Copyright Creationswap, image by Bogdan Kulyk.
If anyone wrote a book about my life, it would probably have the above title.
I have struggled with guilt my whole life, and a lot of it comes from the following mental gymnastics:
I imagine if I was an angel, looking at humans from heaven, I’d be like, “They have so much opportunity! Why don’t those comfortable people help those suffering people more? I would be a much better human then them.” (A friend pointed out to me the other day that this is a very judgmental angel. 🙂 )
I feel like a big part of the world’s problem is that the fortunate don’t help the unfortunate, and I don’t want to be like that. But then I’m always afraid that I’m not doing enough.
I mirrored this problem in my novel, Hating Jeremy Walters, where my main character, Natalie, always feels like she’s not working hard enough. The only difference is that she feels she must work hard to please God; I feel I must do lots of good stuff to prove I’m not selfish. But we’re pretty similar.
But I keep having a problem with Natalie. I know her thought patterns are wrong, but when I write out both sides of the argument she can always argue her wrong side better than my ‘good’ character can argue his right side.
I know my guilty way of thinking isn’t right, but to me, it just seems so logical.
This week God gave me an insight that probably seems totally obvious to everyone else—but for me it had to come from an imaginary conversation between two book characters.
This is a rough scene from the first draft of my book, where Natalie’s boyfriend, Jeremy, is asking her to cut back on her insane workload for the sake of children in her care. (Please don’t judge me on my dialogue; this is the roughest of the rough drafts!)
“Can’t you see that there’s different ways of pleasing God? Working like a crazy person is not one of them.” Jeremy ran his fingers through his hair and pulled, like he literally wanted to tear his hair out.
“You’re just saying that because you want me home more. I can’t give it up. That would be giving up on pleasing God. I couldn’t live with the guilt.”
“Why do you talk about all this guilt? You’re forgiven. Have you forgotten what that word means?”
“It doesn’t mean that I just live a selfish life for myself after I’m saved.”
Every time I thought about a different version of this conversation, this is where it ended. The “But I can’t be selfish/lazy!” line was the trump card. Jeremy’s comebacks never seemed convincing enough.
One day I ran the conversation through my head again, and when it got to this point, Jeremy got so frustrated that he stood up and yelled,
“But you refuse to admit there is a middle ground!”
And I stopped and thought, What? Then I projected myself into Natalie again.
“You say that you can’t be lazy or selfish. But ‘not overworking’ doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It’s not one extreme or the other.”
“You also refuse to see that a striving spirit doesn’t bring God any glory. Actually, I think that de-prioritising relationships and justifying yourself through work is just as bad—or worse—than laziness.”
Natalie paused. Worse than laziness? Apart from the obvious things like murder, nothing was worse than laziness. But a comeback for Jem eluded her.
Yes! I finally shut her up!
Natalie still has some tough lessons to learn through the book, but at least I can finally figure out the ‘good’ side of the argument.
Yes, God doesn’t want us to be lazy. But neither does he want us to be striving, burned-out, duty-bound people who have no fun. That brings him zero glory, and we get really tempted to feel like our work justifies us instead of his grace.
I find it hard to walk the middle ground, and even when I strike the right balance I feel like it’s not enough. But I guess that’s why God gave us his Holy Spirit, to help point me the right way again.
It just makes me laugh when he uses imaginary characters to do it.
Can anyone else relate? What’s been an unusual light bulb moment for you? How do you deal with workaholism or guilt?
Join the conversation below!