Driving while holding a pastrami sandwich packed with sauerkraut is probably something that should only be attempted by a professional stunt driver on a closed course. Yet, I recently accomplished this feat during my hunt for feet fashion.
Acting on a tip from my chaplain friend, Laura, I drove to a specialty shoe store on a mission to buy the magic slipper that would make me the prince of runners.
As I pulled curbside, I reflected on how I should be doing a bit more than just buying a good running shoe. The guilt meter was telling me I needed a lifestyle change. In recent days, driving among six outpatient clinics, I had become a real pastrami-packin’, Frito-snortin’, Pepsi-slurpin’ chaplain.
As I shut off my engine, I chugged the remaining Fritos followed by a Pepsi chaser. Then I surveyed the area for a trash can where I could ditch the wrappings and trappings of my culinary indiscretion.
Masking the Frito breath with a mint, I sucked in enough air to feign a runner’s physique and walked through the front door. I was immediately greeted by a clerk named Laura — like the chaplain who sent me. Was this karma?
After a quick grip-and-grin greeting, Laura straddled one of those funny shoe stools with a little loading ramp and offered me the seat opposing her. With my foot strapped onto the loading ramp, Laura began to fit me with dozens of shoes like the princess looking for her CinderFella to fit a glass Nike.
The problem was that her attention was focused over my shoulder where her colleagues were busy faxing lunch orders to the local sandwich shop, which, judging from their athletic aura, probably included sandwiches stuffed with elephant dandruff topped with air beans.
From her perch on the wooden shoe horse, Laura took a shaky aim as she fired her first diagnostic question, but with her psyche engaged in a food conversation, she misfired — “So, what kinds of things do you eat?”
Disbelieving her complete lack of diplomacy, I wondered if she had some kind of gizmo capable of measuring the fat in the guilt-ridden sweat of my handshake. Had my chaplain friend, Laura, ratted me out? Had the store’s security camera caught me stashing the trash?
At any moment, I expected a latex-gloved co-worker to appear pinching a mustard-soaked bag commanding, “We got him now, Laura. This is all we’ll need. Book him on charges of ‘stuff and run.’ ”
Stuttering and stumbling, I apologized. “I’m sorry. I know I have lousy eating habits, but I’m trying to do better.”
“‘Scuse me?” Laura said. “I’m hoping these new shoes will encourage better habits,” I reasoned.
“Didn’t you just ask what I eat?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Laura said. “I guess I was thinking about what my friends were ordering for lunch.”
Without knowing anything about my eating habits, Laura didn’t mean to imply judgment, but it was too late. Flaming guilt had already engulfed my face, and by the looks of things, it was headed for a three-alarm response.
Two flames of guilt had erupted that day. One was a healthy backfire of guilt lighted to forestall health dangers, but the unhealthy guilt was consuming my integrity.
Unhealthy guilt begins as we put this incredible amount of energy into concealing things. As we make efforts to get rid of it, hide it, shirk it, ignore it, serious mental health concerns can result.
My mother used to say, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”
I think she was saying something about the remarkable power of the undisclosed or the hidden.
The energy expended to blanket a problem will often shape a silhouette plain enough for all to see. The impression left from hiding guilt is often as plain as the angel pattern left by children playing in snow.
As I worked to hide my fast-food bag, mask my breath, and suck in my gut, my unhealthy guilt made every shoe clerk seem like an accuser. When we see people as accusers, we begin to see them in a similar way as did the woman whose execution Jesus interrupted.
Jesus interrupted her accusers as they readied stones to execute her for adultery. He sent the executors packing with a single qualification: “He who is without sin may cast the first stone.”
With the sudden disappearance of her accusers, Jesus assured her, “No man condemns you and neither do I.”
People like that part of the story, but often forget Jesus then turned the tables a bit by enforcing healthy guilt on the woman as he added the dismissive mandate, “Go and sin no more!”
In life, guilt can do many good things inspiring us to work toward the right things in life. But only as we reveal the concealment in our lives will we be able to allow the process of healthy guilt do its work.
When Laura rang up the sale, the damage was almost $100 and I had only one thought: “I shouldn’t be spending this kind of money on shoes. I’m going to have to run 10 miles a day to justify this purchase.”
The guilt was back.