On Giving up Guilt for Lent

hands clasped in prayerTwo weeks into Lent and I’m still wondering what to give up.
I’m feeling kind of bad about that.
Maybe, I should just give up guilt for Lent.

Not, of course, that I’ve never done wrong.
Not even that I’m free of wrong right now.
But that the focus on what is wrong with me
Is a bottomless bog.

As a child I can remember thinking
That I had to feel really guilty
Before I could be forgiven.
But I had trouble conjuring up the mortification
That repentance seemed to demand.

Now that I am older, I know the weight of shame
That comes when I manage to recognize
That my hubris, anger or privilege
Have brought pain to those I love
Or damaged the fabric of community.

On the other hand,
When my selfish wrongheadedness
Remains invisible to me …
Well, guilt is nowhere is sight.
My own image fills the field of vision.

The issue is that the season of Lent
Makes me think that guilt is something I should hold on to,
Something I should finger, explore, understand.
Only then can I repent.

But guilt is sticky stuff.
The more I examine it,
The more it seeps into my soul,
The more it ties me up in knots,
The more I want to make excuses
And settle in with it
As if it were inevitable.

What if guilt is more like a wake-up call?
The recognition that, once again, I’ve been seduced
Into thinking that the world works on a me-first basis,
Instead of out of mutual love and concern.
What if the idea is to turn off the alarm
And move the focus away from myself?

It’s like trying to drive a car by studying the rearview mirror.
A quick glance in that direction, is helpful,
But the consistent focus needs to be on the road ahead.
I need to keep my eyes on my Savior
Instead of on my sin.
It’s my only hope of true and lasting change.

[photo by Keith Riley-Whittingham per cc 2.0]


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