A friend of mine had her first baby last month, so I offered to take her dinner, but it all went terribly wrong.
Whenever a friend has a new baby, one of my favorite ways to show my love and support is to drop off a dinner complete with homemade bread or brownies (and maybe a pack of diapers, too). And as a new mommy myself, I know just what a huge difference having a meal delivered makes in that bleary-eyed newborn season!
That particular Friday, though, I was under deadline to submit my next book to my editor. I really, really wanted to serve my friend, but the night that worked for her was the day my book was due.
So I decided to order her a pizza from their favorite pizza joint. I placed the order online and went on my way striking adverbs and smoothing sentences. I finally turned in my manuscript with a satisfied sigh.
When my husband came home from work, we enjoyed leftovers and even started a movie to celebrate.
Then the text message arrived.
Hey, just wondering if the pizza was to be picked up? asked my friend with the new baby
My heart immediately dropped into my socks, and I paused the movie. “What??? NO! It was supposed to arrive TWO HOURS ago! I’m so sorry!” I texted back.
I called the pizza restaurant, and they said they’d never even received the order. The explanation? That very morning at 11am the restaurant had changed owners, and their delivery queue had been wiped.
The manager was polite and apologetic. He gave me a refund and even offered to send my friend a free pizza the next day at dinnertime, both of which I took him up on.
But that didn’t exactly make up for the fact that my friend and her family had waited for almost 3 hours at this point for a dinner that never came.
Although certainly not a sin (or even necessarily a mistake) on my part, I felt terrible.
But instead of brushing off the strange snafu and accepting my friend’s heartfelt and gracious response, I struggled to shrug off the guilt.
The Guilt of Not Good Enough
Weeks later, I still felt a twinge in my spirit whenever I thought of what had happened (which was often). The typhoon of troubled thoughts just would not settle.
If only I had cooked for her and delivered it myself instead! If only I had chosen a more reliable pizza place! If only…! If only…! If only…!
Certain a different set of choices would have produced a different outcome, I steeped in my shame. Undeservedly. Of course, different choices would have produced a different outcome. But how could I have known? I had been trying to bless someone I cared about with a kind gesture, a practical help in a season of adjustment. A wacky set of circumstances and technological glitch had ruined an evening, but no real fault could be assigned.
Yet I bore it, even so.
And then I realized that I was allowing my feelings of guilt, shame, and regret to overpower the voice of truth.
The Difference Between Guilt and Shame
Guilt is defined as “a feeling of having done wrong or failed in an obligation.”
Shame, on the other hand, is “a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.”
When we sin and fall short of God’s holy standard in our lives by snapping at someone rudely, for example (ahem), the role of the Holy Spirit is to convict our hearts so that we can take a breath and apologize and ask forgiveness.
2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (NIV)
The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Teacher (John 14:26). He guides and corrects us in such a way that our godly sorrow over our sin brings “repentance that leads to salvation.” He does not follow us around with a long list of all of our shortcomings, intentional or unintentional, continually berating us about how awful we are. After all, as believers, our salvation means we wear the imputed righteousness of Christ. The slate has been wiped clean–for good!
Does that mean we are perfect? Of course not. I get angry and take it out on those around me, even though they don’t deserve it. I disobey the prompting of the Spirit to reach out to my lonely neighbor because I just want to get my fussy daughter in the door for her nap. I am a work in progress. Sanctification is a spectrum.
But justification is complete.
My status before the Lord is “redeemed daughter” not “mistake-maker.”
So when I sin (or even just make mistakes!), instead of wallowing in the result of my own lack of clairvoyance, I am to leave it at the Lord’s feet.
Because ultimately what had me so frustrated with the Great Pizza Debacle was that I hadn’t seen ahead of time what would be best. I had not been in control. What a needed reminder! I am not sovereign.
Only He is.
How to Find Freedom from Guilt and Shame
These three action steps I’ve adopted in my everyday life have helped me make tremendous progress in finding freedom from the looping thoughts of guilt and shame.
1. Keep a prayer journal.
I use an undated planner as my prayer journal. In this season of new motherhood, having just one page to complete each day is both perfectly doable and encourages me to actually put pen to paper each night before I fall into bed exhausted. One corner of my entry is reserved for confession so that I take a moment to honestly think about my day and any unconfessed sin I need to bring before the Lord. I ask for His forgiveness and thank Him for it because I know it is freely given.
2. Ask the Lord to make His voice louder in my mind than the enemy’s–or my own!
If I’m not careful, the still, small voice of my Savior can be easily drowned out by my own nagging thoughts and lies from the enemy about how I’m not a good mother, wife, writer, neighbor, cook, laundress, etc.! The perfectionistic longing within me to be in control of all things latches onto the most inane falsehoods and flings them in my face. But when I ask the Lord to make His voice crystal clear in my mind, He is always faithful to answer that prayer. Thankfully, there is no limit to how many times a day I can ask!
3. Redirect my desire to be good enough to the One Who is always enough.
C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The very reason I have an inner perfectionist critiquing everything I do is because my spirit is made for heaven where all sadness and sorrow and shame will be no more. All will be perfect, even me!
In her book It’s Not Supposed to be This Way, Lysa Terkuerst describes our reality as “life between two gardens.” Between Eden and Heaven, we live here on this messy planet where pizza orders are wiped, pandemics descend, and political unrest upends entire countries.
But thank God for Immanuel, God with us. Through it all, every twinge of guilt and shame, He is with us, the God who “pardons all your guilt” (Psalm 103:3).
Photography: JenniMarie Photography