Memories of Guilt

Back when I was a kid, I thought I had to ask for forgiveness of every little sin in order to be forgiven and get into heaven.  I’m not really sure where I got this idea.  I know when I was a teenager, Harry did introduce me to the idea and explained the theology behind it.  He taught it to his junior high Sunday school class (which I took over for him when he left our church to join New Covenant).

But I know that my belief in this idea predated Harry’s teaching.  I remember being a little kid (I’d say eight or nine) lying in bed, worried that I’d forgotten to tell Jesus I was sorry about something.  I’d be trying to fall asleep and a pattern would emerge.  I’d ask Jesus to forgive me for something sin I thought I had committed.  Then I’d suddenly have a thought and realize that the thought I just had was probably sinful too (and it was usually some silly little thought, though I can’t think of any examples).  So I’d quickly whisper a quick “please forgive me, Jesus” to cover the new thought.  And the cycle would continue.

I think that carried with me right through to the day that I finally decided to make a break from Christianity.  I think it’s one of the reasons I made that break.  It was just too much pressure for me, a pressure that convinced me that I was constantly in a state of sin, constantly rotten, and even constantly worthless.  This idea that you have constantly monitor everything and ask for forgiveness is hell on one’s self esteem and sense of worth.

In some ways, I think it contributed to the codependency I’m currently seeking help for.  My codependency was a way to show myself that I wasn’t that bad and there was good in me.  I was redeemable.  Of course, I told myself when I left Christianity that those days were over.  I no longer had to prove myself or be “good enough.”

But I think some part of my unconscious didn’t get that memo back then.  Because I still set out to be the best person I can be.  Don’t get me wrong, being the best person you can be is a good thing.  But putting yourself under all the pressure because you have to be the best person you can be in order to be “good enough” or “worth something” is self-destructive.

So as I think about this, I feel like I’m coming back and relearning that lesson now.  I have value.  It’s good to do good and care about and for others, but it’s not something I have to do to be worthy of love, respect, or human dignity.  It’s as if that lesson is taking deeper root, that I’m learning it on a whole different level, and that feels great.

7 thoughts on “Memories of Guilt”

  1. You know, Jarred…that’s OCD. That same teaching causes it in a lot of people. I was starting to develop it about 8 years ago…the same thing…feeling like I needed to be forgiven for every tiny mistake. I had two small children…there were LOTS of “mistakes”. I hated it because it was bondage. I worked hard to eliminate anything from my life that might cause me to “sin” (even just in thought), music, movies, tv, books, magazines…where I went, who I hung out with. Sterility was the goal.

    I can see how it could easily play into codependency. I have struggled with that, too.

    It sounds like some good revelations there. 🙂

  2. It’s funny that you brought up OCD Erin. There are a few things from my childhood that, looking back, seem very OCD-ish. Except I grew out of them as I got older, and I’m not sure if you can outgrow bonafide OCD like that.

    And yeah, I think it’s a pretty interesting revelation, too.

  3. Curious. Which church did you go to? We were always warned against (mis)understanding forgiveness that way. Having attended both Anglican and Baptist churches the consistent message was “God has already forgiven you, every thing you have done and will do, live in the light of this.”

  4. I can remember doing something similar at that age. I was obsessed with “the sinners prayer” and said it constantly. it never seemed like enough. I think I was waiting for some sign or emotion to tell me I was off the hook and finally “good”. It took many, many years to understand the truth… but then, you already know that. 😛

  5. @Matt: The church I attended while I lived at home was part of the American Baptist denomination. However, as far as doctrine goes, I’m not convinced that the church was influenced much by its denominational affiliation. Furthermore, while the minister of the church at the time I attended it, while a dynamic speaker, was not a strong Bible teacher, and tended to hypothesize and speculate rather than teaching sound Biblical truths. I distinctly remember coming back from college – where I attended a Full Gospel church and was heavily involved in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship – and getting into a discussion about my hometown minister. My father made the comment that he was a good preacher, and I remember standing there and thinking, “No. He’s not. Not really.”

    (As an aside, that minister also had a tendency to spend a minimum of two months out of every year preaching about Revelation during Sunday evening services. That’s something that started to bother me after I had spent some time at college.)

    As such, a lot of the little messages that you would probably find theologically unsoundI received were through other channels, and there was no “official channel” to counter them until college. And by then, those messages had already sunk into my unconscious mind.

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