I should have accomplished more in this pandemic, I heard someone say in a recent Zoom devotional. The remark touched me, because similar words have come from my own lips. I remember when the pandemic began. I, like many others on my block, managed my early anxiety by making a list of a variety of home improvement projects. After many of those were completed, I shifted to personal improvement. And then back again. Still, it has never felt like enough. (I swear, both the unpainted shed and the Spanish language book haunt my dreams.)
And this does not even include my professional life, in which I keep a most ferocious running tally of tasks. No sooner does an item get removed from the list, two more jump on. I keep the list my phone, so I carry it with me almost everywhere I go. Sometimes, I cannot help but feel the weight of it: It is the weight of regret, the weight of things undone, the weight of…
Guilt. Let’s call it what it is. It’s guilt. So many of us have struggled with it from time to time during this pandemic. Perhaps we feel guilt because in a time of such widespread suffering, those of us who are healthy and/or gainfully employed do not know what to do with our privilege. Perhaps we feel guilt because we over-indulged in any number of vices this holiday season to compensate for the lack of social engagements.
Mostly, though I think that we are weighed down by guilt, because capitalism has done an excellent job convincing that we can never do, buy, or be enough. Consumer capitalism has done all that it can to erase grace.
Of course, the institutional church has done its part, too. As church fathers wished to maintain control over the masses (and the Mass), Christmas became about obligation and sacrifice (ie Because the world was so sinful, God had to send Jesus. Jesus was born in barn, and we should feel bad about it. Then – spoiler – Jesus had to die, because we didn’t feel bad enough.)
But atonement is not at the heart of the celebration of Christmas. At its beginning, at its inception, Christmas is about grace. Grace is the radical notion that God meant it when God looked around at creation, and called it good. And by grace, we witness that God loves us just the way we are, and loves us too much to let us stay that way. Because Grace is not about the absence of accountability, but about the deepest kind of solidarity. Jesus’ humble birth is testament to how God loves the poor, and loves the rest of us so much, that God wants us to love the poor as well.
From time to time, I am known to perform theological back bends in order to believe that grace is for everyone but me. Such a worldview is narcissistic misery. It isolates us from other people, because it makes it impossible for us to examine our own mistakes and seek to change. It is also heresy, because it is a rejection of grace itself. And this heresy has real-world implications. We cannot give what we have not first received. We can try. We can do countless acts of justice and service. But inevitably, we will do so with strings attached, because human beings are terrible at compartmentalizing. We cannot help but visit our guilt upon others. Been there. Wished I hadn’t done that.
The good news for me, and for recovering guilt-aholics like me, is that it’s still Christmas. It’s always Christmas, because everyday, grace is available to us. So, this New Year, I’m not going to resolve to get more things accomplished. I never stick to it anyway. Instead, I’m just going to return to my commitment to better receive grace when it is given, so that I can better offer grace to others.
And when I fail to do so, I’m going to try to get right to making amends and to better loving myself and others, and just skip over the guilt.