Self-Indulgent Guilt

Self-Indulgent Guilt July 13, 2020

Wedding rehearsals occur because of how everything is supposed to happen during the ceremony. It is not so much about rehearsing the lines. It is to make the wedding party comfortable with what they are doing. Someone’s need for comfort is where many weddings fall apart.They may decide to be self-indulgent. I learned many years ago to warn the couple getting married, “If I smell alcohol on you, the wedding won’t happen.”

A Recent Story

Weddings are both celebrations and worship. They are small festivals. They are also nerve-wracking. A friend recently married. It was his first wedding. He is over fifty years old. I ended the rehearsal with my usual warning. I did not believe he or she would be drunk at the ceremony. The wedding coordinator/owner of the venue told a story about one wedding where the groom and groomsmen were well-oiled before the ceremony.

The ceremony proceeded even with the rocky beginning. The reception was so bad that the owner sent everyone home early. She said the bride was in tears. “That will be the memory of her wedding.” She concluded.

My friends were astonished. Such things do happen. A bride once yelled to the audience following a ceremony I performed, “Let’s all get drunk!” Her aunt later apologized to me for it. I did not stay for the reception. But it was not because I was offended.

Being Self-Indulgent

I didn’t stay for the reception because I feared I might get drunk. I was an active alcoholic at that time. Public intoxication by the pastor is not what people expect. They would condemn it more harshly than if most other people displayed it. I had to be careful of that kind of self-indulgence.

The venue owner’s story, though, put me in mind of the times where my self-indulgence ruined events. I thought about the birthday parties, the holiday gatherings, missing church on Sunday mornings, and ruining family evenings. I passed out the night my favorite team won the World Series and did not see the curse of the goat end. Beyond ruining events I reflect on who I hurt. They were my spouse, my parents, my siblings, and most importantly my children. For more about this see my post I DID NOT KNOW.

Every addict/alcoholic is tempted wallow in the guilt early in recovery. It is the disease telling you that you are worthless. And that you should just die. But, because of the nature of being brokenhearted, it is difficult to recognize this as self-indulgent.

The Self-Indulgent Pharisee

Luke tells the parable in 18:9-14 of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Both men offer prayers. The Pharisee uses his prayer as a time for self-indulgence. “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evil doers, and adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The Pharisee is proud of his denial. The tax collector is filled with guilt and asks, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The Pharisee decides comparison is his way to righteousness. He, unlike others he could name, practices self-denial. But self-denial is intended to produce humility. In him it produces the exact opposite. His self-denial becomes self-indulgence.

The tax collector makes no comparison between himself and others. He is neither better nor worse in his sins than anyone else. He does not say (as many of us progressives like to), “at least I am not a hypocrite like this Pharisee.” Humility is the goal of any discipline of self-denial. The tax collector asks for forgiveness. He is justified because he does not presume he will receive forgiveness.

Wallowing in Self-Indulgent Guilt

Being self-indulgently guilty and sorry for ourselves is the worst hubris. It dresses in sackcloth and ashes so it can be praised. The intention of self-indulgent people is always to receive a pass on anything they have done. “I will demonstrate my sorrow and humility until I am off the hook,” is the worst kind of presumption of the guilty. In the evangelical culture of the American south, we expect demonstrations of humility. “You should get down on your knees…” is a common refrain I hear from very religious addicts in recovery programs. I have yet to hear someone claim, “I will in all humility get down on my knees.” Because, any person who could make that claim already knows that is not how receiving forgiveness works.

I am sorry for the times I ruined events for other people. But I also know that there is only so much I can do to make amends and say, “I am sorry.” This realization keeps a guilty person from expecting good results if they just say and do the right things now. The tax collector knew his request was not proof of his contrition. It was an action from his contrition. He knows what he does not deserve. He does not presume to take what he does not merit. Rather, he knows grace is his avenue to become better, one day.


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