I Feel Guilty
I have a confession for you – I feel guilty. I don’t remember the first time I started lathering on what I call the “Christian guilt”, but I know it goes back years. I can remember being about 10 or 11 years old and faking sick to get out of going to church because I wanted to stay home and play with my toys. And so It began…my long-term relationship with guilt.
I vividly remember laying in bed extra long on Sunday morning waiting for my Dad to come get me out of bed for church.
“I just don’t feel good”, I would mumble, even though I felt perfectly fine.
“If you really feel you need to, you can stay home. It’s your choice,” my Dad would always say.
Our church was only about a 3-4 minute drive from our house, lying just at the end of our neighborhood, so it wasn’t a problem for me to stay home alone in our small town. I would wait for everyone to depart for church, then jump out of bed, turn on some cartoons or a game show on television, pull out my favorite toys, and sit on the floor to play.
Then, all week long, I would agonize over my Christian Guilt. The mental reel played the same every time.
Am I a bad Christian?
Is God mad at me?
Will God still listen to me?
Am I even still saved?
These feelings are common and as I got bigger, the mental reel stayed the same but just played in response to new situations.
In high school it was because I didn’t talk with my friends about Jesus enough and that I chose school activities over church ones because I was determined to have a stellar resume for college. I would stay at home studying or choose to partake in yet another activity at school rather than going to youth group at a nearby church and the mental reel would start again, asking all the same questions and leaving me feeling ragged, unsure, and disappointed in myself.
In college, I let the reel play when I didn’t join all the Bible studies, or when I skipped my small group to take a nap when I was tired. I would let the guilt wash over me every time I left church early after college service to go study, or when I opted out of a college retreat to attend a football game or catch up on work.
Over the years, I have let myself feel guilty about an endless number of things. I have felt guilty about going to the wrong church, about not going to church enough, about my lack of a good testimony, about not evangelizing enough, watching the wrong kinds of shows, listening to the wrong music, being friends with the wrong kinds of people, and the list goes on and on. Christian Guilt began to pile up on me.
In the spirit of being transparent, I would love to sit here and tell you I’ve figured it out. I’ve released the chains of guilt and now am free. But that’s just not true. I’m telling this story because I think Christians heap guilt on ourselves constantly and, when we do, we end up drudging through life dragging our chains behind us. We forsake freedom to instead agonize over our own salvation because of good ole’ Christian Guilt.
When I heap guilt on myself, I am bogged down and weighed down by my own mental baggage. I don’t have the mental energy to be there for other people. I don’t even have the mental energy to think about other people’s needs because I’m too busy focusing on myself and my own choices.
Guilt is a disease of selfishness and we all have it.
The bottom line is this – when we sit in our own guilt and wallow, we can’t do our job. Our job is to love others fully and freely. How can I do that when I’m all too concerned with all the little choices I make in life, whether imperfect or not? Instead of worrying about my choice to stay home from church and study in the library during college, what if I had formed a study group during that time to hang out with people who may not be comfortable going to church. What an opportunity to share Christ’s love, but instead I was too focused on myself to notice an opportunity God may have been presenting to me during that time.
We all have guilt, but when we let it consume us, we miss opportunities to love others freely and fully as God intended for us.
Free to Live and Free to Fail
It’s not possible for me to pat the seat next to my Christian table and say, “join me” when I spend all my time feeling guilty then hiding that guilt behind false perfection. The reality of our relationships with Christ is just that – it’s a reality. It ebbs and flows. It’s real life, which means I don’t always want to go to Church. There I said it. And I don’t always want to read my Bible! And I don’t have to force myself just to evade guilt for another day. Instead, I can stand up and say, “that’s just where I am today” and I no longer agonize over whether I’m going to lose my salvation over it.
We live in the freedom of Christ’s unending love and sacrifice for us. It means we are free to fail. It means we are free to love others like He loves us. It means we don’t have to feel guilty constantly for all our shortcomings. It means we don’t have to live up to all the expectations we place on ourselves to be our own image of a “good Christian”.
I’m not at all saying we should ditch church and run for the hills. But I am saying this –
what would happen if we just started living in His love again? What happens if we set the chains down for a day and just start running towards those that need our love? What if we lay the expectations aside and just go?
Here’s my thought for the day – let’s just try it. Guess what? If you really need them, the chains and expectations will be right where you left them. You can always go back and get them, but I suspect we won’t want to.
With Great Joy,