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Guilt: Friend and Foe

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
– Psalm 103:11-12

A Day Off

Typically, I am home with my preschooler on Mondays. However, when I found out that a visitation I needed to attend fell smack-dab in the middle of nap time on a recent Monday, I decided to ask my daycare provider to take my daughter for an extra day. This would also give me an opportunity to catch up on some house work and run errands. My husband supported my decision, and my daughter was perfectly happy to have an extra day to play with her daycare friends.

Yet, as I drove back home after dropping off my kids at school and daycare, it hit: the mom guilt. As I scrubbed the toilet, I thought of how awful of a mother I was to choose cleaning over my child. While I vacuumed the stairs, I wondered what my kids were doing at school and daycare. As I put groceries in the car, I thought of how much my daughter loves to help pack the grocery bags. I made myself some lunch and felt guilty that I was paying my daycare provider to do that very thing for my child.

I needed this day to catch up. Due to some unforeseen repairs to our home, the day-to-day chores had gone by the wayside.  It had been well over a week since I grocery-shopped. Plus, I could hear the tension in my voice when I spoke to my kids, and a day to myself was long overdue. So why was it so hard to allow myself a day off?

Little Voice in our heads

God gave us a conscience for a good reason. Our conscience is what makes us aware of our sin and our deep need for a Savior. The guilt that we feel when our sharp tongues spout off less-than-kind words or when we blatantly act in a way that contradicts how God would want us to act helps us recognize when we need to repent. In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains that even for people who don’t know the law of God, the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them (Romans 2:15).

In addition to God’s word, brain research also tells us that guilt has benefits. Psychologist Guy Winch explains, “A short-term benefit of guilt is that it helps us maintain our relationships and keep in good standing in our families and communities.”1 The fear of guilt helps us make solid, ethical decisions in finances, relationships, and all other areas of our lives. We are meant to listen to that little voice in our head telling us we did wrong. To a point.

The Guilt Monster

When we let this guilt get out of control, when we allow it to control our thoughts about who we are, it becomes a beast. The very thing that God built into us to help us recognize sin can also cause us to sin. Guilt leads to shame, which can cause us to think so little of ourselves that we question whether or not God actually loves us. Psychologists describe the effects of shame like this: “We typically respond to feelings of shame by making efforts to distance ourselves from the shame-inducing event and hiding or withdrawing in order to avoid facing the scrutiny, criticism, or scorn we anticipate from others.”1 Withdrawal and seclusion resulting from shame have numerous social and emotional impacts on our lives.

More seriously, there are eternal ramifications to this cycle of guilt and shame. “Guilt keeps people stuck in the past. People replay their sins over and over again, thinking, ‘If Only I had, I should have, I could have . . .'”  So what’s the harm in this? “[Satan] has become very skilled at accusing us that we are pathetic and the God doesn’t love us because of sinfulness. He has led so many of us to think that God will or will not bless us on the basis of what we do or don’t do.”2

In Psalm 32, David describes his feelings of guilt after his sin: When I kept silent, / my bones wasted away / through my groaning all day long. / For day and night / your hand was heavy on me; / my strength was sapped / as in the heat of summer (Psalm 32:3-4). Guilt and shame make us feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually weak and tired.

Taming the Beast

If you, like me, struggle with excessive guilt, I have good news: there’s hope for us.  On Ash Wednesday, Pastor Bill shared, “Here is the truth: God is not holding grudges. He is not planning your demise. He is unleashing his love and forgiveness. God is planning your eternal future.”2 We’re not just forgiven; David’s song to God tells us that we’re blessed because we’re forgiven. Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. / Blessed is the one whose sin the LORD does not count against them (Psalm 32:1-2).

Wow. No matter how badly we feel about ourselves, how much we think we’ve failed at life, God’s got us. Even when our faith falters, God’s there for us. “Our blessing and security doesn’t depend on our often weak, fragile grasp on God with our faith, but on God’s grasp on us.”3 Whether you feel guilty because of something you did wrong, or wrongfully guilty when you did something right, God cares for you as His dear child.

Don’t hold onto your guilt and shame. Leave it at the cross, because Jesus has already taken it away for you. Don’t be a prisoner of your guilt. Let God be God in your life.

Sources

1 Winch, G. (7 March 2015) The surprising upside of guilt and shame. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201503/the-surprising-upside-guilt-and-shame

2 Limmer, B. (6 March 2019). Guilt solved. Ash Wednesday 2019 service. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/ash-wednesday-2019/

3 Bivens, F. (12 August 2018). We have crises of faith; God has the cure. Rest for the Stressed sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/soothed/

MEET THE BLOGGER

Sammi Goodger is the Office Manager and Director of Communications at Victory of the Lamb.  She’s not an expert in family and faith, but she’s hoping to help herself and others grow closer to God and their families through sharing research and practical tips on relationships and faith.   She can be contacted here.