American primitive art, artist unknown
Some Christian women, at least in my circle, often suffer from two apparitions who haunt as persistently as the spirits plaguing Scrooge on the night before Christmas. These Christian sisters and I are heartily tired of the Spirits Guilt and Gilt. In spite of brandishing a plethora of women’s devotionals, cowering in prayer closets and covering ourselves in appropriate life verses, we can’t keep those troublesome specters from materializing at the most inconvenient moments.
Maybe you haven’t had these ghosts visit you. Aren’t you just the happy Christian? No, my beleaguered sisters and I aren’t jealous of you. Too much. And if we are, we feel really really guilty about it.
The Spirit of Guilt flutters about dressed as a conscience. Don’t be fooled. Conscience is a gift, guilt is a curse. The kind of curse that drapes itself across your shoulders and clings like a limpet. It drags you hither and yon. Hither into your deepest core, not only reminding you of every sin and slipped word, but insisting you examine yourself. Not healthy self-examination. Oh, no. This is the obsessive kind that makes you question your motives, your commitment, your love, your salvation. “Look there,” it hisses. “Isn’t that Anxiety? Aren’t true Christians anxious in nothing?” or “Your thoughts wandered during the prayer. Double-minded woman.” and too often—“Did you just sigh? You were weary in well-doing again, weren’t you?”
And because Guilt is a wily type it switches things up, whisks you away from hither and sends you yonder. It shows you other wives, other mothers, other daughters, other Christian women. They trust God so much. They love their families, they delight in doing good, they are patient in tribulation. You argue with the Spirit of Guilt. “I should be rejoicing that these women are honoring and glorifying God. It’s all about Him. Isn’t it just wonderful?” And just when you think you’ve shaken it off, Guilt slithers back to show you another scenario, and you think, “Terrific. Everyone is out there honoring God with their whole heart. Except me. Poor, pitiful me. Wretched worm that I am.”
See how Guilt works? Always and ever taking our eyes off Jesus. It whirls us through well-chosen glimpses of a degenerate past, a present filled with indecision and a woebegone future. The louse. Even though we are on to Guilt, even though we’re forewarned, even though we know Guilt’s tricks, it always has one more up its flapping sleeve.
Don’t even get me started on the Spirit of Gilt. That’s the one who tells us we need to at least look good. “Come on, ‘Christian Woman”’”, it says. “How can you glorify God if you aren’t happy? Smiling? Making a joyful noise? Put on the Ritz, lady. You’re a Proverbs 31 Woman! Shine. Now!”
So we slather on the gilt. We really do love God. We really do want to honor Him, show the world that God is good, that a Christian is a good thing to be, that a life lived for Him is our chief delight. We want to be winsome and attract people to God. What can be more attractive than a layer of sparkly gold?
Gilt isn’t hypocrisy. We don’t think so, at least. Believe me, if we do whiff hypocrisy on ourselves we immediately experience great guilt. It’s just us trying to get our light out from under a bushel and polish it up. It’s us worrying that God will look bad if we look bad. How could anyone be attracted to the Christian life if they could see how grubby we are?
So we smile brightly. We do good things, because good things are necessary. We say good and important things, and these things we believe with all our hearts. But what happens when we run out of energy to reapply the gilt? When something hard or sharp whacks us and chips our brittle layer of polish?
My sisters and I don’t want to whine. We don’t want pity— everyone we know is fighting a hard battle. We don’t even want attention. We aren’t trying to earn our salvation or be gold-washed hypocrites. We want to support each other and encourage each other, we want to be honest with each other, we want empathy when life throws slings and arrows at us and gentle loving correction when we start to believe a lie. Any lie, that is contrary to the Truth.
My Christian sisters and I want to traverse this narrow way without Guilt or Gilt. If we could just get rid of them, maybe more of us could squeeze side-by-side instead of walking single file. Feel free to walk next to me, sisters. I’ll be the grubby, apologetic one.