Guilt and the Eternal Fanny Pack

My friend Grace called me last week in a panic. She left a message on my voicemail. “I hope you are home. I am near your apartment and just had a really bad experience.” I got to my phone on the third ring and heard the message. At the same time, I saw the “Bateria Baja” alert on my phone which is programmed in Spanish. I may not be fluent but I know the words for message, texts and outgoing call. 

I plugged my phone into the charger and forgot about the message. I am not an excellent friend. I called her back around eleven. “What happened?” I asked, hoping I had not abandoned my friend in a time of great crisis. 

“It was really weird,” she said. “I was in the park reading when a guy approached me. He was friendly and started asking me questions about what I do for fun and for work.” I could hear her voice start to shift. “Then he asked if he could read my palm.” 

I remembered that another friend, Laura, had the same thing happen to her. “Grace, my friend had that guy or another guy like that approach her. It’s just a scam.”

“Well, then he asked if I wanted to go get a drink with him.” Internally, I kept thinking, please tell me you did not. But she did. “I just started to think what if God had this happen for a reason and I was supposed to share the Gospel with him.” She went, it was uncomfortable and she left pretty quickly. We talked for ten more minutes about the importance of safety and I praised her for going only to a public place and near people. 

But I recognized the tone in her voice- one of guilt and anxiety. What if God needs me to tell this person about Jesus and I don’t do it? Would he be disappointed? Would the universe fold in on itself? I had a similar feeling when I was younger and did not share “the Gospel” (the main message of Christianity) with my ex-boyfriend. I had a mild panic attack about it before reminding myself that God is way more powerful than I believe and can bring people to him even without my help. I have done a lot of stuff out of a guilty conscience- confessed pretty much everything to my parents, writing letters to ask for forgiveness years after the offending act, trying to share my entire faith in four sentences so I could quit feeling so guilty for not sharing it.

Guilt is a terrible feeling. For me, it feels like when I eat too much. I feel like I could simultaneously throw up and sink like a rock. It is a pit in my stomach or really in my esophagus that just sits there as if I swallowed a squash ball and it is filling up with water or something that makes it feel heavier. I never experience guilt without this strange phenomenon that causes my skin to feel hot but the inside layers to feel cold- almost as if I were wrapped in saran wrap. Guilt eats us up inside and slowly destroys us. It takes away our abilities to see ourselves as we truly are because we obsess over the bad thing we have done. It clouds our opinion of ourselves until we cannot see the beauty in ourselves as the people that God has forgiven completely.

I just can’t believe that God would want us to share about our lives out of guilt. It has caused many problems in the world, this feeling of guilt. We worry that if we don’t do exactly what youth group taught us, we will fail as Christians. We fear missing out on the opportunity to convert someone. Leading someone to Jesus is the pinnacle of a Christian’s life- at least so we are told. It is almost as if we are all members of one of those sales companies that advertised on the back of Archie comic books where one sale would gain you points to redeem for things like a keyboard or a fanny pack. Only in the Christian world, the convert would gain you points to redeem in heaven or temporary relief from the guilt.

While I have shared my personal faith with people and while I agree it is one of my favorite things to do, I can’t believe that Jesus wants us to convert people out of guilt. I’ve heard before that we have to share the Gospel with everyone on the earth before Jesus comes back. As if he will only come back if we systematically talk to every country about him. I also heard that if we didn’t share the Gospel with someone, we would be personally responsible for his or her eternal life in hell. Do I believe that God uses people to draw other people to himself? Absolutely- I am proof of that. Do I believe that God wants us to feel guilty and thus put ourselves in terrible situations just to alleviate some guilt that we feel, to remove the squash ball from our esophagus? No- he has come to set us free. 

This is not a pass to never talk to anyone about my faith. It does, however, cause me to use discernment in sharing my story. I have to do a double check to make sure I am doing it for the right reason, not to get the eternal fanny pack that I used to long for.