One of my prized possession as a child was a Bible study chart. The chart had simple illustrations that highlighted my denomination’s doctrines. It was a chart based upon a dispensational view of Scripture, which was developed in the 1850’s by John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren and made popular in America through sales of the Scofield Study Bible. That chart would serve me well as an aspiring preacher. I set through countless lessons and taught it more times than I can remember. I taught friends, neighbors, relatives, anyone who would be willing to sit down with me and invest for an hour for twelve consecutive weeks was qualified. I can still list the seven dispensations from memory and pontificate at length on a multiplicity of Tribulation/Rapture theories.
My Dad did not attend church, so we also had a television, which was one of the prohibitions of our church at the time. I, like any other kid, liked to watch TV, I liked some of the shows I watched nearly as much as I liked my Bible study chart. It was one of those things that we didn’t talk too much about, but every time it was preached against I would feel guilty. To this day I struggle with feelings of guilt about most everything. Even though I understand that my salvation is secure in Christ, and have embraced the reality of the gospel, the residual guilt of my long-practiced religion, based in my ability to conform remains.
I remember on one occasion, we had an older couple in our home from church. After dinner I was sharing my wonderful chart with them, attempting to impress them with my piety and Bible knowledge. As a know it all kid attempting to share the complexities of dispensational theology, I am sure I was a bit obnoxious. But I made a mistake in the conversation. I mentioned something I had seen on tv. The older church gentleman quickly picked up on my faux pa. “Where in this Bible chart does it say it’s ok to watch TV?” He laughed at my embarrassment. My face was hot with shame. I knew that I didn’t measure up. Because I watched TV, I wasn’t committed enough to the faith. My orthopraxy fell short of my Pentecostal orthodoxy. I felt guilty. I didn’t have an answer and retreated from the room as quickly as possible.
I don’t know what ratio of personality and environment apply to my feelings, I just know they exist. It is difficult for me to authentically enjoy experiences, resulting in over indulging in them and expecting too much in return. These experiences cannot bare the weight of my expectations. My relationships tend to suffer from these expectations and guilty feelings. I overthink, overanalyze, overindulge. Every experience is less about the moment and more about what is next. This led to quite the imagination that always envisions grandeur at heroic levels. I’m the hero. But life doesn’t live up to those expectations. I end up feeling guilty. Then I feel guilty for feeling guilty.
As an adult I still struggle with guilt. It leaves me with existential angst reminding me that there is no nirvana of sexual pleasure, dietary delight, or intellectual stimulus that will ultimately satisfy or make my feelings dissipate. I think the Bible is right, “All that is in the world is passing away.” (1 John 2:17)
Karen Swallow Prior writes, “A world of many rules and expectations lends itself to outward conformity that makes an impression -an impression that need not be in agreement with internal nature. The more appearances matter, the more counterfeits abound.”
I have lived most of my life trying to maintain appearances. Maybe this is where most of the surplus guilt originates? At times, for the sake of appearances, I’ve been mean to my children and my wife, expecting them to conform to standards I can’t even live up too. I’ve pursued friendships with toxic people because I wanted to be associated with them. I’ve been cruel, condescending, disingenuous, arrogant, greedy, lustful and more. I’ve wanted people to think me better than I actually am. I’m not. I’m far worse. The thing that you are ashamed of, I’ve probably done or at least thought about, I’m not as good as you think I am.
I’ve said things that I thought you wanted to hear. I’ve lied to myself and others. This is an attempt to think through some things. I’m better now at speaking the truth because I understand the world doesn’t revolve around me. I offend many of you because I know longer defer to your feelings at the expense of what is true. I’m trying harder to not “go along to get along.”
I want to be kind. I want to be empathetic. I want to be honest. But mostly I want to be real without feeling guilty about who I am, what I think, what I’ve done. I want to exist without hedging my bets or contemplating every conceivable outcome ad infinitum. I want to enjoy thinking and you be ok with whatever I think about, understanding that it may be a developing thought and not an ideological edict. I want to change my mind. Especially if I’m exposed to new information that proves me wrong. I don’t want to hold onto bad tradition for the sake of honoring the past. How can perpetuating a lie be honorable? Help me understand this?
The world is divided. What is required is some unconditional love. I think I could benefit from giving that gift to myself as well. You will too. Maybe this is where the search for truth ends. And begins?