It was an accident, of course. But I poked her pretty badly, nonetheless. Reese’s left eyeball had a red mark on it. The doctor said it would take a few weeks for the red mark to disappear. And eventually it did. Yet every time I saw Reese’s bruised eye during those weeks, I hurt. I hurt, even after the pain had faded for her.
Reese had been demanding a Sesame Street video. I was trying to get the disc out of the case. Reese was trying to wrestle the case and the disc from my grasp. She didn’t yet speak English clearly, but I think she was calling out: “I do it! I do it!”
The case and disc slipped from my right hand. Instinctively my left hand shot out to catch them as they fell. At a “towering” height of 31 inches, Reese was the perfect height to catch my index finger in her eye.
“I’m so sorry, Reese!”
Her face went beet-red with a look of shock. Then her eyes closed, her face scrunched down, and she collapsed in a pile of pain. She wailed, and it wasn’t hard to translate her cry into English: “Daddy, how could you do this to me?!?!”
I didn’t intend to harm her. But, nonetheless, harm happened, and I was a real part of it. That subtle difference is difficult, very difficult, for me to navigate.
I think it is much easier for someone to become a guilt sponge for all the wrongs in the world, most of which the person really has no major part in creating.
For instance, imagine you are talking with someone who says to you with all seriousness, “I am so sorry about the Deepwater Horizon collapse and the Gulf Oil Spill.”
(Remember when that happened? I know I do. I was living in Houston at the time.)
Anyway, the person looks really troubled as she says it. Who is this person? How could they feel responsible?
There are only a handful of people for which this statement would make rational sense – a higher-up at British Petroleum, for instance. And, you are probably not talking to a BP executive.
In this imaginary conversation, you are probably talking to someone sensitive who is sucking in too much guilt over something she had no control over. And that’s the case, even if the person uses oil (like we all do in more ways than we can imagine).
That’s a ridiculous example, but hopefully you get the idea. Emotionally and spiritually we can take on an extreme amount of guilt for things we don’t really control. This is unhealthy.
But, on the other extreme, we can also blow off all the damage we didn’t intend to cause, but we really did. That was what I was feeling with Reese after I poked he in her sweet, little hazel eye. Denying the damage we cause simply because we didn’t intend to harm is also a very unhealthy tendency.
Imagine getting into a car wreck with someone who said in all seriousness, “I know I was driving 100mph on a 45mph street. I know I’d five beers before I left the bar. But, I didn’t intend to hit you, so I don’t really bear any responsibility.”
If the first person is a sponge when it comes to guilt, the second is Teflon – nothing sticks, even when it should.
Reading the gospel stories, most days I don’t think Judas Iscariot ultimately intended to get Jesus killed. This Judas was, of course, the friend and follower of Jesus who sold him for silver and set up his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Usually I tend to think Judas meant to give Jesus a kick in a backside so the Lord would get things in gear. In essence, I imagine Judas thinking, “If I turn Jesus over to the authorities, it’ll push him into getting on with his revolution as the rightful Messiah. He’ll finally get on with crushing the bad guys like a real Messiah should.”
But Judas did help get Jesus killed, whether he intended to or not. I wish Judas would have dealt with his guilt differently than he did and so had been there when Jesus rose from the dead. After all, Judas wasn’t the only one to betray Jesus. Simon-Peter did. All of us do to some extent.
I didn’t mean to poke Reese in the eye, but I did. It would have been wrong for me to take on a mountain of guilt for the accident. After all, in no way did I mean to poke her and physically assault her.
But, it also would have been wrong for me to waive any role I had in making things better because I didn’t intend to mess things up in the first place. After all, I did poke her.
If I get a great deal on a pair of jeans, and that screaming deal is made possible by the virtual slavery of a neighbor across the ocean or the lost job of a neighbor down the street, how do I navigate that? I didn’t intend to be a part of the harm. I’m not responsible for setting up the system, but still I’m a part of it. I still have a real role in the harm happening. I still am called in Christ to take a role in making that system better.
Whether we are seeking God’s wisdom for how we spend our money or how we rebuild our fractured family relationships, a big part of Christian discernment is hashing these types of questions out under the guidance of God’s Spirit, seeing our participation in the situation, and going in a different direction so a little more heaven creeps into it.
And, blessedly, a big part of salvation is receiving the good news that all the messes we are a part of (whether by intent or not) can be healed in Jesus. The question is: Once our eyes are open, are we willing to play a role in that healing, or are we stuck in the habit of being either a sponge or Teflon?