A Story of Guilt, Hiding, and Grace

When I was nine years old I kept a picture hidden, buried, at the bottom of my top dresser drawer.

It was a picture from my seventh birthday party. As far as I can remember it is the only picture from that day. A picture of my friends and I standing under a tree with a piñata hanging from one of the branches. We were wearing swim suits and our hair was still wet from refreshing hours spent swimming in the pool.

I didn’t keep this picture in my dresser because it reminded me of a wonderful birthday party. I kept it there, because I couldn’t bare to look at it. I didn’t want to see it in the photo albums or framed in the hall. I wanted it hidden.

Every time I looked at it I was filled with guilt.

I felt guilty for my behavior at that birthday party.

Years later, thinking back to that day still made me feel like a terrible friend, and a terrible person. I didn’t do anything at my seventh birthday party that most seven year olds haven’t done at one time or another. My crime was simple and common.

I ignored all of my friends in favor of one particular friend: my cousin. She and I went off and played in the deep end pretending to be mermaids and refused to let any of the rest of my friends play with us. We were cruel in our rejection of them, like all little girls can be. Many would probably be able to shrug off a guilt like this with a simple “I was young.” Not me.

It took years before I could think of that party without feeling guilt. I wanted to be a good friend and that birthday party was the epitome of my failure at achieving that desire. It was a landmark proving that I wasn’t as good a friend as I wanted to be. And so I hid it away, not wanting anyone to be able to look at the picture and perhaps discern from it how far I had missed the mark. Not wanting to be reminded of my own ugliness of heart.

I didn’t want to show who I really was, or who I was capable of being: The mean girl.

This was one of my earliest experiences with guilt. It was also perhaps the first time I truly recognized sin, brokenness, ugliness, in myself instead of just in another.

For as long as I hid away that picture, nothing changed. My heart carried a heavy memory of guilt. But, it was not the kind of guilt that leads to healing and confession. It was the kind of guilt that eats away at you and creates its own form of ugliness.

In many ways I still struggle with this kind of reaction to the broken places in my heart and life. I hide them away, try to ignore and forget about them, while all the time carrying with me a guilt that eats at my soul. It’s the kind of guilt that leads to more hiding.

Over the years though, I have learned something profound, and it is part of why I write on this blog; part of why I write at all. Guilty hiding doesn’t lead to healing, but open confession can. It is only when I openly begin to recognize and admit to the broken potential in my own heart that I can openly begin to receive from God the grace that covers all.

When I can admit that I am capable of being the mean girl, I can come out of hiding and find that Christ clothes me with his grace.

So often I try to pretend that I am fine on my own. I try to pretend to others and to myself (and even to God) that I am the good girl. There are so many terrible things that I have never done, so I must be doing fine, right? Wrong. The truth is my heart is still so broken. I may not have done x, y, or z, but I am capable of doing x, y and z. And it is only when I begin to acknowledge how capable I am of being the lier, the hater, the abuser, the adulterer, that I can begin to fall heavy on the grace of God.

This sort of recognition does not lead to guilt, but frees from it. Guilt is a feeling of hiding. Confession clears the air of guilt and invites instead grace and hope for transformation. This is the work of the gospel. This is the gospel of grace.

I often think of that little girl I was so long ago, hiding that picture away in my dresser drawer. Trying to pretend that I was the nice girl, the good girl, the perfect friend, when deep down I knew all along I was none of those things. I wish I could tell her to open the drawer. Let in the light. Embrace the ugliness in your heart, because it is only in embracing your great need that you can embrace God’s abundant grace.

I send so much love and hugs to that little girl I was, and to the grown woman I am, who still struggles often with guilt and hiding. God’s grace is waiting. And it is so much bigger than I ever imagined. Big enough to cover all. And welcome all. Every fall, every sin, every thought, every potential thought. It can all find grace in the arms of Jesus. All we need to do is open the drawer, and step out of hiding.

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany