"You should have ...." Those words have been like a cancer ravaging my heart and mind and soul, and my body. I was dreadfully afraid of getting it wrong, of hearing, "You should have ...." I was afraid of angering or even disappointing God by the things I failed to do, and the list of tasks I felt God wanted me to accomplish daily was oppressive. I also believed that God expected me to meet every need I saw in everyone around me. I lived with a constant sense that my work was unsatisfactory to God. When God said to me that I only think of Him sitting, I tried to think of Him standing and acting. Is it any wonder that the only action I could imagine Him taking was hitting me?
Well, four years ago, we were in Nebraska during our furlough from Kenya. My husband was teaching for one semester at Nebraska Christian College, and I was praying for all of my husband's students. I would read their journal responses to the books they were reading and ask God to lead me in how to pray. While I was praying for one student, at the end of the semester, I found a journal response from mid-semester. In her response, the student had asked to come and talk with us since she was struggling. More than a month later, we had still not responded, because we hadn't even seen it.
I had gotten up very early that morning in order to pray. It was just about dawn, and I had already been up praying for a couple of hours. So now, I was weary, and when I should be feeling that I had accomplished something for God, I was instead dealing with with an intense attack of guilt. I had an anguishing ten minutes listening to the accusations which were pounding at me and berating myself. Then, to my surprise, I heard myself making a bold declaration aloud, "I will not accept this guilt. God could have blinded me for a purpose. I'm going to ask God to judge me. If I am guilty, He will tell me." I am still amazed that I was able to say that at that time. I believe it was the Spirit at work.
I called the student and invited her to dinner. It was the last possible day we could meet before I left. We ended up sharing our stories for about three hours and saw that God was teaching both of us many similar things. We also prayed together. As the student prepared to leave, I asked her, "Did God accomplish what He had for our meeting together tonight?" The very first thing she said was, "It was good you didn't answer when I first wrote to you. I was trying to go to people. God wanted me to go to Him." God had judged me and found me guiltless!
The student went on to explain that because we did not respond, she found herself crying out to God instead, and He answered. God's grace in that situation was amazing. Had I seen her response earlier, I don't think I could have believed that God didn't want me to act. Knowing me, God instead found a way to demonstrate clearly to me that I don't have to answer every need. He loves it when people come to Him themselves. Even Jesus said we don't need Him to talk to the Father for us. Because of my delayed response, when the student and I talked, what I shared was confirmation and encouragement for what she had already learned from God.
That one incident did not remove my struggle with guilt and my fear of hearing, "You should have ...." I would try to ask God before jumping in to answer needs I saw, but doubt kept eating at me. What if I am just making excuses not to help? What if that wasn't a principle to follow, but an exception? What if God is disappointed with my selfishness?
Two years later, I was on a tight schedule. I had three stops to make and two children in tow. In Nairobi, getting one thing done from your list is considered a good achievement for your day. I needed to get all three things done, and before traffic hit. (We rank #4 worldwide in commuter misery.) As I left stop number two to head further into Nairobi for stop number three, I was pushing a cart with my children and my purchases. I passed a woman struggling with her cell phone. Someone was trying to help her, and I passed on by. As soon as I passed her, guilt washed over me, pounding at me. The whole walk to the car accusations assaulted me. As I opened the back door to put my purchases in the car, I heard God speak an idea. I can't remember the exact words, but this was the essence: "I will not attack you afterward for not acting. I will speak to you beforehand if I want you to do something." Peace filled me.