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Milk Guilt and Absolution

Here’s another one from the archives, originally published in April 2006.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other…” (James 5:16a NLT)

I live alone. (Well, I’m owned by a high-maintenance cat, but she doesn’t help with the housework; rather the opposite, in fact.) As such, certain chores in my apartment occasionally get neglected — like cleaning out the refrigerator. It may happen that after a week or two of eating no meals at home but breakfast, I’ll notice that something in my fridge has, er, aged past its prime. Now, I don’t know for sure that it’s bad yet (you can drink milk until it’s sour, regardless of expiration date), but I don’t need it right then, so I don’t check. As days pass and this item has still not been called for by any of the meals I may have prepared, I become more and more certain of its actual expiration.

Thence arises the dilemma. If I give in, check it, find it spoiled and throw it away, I’ll be admitting that I wasted food by letting it go bad. I can’t buy a new one for the same reason. If, on the other hand, I just let it sit there, I can keep pretending that it will be good whenever I eventually need it. My friends and I call this quandary milk guilt, after the carton that prompted our first self-reflection on the matter.

If you’re grossed out by my habits, I offer you my sincere apologies. But I hope you’ll also observe with me the ludicrous position into which my pride and self-imposed guilt have placed me. What are the odds that the expired container of food will actually not be revolting? None. Yet there it continues to sit.

I realized recently that I had arrived at a similar point in my walk with God. What had been in recent memory a vital, vibrant relationship had stagnated into meetings and moral inclinations. My pride didn’t want to admit that I was procrastinating in my relationship with God. Each day where I didn’t confess my need for help deepened my subconscious guilt about thinking Him boring. I still believed it all, of course. I knew the Bible was true and that Jesus loved me. It had just become less alive and exciting.

Then my women’s group started a Beth Moore study, the tagline of which reads, “Do you believe God…or merely believe in Him?” Its challenge to its students (i.e., me) is to cultivate daily, active, expectant faith. I realized that I had become satisfied with my life, character and walk with God. But He wants so much more than that for us! The “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 ASV) wants to continue the good work he started in us and carry it on to completion (Philippians 1:6). We won’t reach perfection until we reach heaven, but we should settle for nothing less!

Do you know what the remedy is for milk guilt? Roommates. Roommates won’t let your expired food continue quietly molding in the fridge, nor will they fix your problem for you. But they will spur you on to good deeds (Hebrews 10:24) in ever more dramatic fashion until you clean up your act. I mean shelf.

Similarly, one good way to jolt yourself out of spiritual complacency is to find challenging fellowship. Put yourself in the way of other believers and give them opportunities to speak into your life and share God’s truth with you. Seeing their faith deepen or hearing how they’re overcoming trials in their own lives might show you an example of how exciting your life could be and perhaps inspire you to seek God more energetically.

Sure, God could get your attention without others’ help. But do you really want to let your milk get so bad that you actually throw it away yourself? I didn’t think so.

Abigail no longer lives alone or with a cat, but she can still be reached by email here.

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