One of the hardest things to deal with is the shame we feel when we really blow it. David is a great example of what I am talking about. He struggled with this more than once. Take for instance, Psalms 38:4-14 (NIV).
My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.
My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.
I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.
My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away.
Those who want to kill me set their traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they scheme and lie.
I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
like the mute, who cannot speak;
I have become like one who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.
That is what extreme guilt and shame does to the hart and soul. It engulfs it like a thick cold wet darkness. It leaves you questioning your worth as a person. It can manifest as physical pain, crippling you and leaving you wrecked.
Adding to that is the reaction people often have when they know how we failed. They avoid us, judge us, and make it worse by rubbing it in and even by taking advantage of it.
We may well know that what they are doing is hurtful and wrong, but the weight of our guilt consumes us and we can’t speak. Maybe we even start to accept that what they think of us is true.
One of the things I have been learning is that even when we find forgiveness from God and from the people we hurt, the feelings of guilt and shame don’t often just stop. The feelings of guilt and shame can linger long after grace has dealt with our real guilt and shame. Much the same way an amputee has phantom feelings of the limb that is no longer there, feelings of guilt and shame can live on like ghosts in the soul. Feelings are not things we can simply chose to turn on or off. Life would be so much easier if that were the case wouldn’t it? But that is not how it works. And that makes dealing with our failings and failures all the more complicated. And the enemy knows it. And believe you me–he takes full advantage of that.
So how do you deal with that if that is you or someone you know?
If it is you, you need to focus on the facts, not on your feelings. The truth is if you are a Christian, you have been forgiven. When you ask for forgiveness from God, He doesn’t hold it back, mull it over, or hesitate. You are like the lost son in the Parable of the lost sons in Luke 15. You maybe trying to find your way home praying that God won’t beat you away, only to find out that He is on the road running to meet you. That is the truth. Jesus took care of every sin you will ever commit in your life at the cross. Your sin may surprise you, but it does not surprise Him. He took care of it. You don’t have to win His love back. You don’t have to make up for it. You are good with Him. And when you repent and confess it, you will find the forgiveness and grace you need waiting for you. You need to focus n those facts, and tell them to yourself again and again and again until your head and heart come back into alignment.
If it is someone you know, you need to understand that feelings are not simply turned on and off at will. You need to remember that while you may be given grace to forgive them, they may continue to need grace to help them process the grace you gave them until they fully live in it. That isn’t always easy, and it can go on for a long time. We need to reassure them of the grace and forgiveness we gave them, and keep them focused on the facts, reminding them of the difference between phantom feelings of guilt and feelings that alert us to guilt that needs dealt with. When we are in this position, we need to be mindful of the fact that we are the vehicles through which God’s grace is manifested to people who have failed us big. How we respond is going to have a profound effect on their perception of the reality and effectiveness of God’s grace.