My previous post was written originally for the congregants of my church. After the article was published in our weekly bulletin, I received a handful of comments and the most encouraging one came from a normally quiet man. He simply said “after I read your article I feel really guilty.”
Guilt is that feeling that you have done something wrong. Nobody likes the sound or the feel of it, as often we have negative associations of this word. Guilt in the worst way can feel like a thousand pound weight upon us, it is a terrible emotion which can be so intense and can grow and consume us. There is no shortage of articles and books written on this subject and many people spend thousands of dollars on their therapists and psychiatrists just so they can deal with it. I truly believe that this is something nurtured through our life experiences and influenced by our interaction with society and other people. For example,when a toddler punch someone at preschool for a toy, then he learns from the teachers and parents that this is wrong. We learn and develop guilt from the clues around us.
Therefore when guilt is used properly it acts as our moral compass and guides us in our decision and choices . Unfortunately it also gives people grounds or reasons to point fingers and shame us. Guilt can make us do crazy things, and at times we can instinctively avoid it by trying hard to please others and forget our own needs. This is people pleasing and they are attempts to win us friends, to protect us from losing something of importance and sometimes to gain that validation that we might be desperately seeking. One thing I have learned and observed is that when you try to please people, you engage yourself in a lose/lose battle. When you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing none.
While guilt can destroy us it and drives us far from God, it can also lead us back to a right relationship with God. Guilt from within is a signal that what we have done is in conflict with our sense of right and wrong, it is our built-in alarm system at work. It is warning us that we have sinned, and have walked away from God. It is also an indication that something vital needs due attention. Accepting this kind of guilt response means you are starting to take steps in the right direction which can be life saving.
The other kind of guilt which can be very damaging is the kind that “forces” you to conform to a code of conduct or expectations from people which sadly is not necessary approved by God. It is man’s way of manipulating you into an image according to their own agenda. I am very thankful for that encouraging comment and have been reminded that I need to pay attention to the voice of guilt. Even though I am redeemed I am nowhere near perfection and guilt can be my best friend if I know how to discern this voice properly. I have to be mindful to differentiate true guilt from the other kind which does nothing constructive other than allowing people to tie a millstone around me.
At the end of the day, I am extremely grateful that God has given me a law and has written it in my heart so that I am able to know when I have sinned against Him . It is so important for me to learn to listen to my heart and the voice the Spirit in order to help me find out what is causing my guilty conscience.
Most of all, I have to constantly remind myself that I am here to please God and not man.