Overwhelmed: Guilt and Grudges
Some of us feel overwhelmed by our past. We feel guilt and shame from things that we did and said that brought pain to other people. And some of us carry hurts from the harm that was inflicted on us in the past. Some hurts are so big they require counseling to work through, some are smaller, but they still affect how we see ourselves in the present. They seem to define us and overwhelm the person we want to become.
The Hurts We Gave
I was recently reading about John Newton, the author of 'Amazing Grace.' He was a mate and then captain of a slave ship. But as he led these ships, he began to have sympathy for the slaves. He gradually understood his participation in this evil. Eventually, he left the slave trade and wrote a pamphlet denouncing it. He wrote, "a confession, which ... comes too late ... It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders." The pamphlet was sent to prominent leaders in England and was quickly reprinted. He teamed up with William Wilberforce and in his lifetime saw the abolishment of the slave trade in England.
What spurred his action was his guilt. A pang of guilt that stayed with him until he died, but it didn't overwhelm him; instead, it called him to do more. It called him to make amends for what he had done wrong. His guilt changed the world. In the song 'Amazing Grace,' we get this small glimpse into Newton's heart. He carried in his heart grief and guilt, but it transformed him and pushed him to action.
Newton and others who have caused immense hurts found freedom from their shame by making amends. Amend making is more than just saying 'I am sorry,' it is about restoration and justice. Making amends means restoring what you have broken; if not in a direct way, then in a symbolic way. Sometimes it is as simple as a heartfelt apology, other times call for a total reversal of our lives.
In the Bible there is this story about a tax collector named Zacchaeus, like many tax collectors of the day he often collected way more in taxes than the government required, keeping a large portion for himself. When he decided to make amends, he promised to no longer cheat people and offered to pay back 4 times what he took. The action transformed his life and the lives of those whom he hurt.
The Hurts We Received
The other things that can overwhelm us from our past are our grudges. We have hurts, and these hurts color our world. When these grudges go unchecked, it can make us feel like everyone is against us. During World War II, Louis Zamperini was held as a prisoner of war in Japan. While being held captive, he was brutally beaten and abused. A few years after his release, a missionary group asked him to travel to Japan; he didn't want to go. He still carried lots of anger from his experience, but ultimately, he felt God calling him to return to Japan. He first went to the prison where many of his former captors were held. To heal from his past and move on, he needed to forgive them. His grudges could have been debilitating and overwhelming, but instead, they were transformational. His grudges became a driving force for forgiveness in his life.
When we find ourselves overwhelmed by the past, the tools of amend-making and forgiveness helps us to move forward as we seek to be the people we were called to be in this world.