everal students returned from this school year’s Christmas break looking decidedly different from when they left campus. While home, they donated their long hair to Locks of Love, a public nonprofit organization that turns donated hair into hairpieces for children with cancer. Donation guidelines require a minimum 10-inch length, so the transformation in the donor’s appearance is dramatic.
One such donor returned sporting a new, shoulder-length haircut. Her thick, wavy hair is now cut in an attractive new style that I think is even more flattering than her long hair used to be. And precious girl that she is, she has no regrets at all about having contributed her hair to such a worthy cause.
So what’s the problem, you’re wondering? Just this: Where the rest of us see a beautiful girl with lovely hair, and with a heart of sacrifice just as beautiful, when she looks in the mirror now she sees only who she used to be, what she used to look like, what’s missing. I know that with time, that will change. She’ll adjust to the new image in the mirror, the hair will grow, and all will be well. Gone today, hair tomorrow, as it were.
What causes me pause is the realization that so many of us don’t move on after life changes; we never accept the new image looking back.
Most of us have left a painful something in our past, as God has graced us into something better. Some have had the opposite experience—have let go of positive things in the past—and are now living an inferior present.
In either case, when we look in the mirror, is it the new creation or the old sinner looking back? Or just plain old guilt? And how can you know the difference?
Despite the strong protests of friends who have gone through radical therapy, I believe that not all guilt shames. “Healthy guilt” serves a necessary function in the Christian life. It directs us to our sin, points us to the Savior for forgiveness, compels us to turn from our sin, and encourages us to offer our lives to God afresh. As long as guilt does that, it exists as a positive force for change in our lives.
But when all guilt does is remind us of our painful past or present without driving us forward, affording no turning point in our lives, it’s just an abortive mark of sin and shame.
Are you looking in the mirror and seeing just your past or present failings? The important question isn’t whether you are or were a sinner who can’t make it to heaven on your own effort. We are all in that particular boat. The question is: Are your sins under the blood? Have you confessed? Have you come to Jesus for forgiveness? Have you turned from your sin and headed in a new direction? Have you trusted His strength to create you brand-new? If so, then guilt has done its job and has no further purpose. Since all have sinned and fallen short of perfection, the question is not whether we’ve sinned, but whether we’ve repented and accepted forgiveness.
If when looking in the mirror we see looking back at us only what we lack—where we’ve failed, what we regret, what we’ve lost—then we are wallowing in guilt, delighting the enemy of our souls, and denying God’s grace. And that is a real shame.
For more information about the Locks of Love program, click here
For more information about forgiveness, go to Isaiah 1:18, Romans 6:23, or The Acts of the Apostles (p. 52).
Valerie N. Phillips is the associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years.