Warning Bell or Alarm Clock – A Musing on Guilt

The desert feels like loneliness to me. So it isn’t a particularly likely source for a redemptive moment for me. One time driving across Nevada I got so depressed and said out loud even though I drove alone, “I hope I never have to live here.” But still there are little pockets and fleeting memories in the desert that bring a smile or hopeful impression.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park, east of San Diego, is one of those spots. Oh, it is full on desert, but there is a trail whose destination is a spring and cluster of fuzzy palm trees. Amazing to find…there, of all places. We camped overnight and in the morning I wandered around, finding these abandoned houses. Wouldn’t be a place where I would pick to live, so I fault no one for packing up and leaving. This broken glass window appealed to me, and still speaks to me.

We are all broken. Maybe imperfect is the better word. I try to be perfect because I hate failing, but I fail all the time. I miss deadlines. I get home later then my wife wants me to. I get frustrated and blow up at my kids. I disappoint people, I’m judgmental, I’m so selfish wanting things the way I’m comfortable with, and list goes on. I’m a shard of glass to people at times. Flawed through and through. I usually realize my failing pretty quickly, sometimes it’s my wife who says something, and sometimes it this pang of guilt. Guilt is a funny thing. It’s not because it feels good, but because it tells you something. Lyrics from a NEEDTOBREATHE song called Hurricane recently struck me.

“There’s a sound in our guiltiness, It’s a warning bell that rings
It’s a call, so our loneliness, we can’t see.

We roll the dice, we play like fools, Plead with time to change the rules
It’s like a hurricane is coming our way, We’ve all been warned but still we chose to stay.”

It’s pretty safe to say, most of feel guilty periodically. Guilt does have a sound…a warning bell is a perfect analogy. There is a guilty feeling that paralyzes, turns us inward, leaves us feeling lonely, and doesn’t seem to have a resolve. That kind of guilt sounds more like a loud, annoying alarm clock that you can’t turn off. OR…we can choose to see it differently.

The Bible has an intriguing sentence where it says, “Godly sorrow [read guilt] brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” It contrasts two types of sorrow, or feelings of guilt. The alarm clock type brings death, inward focus, self-contempt, isolation, inaction. The warning bell type brings recognition, life, and willingness to take action. It’s an invitation. Guilt is an invitation? How is that even possible you might ask.

Guilt invites us to pay attention to whatever just happened that triggered our reaction, and to ask questions. It’s an invitation to wander inside your own experiences and explore your motives. And explore your view of God. The Bible describes God as a Father, who never turns away when we do dumb stuff, but calls us to turn back to Him and fess up. He doesn’t make us confess so He will love us again. He loves us without conditions and invites us to experience His love most fully by removing what we feel guilty about. He doesn’t want it to be an issue. In the Psalms it says He jettisons our sin when we admit it. Imagine the feeling of relief if we can just choose to see God as wanting closeness with us not letting us wallow in isolation and loneliness. What would you say to that invitation?

The lyrics above say we are warned, but often still choose to stay and ignore the bell. We have the choice. You see, we can choose to see the guilt as an alarm clock or a warning bell. Maybe even think of it more like the big triangle they ring on a ranch that says “come and eat.” When that bell rings you are excited to drop everything and head to the feast. Why would you say No! to the dinner bell? Then why would you say No! to in invitation to no regrets and intimacy with a loving Father. Next time you feel the guilt, try to think of it as an invitation to explore, and to find the greatest feast ever.

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