This week I faced my first real speed bump as a mother-to-be. I failed my glucose test, which means I might have gestational diabetes.
For some reason I took the news REALLY hard. Part of the reason is that I was so totally surprised by it. I don’t have any risk factors, I am healthy, I eat right (for the most part), I exercise, etc. And yet I failed the test, which led me to feel as though I had failed in some larger sense.
For one thing, I was afraid I had disappointed Ike. I also felt like I had somehow brought this on myself. I was wracked with guilt, and as soon as we got in the car I bawled my eyes out.
Next week I will take another test to find out if the first one was accurate. There is still a chance that I do NOT have gestational diabetes, so please PLEASE say a prayer for me and the baby! I am really hoping it was a false positive.
In the mean time, I’ve been thinking some about my response to the test and why I took the results so hard. Yesterday I talked to my mom about it and she said she had a similar response when she found out she had breast cancer. She felt like she had done something wrong or that it was somehow her fault. She also felt like she had let down our family since we would all have to go through the treatment alongside of her.
I thought that was a strange but telling reaction. It is strange to me that when something bad happened, which was outside of our control, both my mom and I immediately felt responsible and guilty. But I wonder if that is not a common human response when something goes wrong. I wonder how many of us blame ourselves for the random brokenness that periodically jags into our lives.
This response, I suspect, has a lot to do with the human inclination toward works righteousness. By nature, we default to a rewards-based manner of living. Christian or not, it’s easy to function as though good behavior earns blessing (ie. karma, or the belief that going to Heaven entails being a “good person”). Likewise, it’s easy to fear that our bad behavior will bring punishment. And because this mentality is so deeply rooted in our humanity, it shapes our conclusions when bad things happen. We feel guilty. We assume we brought it on ourselves. Even if the cause and effect is not direct, we secretly believe that, somehow, this bad thing that happened is a divine reckoning.
For me, this mentality plays out in another way as well. Not only do I wonder if I deserve the bad things that happen to me, but I also wrestle with a fear that something bad is always just around the corner. I either fear the consequences of bad decisions (even bad decisions from LONG ago), or I fear that God will allow hardship to befall me “for my own good.” That is to say, I associate spiritual growth and sanctification with suffering, as though that is the only way God can prune my heart and soul.
Between the guilt attached to my bodily failure, and the fear I have about being disciplined (or let’s be honest, punished), there is a clear disconnect between what I say I believe and how I actually live. It is the difference between living by faith and living by works righteousness, and quite often I am a practical Pharisee.
I don’t know if I am alone in feeling this way, but I am amazed at my own fickle heart. God has done so much to convey His love to me, most of all through His son, and yet I still gravitate towards feelings of shame and guilt before Him. Rather than acknowledge His loving action toward me, or the truth of His merciful character, I am tempted to fear Him.
To me, this default mode of the human condition, which persists in spite of all God has done for us, is exactly why we need God so much. We are such broken creatures that even when God shows us love and grace, we have trouble accepting it. In our sin, we cling to that which keeps us cowering and unsure, rather than walk in the freedom of God’s salvation.
The absurdity of this inclination is why we need such a radical intervention, and it came in the form of Christ. Jesus took the punishment we deserve, which means that my punishment is not coming tomorrow or any time in the future. My hardships and suffering are not punishments–or even disciplinary actions–but simply the result of living in a fallen world.
That said, the cross is a reminder that God’s will for our lives is fundamentally good and wonderful, not stingy and cruel. And the ease with which we can experience salvation–by grace through faith–tells us that God’s tools for salvation and sanctification are not always hard or heavy. Many times God invites us to grow in the most gentle and sweet ways. As Jesus said, his yoke is easy and his burden is light.
I know that there is much more to my feelings about the glucose test than my forgetfulness of God’s love. I’m sure they are also tied to fears about being a good mother, or disappointment that my body won’t always perform the way I want it to. But the guilt and the shame I experienced are also indicative of a misguided picture of God.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ tells me what kind of God I serve, and I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to accept the entirety of what that means. But when I fail to do so, there too is grace and mercy.