January 28, 2013 ~ Overcoming Guilt and Embracing Joy
One area so many mothers struggle with is guilt, especially those who experience the loss of a baby/child. We want to address this struggle in this post. It will help mothers quietly battling guilt for living life and experiencing joy to know they are not alone. Other moms silently battle this as well. Whether it is the startling first time you really laugh after losing your child, or whether you have experienced the healing balm of joy for years, share your thoughts on this week’s post.
I vividly remember the first time I laughed after having Sophia. It was only 3 days after her birth. That morning we had picked out and purchased our burial plots, hers, Mark’s, and mine. We spent the rest of the day running errands with the kids, shopping for the perfect pillow and bear for them to give their baby sister. We took the kids to the funeral home and just had time to sort of hang out together as a family. It was really just perfect, all things considered. The kids got to hold her when they wanted, and just be in the room coloring when they didn’t. They got to take a ride in the limo with their grandma and the funeral director. My milk had come in that day too. It was a very somber day.
We got home in the late afternoon and we all just sort of collapsed. Eventually Lilly talked Mark into playing “Ponytown” with her. I was checking my email as they played on the floor nearby. Mark is so good about getting really into character when he plays. I overheard something like this:
Mark(as male pony): Your hooves must be tired, cuz you’ve been running through my mind!
Lilly(running off to the bathroom in mid sentence): I’ll be right back, I gotta poop!
And we laughed. We all laughed like we had never laughed before. And it felt good. It felt hopeful.
But then afterwards, I felt guilty.
How could I laugh hours after I had held my dead baby? The guilt washed over me and brought me back to the reality of the situation. But then we talked through it and realized that laughing and feeling good is going to happen, and it should. We are human, we are imperfect, we are trying to figure it out as we go. We were, and still are, literally just doing the next thing we had to do, and sometimes that also means laughing and feeling joy. We were made to feel.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15: 13
Guilt is a silent enemy I have battled for as long as I can remember. It eats away sometimes when I let it. After Sophia, guilt has lingered just close enough that I can feel it breathing down my neck, inching closer, until I find the strength to push it away. It can consume my every breath…if I let it. It can change a person in many ways…if we let it.
For me, the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation a.k.a. Confession has taken on a whole new meaning after this experience with death.
I know that for many Christians, the idea of confessing our sins to another person seems absurd. Why can’t we just keep it between me and God? Why can’t we just go directly to Him when we need to confess?
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1: 9
I don’t claim to have all of the answers and perfect explanations for the Church’s teachings and reasoning on that. But I do know from experience that the power of this type of confession is extremely compelling. To physically own up to my guilt and to put it into words, to let it out and let it go, and to hear another person who was given the power by Jesus himself say, “You are forgiven” brings on a kind of freedom and forgiveness of self that I truly believe can only be experienced in this way.
It also helps to keep me accountable in my attempt to change my ways. When it’s just between me and God I can justify a whole lot of things. But when I know that someone I trust completely is going to ask how I’m doing, I am way more likely to toe the line.
Does that make me a weak person or a bad Christian? I don’t think so. I think it makes me human.
This past weekend I had an opportunity for Reconciliation and time for a good heart-to-heart with our parish priest afterward. It was breathtaking. It seems weird to say this but it was my best confession ever. I felt a kind of relief and enlightenment that I have come close to feeling before but never truly let myself go there. Not only did I physically feel the relief and compassion from our Lord but I was finally able to really, truly forgive myself. I was able to truly surrender myself to God and put all of my trust in Him and His plan for me.
I gave up control.
Afterwards I sat at the foot of the cross and just let it all go. I gave it all to The One who can handle it, because I simply can’t.
I am ready to let the healing begin. I am ready to feel pure, guiltless joy.
In no way am I done grieving or am I suddenly ready to “move on”. Things will never be the same. I will never look at life or death through the same lens.
But I do feel like I am waking up. Rousing from a 6 1/2 month slumber, groggy, but ready to take on the new day.
Bring it on.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. James 4: 8
Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Luke 15: 7