The Cloak of Shame

Several months ago I received a multipage letter in the mail from my friendly city library. I know libraries and more specifically librarians try to be friendly (I'm assuming they do), but I just tend to have problems with libraries. For one thing, it seems to be harder to get a library a card these days than it is to get a loan for a car. But, more to the point of this blog, I or a member of my family has been falsely accused of neglecting to return a book more than once. That peeves me. Here's why.

When I received my notice of neglecting to return a book recently, the letter came two months after the book was actually due. They no longer send out tardy notices, so you don't even know you should be looking for said book until it's so late that you now owe in nickles and dimes what the book is actually worth, which for me was $32.

I hate finding out I've done something wrong, especially when I honestly didn't know I had committed an offense. Know what I mean? It's one thing to get caught doing something you were hoping to sneak by with, but it's a whole other ordeal to get called down for doing something you were blissfully unaware of. Shame falls over you as though someone has suddenly thrown a smothering wool blanket on you from out of nowhere.

I set to work looking for the book that I just knew I had returned. Actually, I had asked Abby to return the book for me one day, so I wasn't really sure it had gotten into the little slot outside the library. So I asked her about it. Check. I searched her car. Check. I looked all over the house. Check. I called my mom six states away and asked if she remembered reading it while she was here visiting during the time I might have had it checked out or if, less likely, she had even taken it home with her by mistake. Nope. Check. She worried about it and thought and thought about it even after we'd decided she had nothing to do with its disappearance. Check. Check. Check. I had my husband check at the desk of a hotel where we had stayed during the time I had been reading the book. Had they found it? I didn't remember taking it there, but I must have left it somewhere... No, they didn't have it, nor was it reported found in their log. Check

Finally, after checking for the book everywhere I knew to look, it was time to go to the library and face the music. Either I would find it on their shelves (as we have before) or I'd have to pay the $32 fee to clear my name and be able to use my card again. I went in, feeling strangely like a criminal who shouldn't be allowed in, and headed straight for the shelf where it should have been filed. Sure enough, just like the letter had promised me, it was not there. My hope sunk. I prayed (really I did, because I tend to fall apart in situations like this) that I could talk to the librarian without losing my cool, saying things I would regret, or making a scene.  I approached the dreaded desk and asked for the librarian mentioned in the three page letter. She happened to be the very person I had approached.

The librarian was nice enough. When I presented my bright green letter and explained my predicament she asked for my card. I thought I was about to say goodbye to it. But instead she swiped it and proceeded to look up my account.

"You're clear," she simply pronounced.

"Excuse me," I said.

"Well, we must have found the book because you're account is clear. You don't have a book out. It's been checked in."

Suddenly I had to shift gears. I'd been prepared to fight my case, but now I just needed to accept my clearance and go free. Unfortunately I probably said more than I should have.

"Well, it would have been nice if someone had told me that in the last month. I've been looking for that book for three weeks."

"Well I see we have your e-mail address here, so in the future we can send you notices by e-mail if a book is overdue."

Well that was a moot point, considering I hadn't had a late book, now had I? And besides that, the letter I held in my hand claimed that they didn't have my e -mail address. I knew I needed to get out of the library before I lost my cool.

So I left.

But here's the rub. I continued to feel for several weeks that I had lost a book or at least turned one in late. I felt like a criminal even though I'd been completely cleared of the accusation. I didn't need an e-mail about a late book because my book wasn't lost or late. It was in the library where it belonged.

And yet I felt guilty. The cloak of shame still clung to my shoulders. You may find that hard to believe, but it's true. I had several books I wanted to check out. But for some strange reason, for several weeks I wouldn't allow myself to go back to the library and check them out. I felt like I wasn't supposed to be there.

That was one of the strangest feelings I've ever had in my life. I truly wore the cloak of shame even though I was completely innocent.

It's made me think. If it's that hard to shed the cloak of shame that I wore for I a crime I never committed, how much harder is it to put aside the guilt we carry over sins we did indeed commit but have had wiped from our record forevermore by the precious blood of Jesus Christ? Oh, I can answer that. It's hard, very hard.

But what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross of Calvary was actually even more redemptive than what that librarian did for me that day. You see, even though I had never neglected to return that book as I'd been accused of, the library had decided I was guilty. And even after the librarian admitted that my record was clean, she continued on to tell me how they would notify my via e-mail next time I committed the same offense...which I had not committed to begin with! So, if I'm very discerning of human nature at all, my guess is that in her mind I still had a tinge of guilt.

But when Jesus died on the cross for me and His blood completely atoned for my sins, He made no allowance or provision for another sacrifice...the next time...just in the event I needed it. His death on the cross makes it clear that I have indeed sinned, I am guilty of more than one crime. Boy howdy, am I! But He, by an act of volition, cleared my account with no further penalty. And He doesn't tell me, "But if it happens again..."

Saturday I was driving in the vicinity of our library and I decided to make myself turn into the parking lot of the library and go in and check out a few books. I'm not exaggerating when I say I had to talk to myself all they way from my car to the door, reminding myself of my innocence, willfully removing that cloak of shame. I felt like a crook the whole time I was perusing the books. And when I used the automatic check-out I feared that bells and whistles and sirens would surely sound with the swiping of my card's bar code. When that didn't happen, I picked up my books and headed for the door, hoping no alarms would go off as I passed through the security gate. They didn't. I had checked out the books and I was free to take them home with me.

And I am free to go before the God of this universe in prayer today and every day. Not because I wasn't guilty, but because Jesus has paid my penalty completely with His precious blood. I can drop the well deserved cloak of shame and come boldly before the throne of grace as the author of Hebrews directs:

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter
the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
by a new and living way which He consecrated for us,
through the veil, that is, His flesh,
and having a High Priest over the house of God,
let us draw near with a true heart 
in full assurance of faith, 
having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience
and our bodies washed with pure water.
(Hebrews 10:19-22)

Whether you've lost a library book, earned a speeding ticket, told a lie or committed any other offense (and you have...and I have), you can drop the cloak of shame for good. Put it off and don't ever put it on again. Jesus has paid it all. You are clean...your record and your conscience. 

So go check out a book...if you know what I mean. Live like the free person you are. And thank Him for the lifted weight.

**PS - Elizabeth, if you are reading this, please do not take offense. I'm pretty sure you are literally God's gift to library patrons! While I've never experienced you as a librarian, I'm confident you a perfectly lovely one,