There are many contributing factors that keep a person from achieving their full capacity and at risk of being homeless, but we rarely think of guilt and shame as being one of them.
This last Saturday, 35 resident assistants from the University of Manitoba volunteered at Siloam Mission’s Madison Lodge to help with the ongoing renovations.
This 70-year-old building has seen better days. In recent years, the roof started leaking. Now, many walls have water damage and some of the carpeted floor is moldy.
In the past 25 years, most of the residents who have called the Madison home have had some form of mental illness.
The students eagerly dug in, clearing all of the furniture, ceiling tiles and carpet. One student was in charge of taking down the medicine cabinets. When I went to check up on him, I found him in a room with the cabinet half down and holding a couple of sheets in his hand.
A former resident had hid two pieces of paper behind the medicine cabinet so nobody would ever find them.
What could be so important that the resident had felt the need to hide it and never retrieve it?
What the student had just found was a confession. Was it a murder admission or a long list of sins he had to get off his chest?
“I stole two packages of cigarettes from Safeway. Since then I’ve been feeling miserable and would like to pay them back. This happened about 20 years ago,” the letter read.
Unfortunately, there was some water damage to the letter and most of it was illegible, but it ends with: “Sometimes I cannot sleep at night and I been in …”
Many thoughts come to mind. First, how sad he never went back to Safeway, paid for the cigs and cleared his conscience. Second, was this the worst thing he had done and not owned up to it?
He must’ve had a tortured existence to hide — and feel guilty about — this secret for more than two decades.
We can guess he was mentally ill, but I’ve known many others that have gotten stuck in life over something similar.
Guilt is a powerful weapon that can prevent you from moving forward in your life.
As a former chaplain who worked with ex-offenders, I’ve heard many confessions. Even though they admit their crimes, many people have a hard time forgiving themselves. Their future is often stunted by their past; they feel like they’re living a life of shame. Many times they have a broken sense of self-worth and are afraid to tackle new ventures.
Being a person of faith, I believe if we turn from our wicked ways, we can receive forgiveness and live a life free of debilitating guilt.
Life must be more than a series of mistakes adding up to guilt and shame, trapping us in a prison of self-loathing.
This week, I will stop at Safeway to pay his debt for two packages of cigarettes. I’m not sure how else to tell him he has more than paid his debt of guilt.
— Floyd Perras is executive director of Siloam Mission.