How I Was Almost Arrested at Walmart!

Do you ever wrestle with false guilt?

What most people these days would refer to as “a guilt trip?” You know, when you can’t stop making yourself feel awful about something that seems silly to feel awful about?

I’ve done that.

Money’s always been tight for us but I’ve gone on an occasional splurge.

One Christmas, my mother gave me a little cash in a card. My kids were young and I had begun to feel boring. I decided it was time to refresh my support garments, if you know what I mean. Liven things up from plain white to something with a little zing.

Conscious of my budget, I took my shopping spree to Walmart where I found, what I felt, were more adventurous under things. Nothing crazy by anyone’s standards but still, I pushed my personal limits with a few stripes and more vibrant colors than usual.

Everything went swimmingly until I was at the register. When I handed the money (you know, still crisp from the card from my mother) to the cashier, she swiped it with her little yellow marker then suddenly tripped her aisle light so it was flashing. Nervously, she asked me if I would kindly step to the end of the counter.

Two managers appeared at her side, everyone holding up and passing around one of my fifty-dollar bills. It was a Sunday afternoon and there were several registers all full with lines of customers now being treated to an episode of Cops starring me! The managers were holding the bill up to the light and everyone seemed to be concluding that this was funny money.

I completed my purchase with another bill that apparently passed muster but was asked to step aside and wait, in front of the live studio audience, for the arrival of the security guard and then the police. The security guard informed me that I was in possession of a counterfeit bill and asked me where I had obtained it.

Who would rat out their own mother?

Me, apparently. I would definitely not hold up under torture because I sang like a canary without a second thought. If mom had been guilty of anything, I’d have been the prosecution’s star witness. I’m not good under pressure!

Worse than all the suspicion and scrutiny was the fact that when the police officers arrived, they asked to inspect my purchase! Dying of embarrassment, I handed over my crinkly bag full of wild underpants and bras that I was certain now would become Exhibit A at my arraignment.

I’ve never felt so guilty in my life and yet, as the Secret Service would inform me several days later, I was not guilty of anything at all (well, mom might say otherwise) but nothing illegal anyway. The bill was, in fact, NOT counterfeit. Those marker pens can be tripped by many things and everyone from the cashier to the police were simply overzealous in their conclusions.

It was a long time, though, before I shopped again for undies. And I still break into a sweat handing over any cash at Walmart.

False guilt is a funny thing. It attaches to the strangest notions and it’s hard to shake. Even though I knew it was silly, I couldn’t help but feel that somehow, I was being punished for livening up my lingerie.

Real guilt and conviction by the Holy Spirit is much cleaner and more surgical than that.

Remember on old TV comedies whenever some woman got hysterical and started screaming and crying, how another character would reach across and slap her hard so that she was immediately calm? That’s a picture of how the Holy Spirit calls you out on actual guilt.

It happened to me recently. I’d been feeling agitated and anxious for days when suddenly, during my time of Bible reading, I read a verse about greed and SMACK, the Holy Spirit slapped my cheek and I could see that I was guilty of allowing greed to grab hold of me.

That was at the root of my anxiety so I took a moment to acknowledge what I understood, to agree with God that, yes, I was, in fact, full of greed for something. I asked for forgiveness and the moment was over, the anxiety passed like a fit of hysteria.

Here, conviction of guilt was like a relief. It was like having a blind spot but suddenly being able to see clearly. Yes! That’s what’s going on! This is why I feel wrong. I AM wrong.

Acknowledge the guilt. Confess it. Ask forgiveness. Receive it. Move on. Whew.

I wrote that verse down and dated it. I read it all week long as a reminder of where I was and to prevent me from turning back.

True conviction by the Holy Spirit is freeing.

Not like false guilt. False guilt has a weird way of clinging, of paralyzing, of causing neuroses. I still don’t enjoy shopping for underwear and I take all cash gifts from my mother IMMEDIATELY to the bank for screening (not really but that’s my first impulse).

Jesus told the Jews who believed in Him, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b-32

Facing the truth of our guilt and receiving right correction and forgiveness is not a guilt trip, it’s a key turning in the lock of the prison built by our sinful choices.

The false guilt we conjure up from a toxic brew of societal pressures, family culture, and personal hang-ups is damaging, crippling, and hard to escape. If you’re wrestling with THAT, it’s probably not God.

Have you ever suffered under a fog of false guilt? Have you ever experienced the clean freedom of right conviction on actual guilt? Have you ever bought polka dotted underwear at Walmart?

Okay, don’t answer that, but I’d love to hear your experiences with the first two questions!

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1 Comment

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  1. Well, Lori, you have to know that I will forever think carefully about colors and prints in the lingerie department AND I will only use a plastic card for payment, but I will remember to pray that our Heavenly Father is quick to convict me of any wrongdoing so that I might confess and be forgiven. Thanks!