FINALLY able to be honest about how I was feeling. What a relief (though it was not easy to do at first).
But now, with the coming of this second book, “Spiritual Burnout,” I have found another piece of this maddening puzzle–the WHY I felt that way and the point at which I got it so wrong. You see, I was baptized at 10 days old. There was never a time in my growing up that I was without God. I went to church, sang in three choirs, was in the youth group, served, ushered… I mean, I did it ALL.
And yet, there was something missing, something that made everything I was doing feel like a burden that was sooner or later going to get too heavy to carry. I knew that. I could feel that, but I didn’t know where to go with that. How do you tell others that you’re just tired of trying to do it all when you know they are counting on you? How do you be honest when you already suspect other people aren’t thrilled with you when you’re doing everything… what are they going to think of you when you stop doing everything?
Today I found the words to explain what was missing. In “Spiritual Burnout,” Mr. Smith talks about how we make a pivot on the word “faith.” We are taught or we come to believe in a perversion of the word “faith,” and it throws us totally off-track. (AMEN! from the Staci corner!)
The pivot is found most clearly in this phrase, “You need to believe in HIM.”
If you would have asked me back then if I believed in Him (Jesus/God), the answer would have been a resounding, “YES!” (Why do you think I was working so hard?!)
The problem is, God does not ask us only to believe in Him–as in believe He is real, believe Jesus lived and died and rose from the dead. More than that, God is asking us to believe in His ability to handle the problems we are facing. He’s asking us to believe in HIS ABILITY and LOVE FOR US.
See, I didn’t get that part.
I thought we were supposed to believe in HIM… i.e. believe in Him and then try to be “good enough” that He would accept us. Don’t ask me how I got this SOOO wrong (although I suspect I’m not the only one).
It was only when I came to believe in HIS ABILITY to carry me through everything that I finally started FEELING what His promises had said I should be feeling… rest, trust, hope, joy, peace…
I now consider what I had before to be dangerous “faith.” It is “faith” that says, “I believe in Him” so I need to work for Him. He is real, and He’s as likely to throw me into hell as to take me into Heaven–especially if I’m found to not be worthy. (I wasn’t worthy! HELLO!)
Are you or someone you know practicing dangerous “faith”? Does your salvation and peace hinge on what you do for God–even if that includes things that look really good like reading the Bible and praying? Has your relationship with God been taken over by rules, have-to’s and musts that are supposed to make you feel closer to Him but end up making you feel empty and hopeless and not good enough? Does your work for the Kingdom feel tiresome and very heavy? Do you get exhausted by the things He gives you to do? Do you know that you’re about one more “good work” from completely cracking?
If so, please… PLEASE, spend a little time examining the way you see faith.
And then put just a mustard seed’s worth of real faith in what God can do if you give HIM your misperceptions on this point. Doing so can change everything. I know. It did for me.