Value in/value out–and guilt begone!

I am GOOD at guilt.

I can make myself feel guilty for just about anything: not being a good enough mom/host mom (or wife, not sharing my faith enough, not doing enough for others… My husband and kids actually tease me about this. One night a couple weeks back, Dave asked me, “Now why did you feel you had to be a chaperone for the kindergarten field trip along with volunteering in the school cafeteria today?”

Before I could answer, my 12-year-old did it for me. “Because that’s what ‘good moms’ do, Dad.”

Bam! Right between the eyes. Good moms—and Christians, neighbors, whatever—do “enough,” and “bad” ones run around trying to figure out what the heck “enough” is and drowning in guilt in the meantime.

One of my recurring areas of guilt wallowing is in relation to the “least” of the world. When I am reminded of the number of orphans in the world or refugees in DuPage county (my home county), part of me wants to run away, to not be touched by knowledge that disrupts my comfort. Fortunately, as God softens my heart, I am increasingly led to pray, to actually feel sorrow that draws me closer to the heart of God.

But there’s another part of me that goes straight to the guilt button.

Last week I wrote three posts about the “least” of the world. I didn’t plan it. They all came out of natural events of my week, and it was not my intention to induce guilt—neither in anyone else nor in myself.

But being the guilt expert I am, it was bound to happen.

The I’m not doing enough. I’m not giving enough chorus was ready for the Metropolitan Opera by the end of the week

At the beginning of this week, though, I was reminded that God doesn’t like my guilt wallowing. He doesn’t want a heart that coerces its holder into good deeds. He wants a soft, tender, compassionate heart.

He wants a heart like His.

He didn’t send His Son to die because He felt guilty. He did it because He values us. He loves us not for what WE have done but because that is WHO He is.

He values us not as the world does—for our power, our wealth, or our talents—but because He has stamped His image into each human creation.

You are mine, He breathed into Adam and then sorrowed as, one after another, we turned our back on that truth. He still holds our existence, but He wants our hearts.

Each human being has value because God says so.

God woke me up (literally) from my guilt fest last week. In the middle of the night I startled awake with His Words sounding in my mind: “You are mine. You have value because I love you. When you know THIS, it can flow out of you and you can value others. This will show them that I love them.”

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” Philippians 2:3.

My guilt is a twisted form of vain conceit. It is focused on ME, and it assumes that I can somehow fix the problem, that I have enough knowledge to fix it—if I just think hard enough, if I just do enough. Though it can get masked as something wholly good, it is at its core a false humility—conceit in a prettier package.

But the desire to do good that flows out of God, now that happens when I remember that I am valued—loved immensely—and not for anything I am or can do. THIS knowledge allows me to VALUE others, not just “do good” to assuage my self-centered conscience. Then I can pass value on without losing a smidgen of it myself.

This is something I can do this every single day. I don’t have to be working with refugees or working overseas at an orphanage. I can practice this with the clerk at the grocery store, with the hygienist at the dentist office, with the homeless guy holding the sign on the street corner, and the loud, off-center woman who wears sweaters in July and hangs out at the public library. I can even do it with my friends and family.

Philippians 2:4 reminds me how to do this: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I have to stop thinking that my to-do list is more important than people. I must be willing to set it aside. I cannot walk through the grocery store with a preoccupied look on my face, thinking only of what I’m fixing for dinner and putting in lunches. I must be willing to look into each face, see each as a human being valued by God, and engage—a smile, a look, a few words, kindness most of all.

Value in, value out.

And if I practice this in “small” ways, listening for the promptings of God as I move through my everyday life, then God makes “big” ways clear as well. “Eagerly pursue and seek to acquire [this] love [make it your aim, your great quest];” (I Corinthians 14:1a, Amplified).

Value in—I am loved.

Value out—so I can love others.

And guilt begone!

the value of a hank

I spotted the beautiful blue and green variegated yarn on the sales table at a local yarn shop a few weeks ago. One hundred percent Andes wool, the loosely wound hank of yarn lay twisted in a figure-eight pattern. I couldn’t resist.

Yesterday, tired and feeling frustrated by writer’s block, I opted to knit rather than walk or work while I hung out at the younger three’s soccer practice. I pulled out the hank of wool, removed the small pieces of yarn tied to keep it in its figure eight, and unwound it into a large loop.

But I still couldn’t knit from it. The wool stuck to itself and tangled.  Every time I pulled, it snarled.

I remembered the last sentences from my devotions that morning: “You inhabit a fallen, disjointed world, where things are constantly unraveling around the edges. Only a vibrant relationship with Me can keep you from being unraveled too” (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling).

I continued unwinding the yarn, thinking about that quote as I formed the end into a tiny wad and wrapped round and round it, rotating the emerging ball so it stayed balanced. Still the hank resisted my efforts. Eventually I hung it around my neck and lifted it one loop at a time as I wound.

I could identify with what Young wrote about unraveling. It has been a consistent prayer during my motherhood/teaching years. Last year, when we first took in two international students and with PJ still home part-time, it progressed at times to a fear. I am coming undone, I would cry, and then I would see, time and again, God holding me together.

But He is unraveling me now. The kids are all in full-day school, and I am not teaching. Though I have writing deadlines, I have large chunks of alone time in which to manage them. I am not frantically rushing from one school to another. I have quiet hours in which I don’t hear “Mom” or “Mrs. Underwood” at all. It is an oddly unsettling feeling. It is strangely lonely.

Late one night last week, Dave prayed—in what I think was Holy-Spirit-guided words—that I would find my value only in Christ.

Sometimes God must do some unraveling to make us see ourselves first and foremost as His. We have our roles set; we are comfortable in them (oddly enough, we CAN get comfortable with frantic schedules and too-long to-do lists!); we find our value in them; we may even brag about them. We have reputations. And God says, “I can’t knit with that hank of wool you have arranged just so. I have a finished product in mind for you, and you will have to be unwound for Me to work with you.”

There are some drastic examples of this in Scripture: Joseph: goodbye, pretty coat and favored-son status; Moses: adios, palace; Esther: hello, palace; Abraham: welcome to the tent of wandering! God unmakes in order to create and fashion and teach.

It took me a long time to wind that ball of yarn, but when I was finished with it, it seemed small—compressed, not as pretty. I wouldn’t have bought it if it had looked like that, I thought.

But its value now is not in how it looks at all.

Its value is that it can be used.

And the end result will be beautiful!

Philippians 1:6 “…I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”