My daughter nearly drowned in a swimming pool when she was two-years-old; and I nearly drowned in my guilt after the incident.
It happened on my watch.
She, very cautious in the water, sat on the gradual steps that doubled as the pool entrance. I always stayed close by her, but that day was different. A friend of mine and two of her kids came for a swim. When she took her little boy to deeper water, her youngest child, a precocious daredevil, took that opportunity to explore.
The little girl, also a toddler, jumped up, tossed her Polly Pocket™ into the water, and darted around the side of the pool, ignoring our warnings. When she decided to reach for a leaf that was floating in eight-feet of water, I sprang into action. I told my daughter to stay still and I started to swim toward the other girl because I knew that with a four-year-old attached to her, my friend would have trouble getting to her daughter in time. My girl had never before moved from the steps, even with my coaching, so I felt confident she would be safe.
I’m snail slow in the water, but I reached the little girl right before she fell.
Elation lit through me for less than a second before terror took over when I heard sputtering.
I pivoted and saw my baby face down amid waves created by her own tiny, flailing body. I’m not a strong swimmer and although I was moving as fast as I could, I knew I wouldn’t reach her in time.
My throat-scalding scream caught the attention of a woman nearby who quickly dove in and plucked my daughter to safety.
Sobbing, I held my toddler while her lungs spat out the burning, chlorinated liquid that filled them.
I also struggled for breath and balance as I repeatedly whispered, “I’m sorry,” and tried to push away the intrusive thoughts swirling about my mind.
“Why did you endanger your child’s life?”
“You should have gotten out of the water. You’re faster on land, you know that.”
“You should have put your daughter on a lawn chair and then run to save the other child.”
“You are so stupid, so careless, you don’t deserve this child.”
“She almost died and it would have been your fault.”
Guilt. It is invisible, yet weighs heavier than a stack of cinder blocks. And when placed on a soul, it can immobilize body and mind.
My daughter and I returned to the pool the next day. I smiled, played with her and laughed as if nothing happened, but I kept seeing two versions of her … one in my arms wearing her pretty princess swimsuit and one wearing a bright pink Dora suit, floating face down in the water.
The image tattooed itself on my brain. It invaded my dreams, drenched me in sweat and smacked me awake every night.
It took me two years to get past the “what ifs.” Two years of blaming myself … hating myself … chaining myself to a cold, dark lie instead of allowing God’s warm grace to free me from that guilt.
Two years. And that was false guilt, even. I didn’t commit a sin the day my daughter could have drowned and I wasn’t intentionally careless. I acted with good intentions to protect a child I knew was in serious danger. Still, I held myself responsible and refused to be absolved of my role for two years. Even sadder, that guilt built a wall between my heart and the joy I should have felt instead. Yes, something scary happened that day, but so did something amazing: a stranger saved my daughter’s life. I should have rejoiced, not cowered in shame and regret.
I share this story because guilt hit me harder here than any other time in my life, but it is not the only time I branded myself with an ugly “G.” Those times I do truly mess up … oh those are hard for me to release.
But here’s the truth: wading in guilt is a waste of time. It’s inhibiting, it’s harmful, and it’s disrespectful to our Savior.
Jesus died in agony to erase each and every one of my sins. Not accepting His forgiveness for errors in judgment and for blatant wrongdoing is like telling Christ, “I’m sorry, your blood was not enough.”
Forgiveness does not mean there aren’t consequences for our mistakes sometimes. And it is important that we confess our grievous choices and make amends. However, when we accept the freedom that is offered through Jesus, there is no condemnation. We’re forgiven. The mistakes of yesterday (or ten minutes ago) are rendered powerless because His blood is more than enough.
Dear friend, I do not know your story. But I know that there is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing you have done or will do that will take more than the blood of Christ to cleanse. Forgiveness is yours. Toss out that guilty baggage. It stinks and it will only weigh you down and hold you back from your purpose. Instead take what you’ve learned from the mistake, wrap it in God’s love and live bravely and unashamed.
Here are some powerful verses from God’s word that you can use to in the fight against guilt and shame.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1 (NIV)
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17 (ESV)
“And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.'” Hebrews 10:15-18 (HCSB)
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4 (ESV)