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Haunted by Guilty Memories

I was 18-years-old, working in the meat department at the Jitney Jungle grocery store.  Shortly after I started, I told a lie that still haunts me today.

My co-worker Bryan had warned me to avoid the assistant manager, Bob.  He said that if I wasn’t careful, Bob would try to get me to work on the floor of the grocery store.  Being a meat department man, I had meat to grind and ham to slice, and I didn’t want to do any clean-ups on aisle nine.  So I decided to do whatever it took to avoid Bob.

I successfully avoided him for my first couple of months.  But then one day I was walking through the stocking room, and from behind me, I heard Bob brusquely say, “Josh, come over here.”

I kept walking.

“Josh!” he yelled.

I turned around, looked at him, squinted, pointed to my ear, and said, “I’m sorry, my hearing is bad.”

“Oh,” he said, raising his voice, “Well, can you get these boxes off the pallet?”

“I’m sorry, what?” I said, pointing to my ear again.  “It’s my hearing.  Can you say that again?”

Raising his voice and emphasizing each word, Bob said, “I – need – you – to – get – these – boxes!”

Again, I feigned deafness, and Bob curtly said, “Don’t worry about it.”

I walked away snickering to myself, proud that I had fooled Bob.  And I was not ashamed of myself – yet.

For the next month, things were swell between Bob and me. He didn’t ask me to do any work for him, and every time he saw me, he greeted me in an excessively loud voice.

And then it fell apart. Bob came up to me one day, pulled me aside, stood close to me, and loudly said, “Josh, Bryan told me I hurt your feelings when I yelled at you a while back, and I just want to say I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings – I was just trying to make sure you could hear me.”

“Oh, that’s fine,” I replied, wanting to get away, embarrassed by this man who had now been tricked into humbling himself before a liar.

“You know,” he said, “I’ve got a little boy who’s got some mental retardation, and sometimes people mistreat him because he’s disabled – so I don’t ever want to do that to anyone else. And I felt so bad when I realized I made you feel bad about your hearing problem. And that’s why I want you to know how sorry I am.”

“It’s okay,” I said, my heart dropping. “Please don’t apologize. I’m fine.”
I wasn’t fine. I was ashamed.

For the next few weeks, I languished in uncertainty about what to do. It ate at me every time Bob walked by and said a loud “hello,” and finally, I could take it no more. One day, I stopped him in the stock room and told him the truth, that I had faked deafness with him, and the joke had gotten out of hand.
“I just want to say I’m sorry – I’m really, really sorry.”

Bob crossed his arms and glared at me for a moment.

“I hope you can forgive me,” I said.

He turned around and walked away, and we hardly spoke ever again.

That was fifteen years ago, and it still bothers me to think about it, even more so to write about it. The shame is still fresh – even now it hits me in the pit of my stomach. But as much as that memory eats at me, there are a handful of other shameful memories from my past that are even harder to revisit.

The memories sneak up on me at the most inopportune times, grabbing me by the collar, staring me in the eyes, reminding me of how I’ve failed, suffocating me in the thought that I will never live those moments down. Some days, it’s the prank on Bob that gets me; other days, it’s the memory of that night back in 1999, or it may be the exceedingly cruel thing I said to that young lady in my Driver’s Ed class.

And when shame rears its menacing head, rather than try to suppress the memory, I remind Jesus of what I did. I walk through all the embarrassing, painful details with Him; and in faith, I offer Him my shame. Sometimes I’ll pray for the person who was involved in what I did. And then I thank God when I remember that He didn’t come to save me because I deserved it; He came to rescue a planet full of broken losers.

I find great relief in remembering my place in His kingdom, not as one who deserves entry, but one who needed a Savior to make me worthy to be with Him. It doesn’t mean the memories don’t come back to haunt me – believe me, just writing about this topic has brought up more than a few of them. But in the face of God’s love, I remember that Jesus already “endured the cross, despising its shame,” (Heb. 12:2) so I don’t have to.

10 Comments
  1. so good Joshua. this morning I awoke just thanking God for covering my shameful past, present and future. i honestly sometimes don't know what i'm most thankful for…the hope of heaven or the benefit of living free from the guilt this side of heaven. regardless i'm so grateful to be called His and that the HOUND OF HEAVEN wouldn't release me…or you! =)

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    April 3, 2012
  2. I have to admit I sort of guffawed at the scenes of Bob coming up to you and yelling. But regarding the overall theme, haven't we all been there.Thought you'd appreciate this: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35mdsw/Chris M.

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    April 3, 2012
  3. Word spacing made "thought … you'd … appreciate … this!" far more dramatic than intended.Chris M.

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    April 3, 2012
  4. Josh isn't it great that he can forgive us when we can't forgive ourselves? his grace is sufficient!!!!!!

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    April 3, 2012
  5. Although my memory is generally quite poor, this clear voice inside of me has a photographic memory when it comes to moments in my past like the one you wrote about. Not long ago, I was reading a devotion centered on Leviticus 16:7-10 where I was reminded that not only is Christ the blood sacrifice for my sin, he took my shame and guilt on his head, just like the goat released to the wilderness. There is freedom . . . I try to remind the voice of that.

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    April 3, 2012
  6. The typical response came to my head while reading this. It went something like "satan is the one who reminds us of our failures. We need to forget our past sins and realize that the work of Jesus on the Cross took care of all that. God does not condemn us. He forgives us."But then I realized that I have never seen a single verse which says we are to completely forget our sins, and that Jesus only wants us to look forward. The truth is that yes, He has forgiven us, and He will not condemn us. But it's also true that we can learn from our past. Paul wrote about, when he was Saul, how he persecuted believers. Yet he also fully walked in the truth of forgiveness. His refusal to forget his past sin made him appreciate grace even more. If I recall some nasty things in my past, then I can benefit by (a) learning from it, and not repeating it; (b) be reminded of what Jesus saved me from.By the way: here's my memory I am not proud of: http://middletree.blogspot.com/2009/03/memory-i-am-not-proud-of.html

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    April 3, 2012
  7. Great story and well told. I know how you feel as I once lied to a college professor. The guilt didn't subside until I confessed to him what I had done.

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    April 3, 2012
  8. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus! Great post.

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    April 4, 2012
  9. I started reading not sure how relevant this was going to be. Then, it hit me! I have spent all my life numbing the pain and disillusionments of my past. After reading this, I realize that we have a friend in Jesus that we can talk to; bring the pain to him, and trust that it is all washed in the Blood. I should never cower away from memories; just know how to handle them — not let the enemy paralyze me with guilt; yet at the same time, learn to deal with them in the light of His Truth! This is very sobering, deep, and well balanced. I also enjoyed James' response.lito

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    April 5, 2012
  10. A very good read. You have asked James for forgiveness and if he doesn't forgive you-he is worse off than you were.

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    April 7, 2012

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