My Sweet Esme Rose,
Recently at nap time you have been getting out of your crib and playing in your (very dark) room instead of sleeping. We've been working on that with you. But let's just say you can be pretty stubborn when you want to be--immovable, even.
One day last week, I was working on a project with Meg during your nap and heard that you were out of your bed. I couldn't go to you right away, but when I finally made it upstairs, you were back in the crib, lying down, crying softly. I asked you what was wrong. In your tiniest, saddest voice you replied, "I got out two times."
I lifted you up and gathered you close. "You got out of your bed two times?"
You nodded, still crying.
It was a bittersweet, beautiful thing to see your conscience working as it should, convicting you of sin and weighing your little heart with guilt. You were so happy and relieved to confess to Mommy and receive the consequences for your disobedience. When I hugged you and kissed you and squeezed you and told you that you were forgiven, you pranced and gabbled and bounced your curls all over the room for sheer lightness.
Don't think, my little girl, that I am celebrating guilt itself. Guilt is painful, a dread awareness of the rift that sin opens between us and God, between sinner and those sinned against. No, I celebrate repentance and reconciliation and restoration--the natural ends of guilt in the presence of grace. I celebrate a conscience that is soft and a soul that runs toward confession, as hard as it is. I know what it is to try to to run from guilt, to stamp on it, bury it, hide it away, waiting for its pangs to fade and grow dull.
But we rob ourselves and God when we do that. The Bible teaches us that Jesus took our guilt on Himself when He died. He endured the reality of separation from God that we sense when we sin; He actually received the punishment that we dread. That's why our sense of guilt can lead to hope; the greater debt of guilt has already been paid and cancelled for those who trust in Jesus. True peace comes when we admit our own guilt and then acknowledge that it has been drowned in the ocean of God's mercy.
That's why a tender conscience is a sweet gift, Esme. I pray that you and your sister and brothers will always respond to a guilty conscience the way you did that day at nap time. I pray that you'll listen to the Holy Spirit's whisper of conviction and respond with faith. Just beyond the guilt, love is waiting--God's first and greatest, as well as that which fills the heart of your own,