Poor guilt; it’s gotten a bad rap these days. I’m not talking about the kind of guilt my husband has to deal with on the judicial bench; the legal term. I’m talking about the emotional use of the term. It’s been misunderstood for so long now that it’s generally lost its effectiveness.
We who have a more feminine bend, and this includes both males and females, because we all have feminine and masculine in our personal recipes…we “sensitive souls” tend to misuse guilt with great gusto. We stack it upon ourselves like seven-layer dip at a church party. We feel guilty because our houses are not perfect, because our bodies are not perfect, because our children are not perfect. Add a layer of “I have no college degree” or “I leave my children to go to work every day”, then maybe “I am a terrible friend/daughter/parent/fill-in-the-blank”. Goodness, we can be hard on ourselves!
What happens when we use guilt for the kind of stuff that is subjective, is that we weaken the tool, and then when we need it to really fix something in us that is broken, it’s ineffective.
Guilt, in its divine state, is a God given gift, designed to move us toward change, to refine us and lead us to obedience. Misuse of guilt, which is often overuse, is kind of like when you start salting everything you eat. Pretty soon you can’t even taste the salt. And the unique flavor of individual foods is lost. Eventually salt has lost its effectiveness and its savor, not because the salt has changed, but your response to it has changed.
I remember sitting in the office of my bishop at church. The bishop is the leader of our congregation. I remember weeping as we spoke, overwhelmed by my responsibilities, underwhelmed by my ability to handle everything. ‘I just feel so guilty”, I said. He asked what I felt guilty about, and I followed with some long list of miscellany.
He listened, then paused, and asked me if I felt like these things were sins. I thought a minute, then responded that all weaknesses had the potential to become sins eventually, but they were probably not real sins. Then he said this to me:
“Reserve guilt for sin.”
I have pondered this for many years, and have tried to incorporate it in my daily life. I have realized that the Adversary, the Devil himself, has learned to use guilt to make us turn on ourselves. Misuse of guilt weakens our souls, saps us of energy, and intrinsically makes us feel removed from God.
When the spirit of the Holy Ghost, the friend of God and of each of us, uses guilt, it is almost always coupled with Godly love and sincere sorrow rather than paralyzing self-loathing. Sincere Godly sorrow – the divine ingredient of real guilt, is a motivator for change and likely the only one that really works and lasts. So feeling guilt for something that does not require the Holy Ghost to bestow divine Godly sorrow upon us is guaranteed to be ineffective and non-lasting.
I am not a scriptural scholar. I am not a philosopher. I’m generally a spiritual hack, just like I’m a hack musician: untrained and uneducated. But I have a sense that my bishop was spot on. Save guilt for the Lord to use. Don’t waste this effective tool on silly, benign, less-important stuff, especially the kind of stuff that involves comparing ourselves to other people. That, for sure, is the devil turning something godly into something evil.
Children of mine – hear me: You are good, kind, intelligent, divinely guided spirits in human bodies. Do not weaken yourselves by allowing guilt of your own imaginings to weigh you down. Ask the Lord to give you guilt for the serious stuff, through the loving guidance of his Holy Spirit. Put your confidence in the Lord, and reserve GUILT for SIN.
During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day. I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity. This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.