False Guilt Like Grackles

I’d wager it is grackles Drum Eatenton and his sons light up with firecrackers, at last clearing the trees for Shelby’s wedding.

Though I cannot find solid evidence either the film or play Steel Magnolias call those noisy, nasty birds grackles, I’d lay a bet on it. What other feathered creature perches by the hundreds to terrorize for weeks on end? Except for seagulls, but it is definitely not a flock of seagulls causing a ruckus in Natchitoches, LA.

Seasonally, grackles congregate on open lawns, grocery store rooftops, in parking lot trees, or on roadside telephone wires. They caw relentlessly, and they stay for days. They leave poop and scraggly black feathers in their wake to go haunt some other place.

I’ve yet to witness this as far east as Alabama, but rest assured they gather, even now, somewhere south and west of the Mississippi.

Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest (Proverbs 26:2).

I’ve watched swallows rise and dive like tiny Air Force jets in Montana summers. As long as the sun shines, they flit about. Yet, an undeserved curse, or, false guilt, can also feel a lot like a grackle infestation. Not only is there unrest among the grackles, but they hang around, even after sundown. Like a nagging worry, they pester by their mere existence.

This is not to say grackles are not fine creatures in their own right, and that sparrows and swallows are awful birds. This is just to say false guilt is obnoxious and can nag until pinned down and dealt with.

I’ve struggled for a decade with false guilt. Maybe it’s conviction, or maybe it’s God working out His will, but maybe it’s true. Maybe I am just that vulnerable that each time I think I’m over it, my false guilt inevitably returns to its old haunts to undo me.

How can you tell the difference between false guilt and just plain guilt? It takes discipline (time with God) to develop discernment, but, in general, false guilt is undeserved. Questionable. Contradictory.

It doesn’t quite add up.

Chances are, you know without doubt when you’ve stepped out of line.

I thought I had stepped out of line when I wrote “Go Down Swinging,” now my very first published story. I had always believed I was called to honor God with my writing, to dedicate my talent to Him, to pursue the life of a Christian author.

Yet, my story was gritty and wrought with sinful folks. It was out of character, which is why it shocked my professor and classmates. It also shocked them because it was good writing, my best.

I, too, was shocked.

Debra Earling asked why I felt guilty about “Go Down Swinging,” and then she rocked my world. She asked if it glorified sin, to which I replied “no. Not at all.”

Even non-Christian writers, and most people everywhere, can agree awful things like alcoholism and abuse are not good. So, as a Christian, shouldn’t I go beyond the mere shaming of sinful behavior? Shouldn’t I follow a certain code, a certain formula? I had been trying to fit into a mold, the only one I knew, and it wasn’t working. When I finally let go, “Go Down Swinging” came out, and Debra helped me see the beauty in my story. “It’s like you’re channeling someone’s story, Kathleen.”

It was a powerful statement. It left me humbled. It strengthen my belief in “Go Down Swinging” and I tried a few contests.

I’ll save the story of my journey to publication for next week, but I just realized tonight the root of my false guilt, that undeserved curse that has kept me quiet when I could have written much, that has, in some seasons, crippled me into giving up.

Fear.

Specifically, the fear of what others will think.

I’ve come to realize being a Christian author is much more than skipping down the road called “Christian Fiction.” This is not to say that the aforementioned genre is a cake walk, nor is it without its own grit. This is to say I put myself in a box assuming I knew.

I put God in a box, assuming He meant only one thing when He called me to dedicate my writing pursuits to Him.

When did “writing” plus “Christian” always equal “Christian Fiction”? When did God start restricting creativity to one avenue? (When was it ever okay to assume anything and put seeking God on the back burner?)

God calls us to honor Him with our gifts and talents. It is why they are bestowed. Yet, why do we lean on our own understanding and forget God moves uniquely? Is not the Body of Christ unique? We are not all called to be arms, and even then not all features of the arm function exactly the same.

I feel called to speak truth, and the truth is that life is gritty, unpleasant, and often riddled with sorrow. I feel called to reflect reality, though at times appalling, and to reflect the Truth in the midst of it all.

I am weary of fear. I am weary of false guilt like grackles. It’s all nasty noise that distracts me from the one Voice that matters, and the one thing I hope to do: honor God with my writing.

If you, too, struggle with false guilt, ridding of it takes something far more powerful than firecrackers. For me, it took seeking God out on the matter. I’m still seeking, He’s still revealing, and those birds are clearing more and more each day.

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