Editor’s note: This Norris Burkes column originally was published on Nov. 2, 2003.
We have a store in my town called Fleet Feet. It’s a specialty shoe store where people like me hope to buy a magic running shoe that will help melt holiday pounds away.
Recently, I visited the store, where I was pleasantly greeted by a very nice clerk who quickly straddled one of those funny shoe stools with a little loading ramp.
With my foot strapped onto the ramp, she began to fit me with dozens of shoes. I felt 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.
From her perch on the wooden shoe horse, she fired her first diagnostic question about what I usually eat. I knew immediately that the question was a misfire because she was listening to her colleagues ordering lunch.
But it was too late. Her question had already set off the guilt alarms.
I wondered if she had some kind of gizmo capable of measuring the fat in the guilt-laden sweat of my handshake.
At any moment, I expected a latex-gloved co-worker to appear pinching a mustard-soaked bag commanding, “We got him now. This is all we’ll need. Book him on charges of ‘stuff and run.’ ”
Without knowing anything about my eating habits, the clerk hadn’t meant 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.
But this kind of guilt — the kind of guilt that only fears being exposed — is almost as unhealthy as are my eating habits.
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.
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 suck in my gut, my unhealthy guilt made this hapless 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 the clerk 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.