Feeling Guilty

Posted: January 25, 2006 in Everything

Have you ever felt like everyone in the room was talking about you, but were being too polite to just come on out a say it. Don’t you wish they would? Wouldn’t it be great if someone just came out and said it?

Today I was sitting in a board meeting for a not-for-profit agency. I’ve served on the board for four years now, so I feel pretty committed. However, a fellow board member–the chair of the development committee–began talking about how “some” on the board did not make their “expected” contribution last year. That “expected” contribution is about $1,000.

Okay, you guessed it, I didn’t right a check last year…things have been slim at my house. You know, gas prices and all.

Anyway, apparently some on the board were instructed when they joined that the contribution was required, others that it was expected and others–apparently those of us who joined four years or so ago–were given no information about the contribution and give as we deem fit. In addition, last year, each board member was asked to help raise $10,000.

Okay, okay, you guessed it. I didn’t do that either.

Did I mention things have been slim? Darn gas prices!

Well, by now I’m sweating (like a _____ in _____), if you know what I mean. As I look around the room, I think, “Everybody here must have given and this is a polite, but direct conversation to me.” Every have that feeling? Then it got worse. The conversation turned to whether or not the board should be required to make a contribution. At this point I’m loosening my tie and looking for the closest door. Crap, it’s across the room! Plus, if I get up these people are going to cart me into the town square gathering stones along the way. To add injury to insult, one member explained how nearly all the managers in the agency made the same contribution. Oh, great, so equally poor people made the contribution I couldn’t. So now I was out of excuses…I really wasn’t living up to my end.

For the first time in my life I could understand what people meant when they said they feel guilty when they come to church. I always thought, “What are people talking about? No one is making you feel guilty? Everybody sins, a sermon isn’t aimed at you?”

But, you know what, that’s exactly how I felt at my meeting today. Everyone was talking about me, at me, looking down at me, because I didn’t do, or didn’t have, or couldn’t produce what the group thought was important for me to do, have, or produce. I felt dirty. I left thinking, “I want to quit. Why should I subject myself to this? These people don’t understand that not everyone is in the same place they are. Isn’t there someplace else I’d be a better fit?”

Trust me, I know–after they mentioned that less than half of the board contributed or raised the right amount–that they weren’t talking directly to me, but it sure felt like they were. It sure felt like they were saying, “We’re doing all this the right way and some of you loafers need to get on board or get in check so we won’t have to have this conversation again.”

Feeling guilty sucks.

I don’t want people to feel that way at my church, or when I’m away speaking somewhere. And don’t bother me with the, “Well, Sean, you knew what was expected or intimated” line, because I really didn’t. Most of my fellow-board member live and work in a corporate world and realize that board members are often required to make donations. But I don’t live in that world, and I’m not on the board because of my deep pockets.

I realized again how important it is to frame a message well. The import only grows when we talk about the gospel message, which has such deeper, fuller implications. I left the meeting wondering how beneficial it is to talk about what people did last year.

Have you noticed how often Jesus talks about people’s past? Not very often. Sure he does it. But Jesus has a marvelous way of saying, “You used to fish for fish, but from now on you’ll be a fisher of men” or “Who is here to condemn you? Go and sin no more.” The past is important. Necessary even. We need the past to know what we’re repenting of and for. But it pails in comparison to a vision of a future. Jesus’ ministry is about connecting people to a future, not rehearsing what funds dried up last year.

Perhaps we need a message about walking in the future, what can be done to be better today and tomorrow. Maybe there is a way we can talk about improvement without making each other feel guilty. After all, I have a lot of regrets about yesterday. I have none for tomorrow.

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