Stolen Cheeseballs and A Guilty Conscience
In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19
A couple years after my son’s seventh grade school year, his teacher told me a story about him. My son – who gave me permission to tell this story – was supposed to be outside with his class one day, when he snuck back inside and helped himself to the teacher’s giant jar of cheeseballs. He believed stealing was wrong, and so, taking something that didn’t belong to him caused him immense misery. For the next two days, he carried this burden until he couldn’t stand it any longer and turned himself in. In the end, his teacher thought it was amusing and was impressed by his honesty.
It’s funny when it comes to cheeseballs, but I’ve created a tremendous amount of misery for myself that has been anything but humorous. In my addiction, I believed one thing but behaved in a manner completely contrary to that belief. This caused what’s called cognitive dissonance – psychologic stress caused when my thoughts and actions contradict my beliefs.
In my angst, I had only a few choices. I could change my behavior, which I wasn’t willing to do. I could change my beliefs, which in this case was impossible. Or, I could just learn to cope with the shame of my self-destructive behavior. I chose the last option, knowing that a few more pills would kill the misery for a while. Perhaps the worst thing that happened near the end of my drug use though, was when I’d worn down my conscience so far that I just didn’t care anymore. Maybe I didn’t consciously feel guilty in this state, but I was certainly more miserable and hopeless than ever.
Most of us can relate to some version of this, but sometimes, we don’t even realize the pain we’re causing ourselves. Not all anxiety is self-induced of course, but often, we just feel restless and ill-at-ease due to our cognitive dissonance. We may not recognize that it’s our porn habit, resentment, greed, selfishness, pride, or dishonesty that’s making us miserable, but if we believe those things are wrong and we do them anyway, we’re destined for sorrow.
Today’s passage provides the answer to our schism. In turning to Christ, we can be forgiven as we can begin to abandon the things that have brought us so much internal conflict. If we feel wretched and restless, daily we must go to God, asking him to reveal to our conscience if we are doing something to cause ourselves distress. Then, we must do whatever it takes to abandon that thing as we follow him to authentic life, joy, and peace.