“I don’t do guilt.” I stated offhandedly. The ladies in my homeschool co-op class looked at me strangely. A couple of them were looking at me as though I were a fascinating new species altogether. “How do you do that?” one of them asked in awed tones. “Yeah, I want to hear more about it.” chimed in another. I laughed, shrugged it off, and proceeded with the lesson of the day.
Later, as several of us walked laps around the church, it was brought up once more. And the following week, two ladies mentioned my remark yet again. Finally, another friend texted me several days later to ask me to elaborate on the topic.
I had no idea so many of you were walking around in a hellish state of perpetual guilt.
After my little remark set off such a response, I felt compelled to ponder it. I find that, in hindsight, I have not always lived this way. I used to feel guilty over a great many things, in fact. The more I have mused on this, the more I remember how debilitating that guilt was. I feel that this topic deserves some serious conversation, so this post is a bit longer than usual. But I refuse to water it down when so many of you are still struggling with this. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and let’s explore the question: how do we get past this horrible, persistent feeling of guilt?
#1. Choose whose voice you will listen to.
We all possess an inner critic who whispers terrible things into our hearts that sound like truth. Words of condemnation we are certain we deserve. My inner critic speaks in soft, sibilant tones, reminding me of my multitude of failings. One particular day, it was spewing and hissing accusations, when Jesus stepped in. (You can read about the incident here.) He reminded me that he does not speak to me in that way. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Period.
This has made a huge difference in my life; understanding that the voice of my Lord is the one that will bring me running back into his arms, not the one that makes me shrink away in shame. The difference between conviction and condemnation is stark, and I could suddenly see it with perfect clarity. My inner critic is still there, of course, but she can only affect me as much as I am willing to give her an ear.
Choose who you will listen to. Does your inner critic have a slithery voice like mine? Or does yours shout angry accusations in your head? Recognize it for the demon it is and shut it down. You do not have to listen to any voice but the soft, gentle one which belongs to the lover of your soul. His voice always brings life and peace if you are willing to hear.
#2. Let go of perfectionism.
Perfectionism is the favored food of the inner critic. It is a form of spiritual slavery and there is no good thing about it. Perfectionism will paralyze you, condemn you, and it will construct walls between you and those you love. It will wrap its icy tendrils around your children and choke the joy out of them. Worse, they will be in danger of contracting this disease if it isn’t stopped in its tracks.
What is the root of your perfectionist tendencies? Is it the sin of pride, that assumes no one can do things right but you? Or is it more insidious? Perhaps it is a fear of rejection that feeds your beast. Do you fear that if things are not just so, you will somehow be diminished in the eyes of others, or that they won’t love you anymore? Please, my sisters, identify what has built this perfectionist prison, and then burn it to the ground. I, too have lived there, and I tell you it can be done.
You will never be a perfect mother. You will never be a perfect wife. You will never be a perfect teacher, cook, housekeeper, or least of all, Christian. And guess what? You don’t have to be. God knew exactly what mistakes you would make with your kids, your husband, and your friends, yet He has given them to you anyway. He knew beforehand the failures you would face as a Christian and as a homeschooler, yet He called you to these things regardless.
If you belong to Jesus, you are seen as already perfect and complete. Nothing you can do, and nothing that you fail to do will make Him love you any more, or any less than He already does. Rest in that knowledge, let go of unreasonable expectations of yourself, and live in the sweetness of freedom.
#3. Relinquish responsibilities that are not yours.
It is not my responsibility to save my children. That privilege belongs to God alone. It is not my responsibility to decide who they will become. My job is simply to know them. To see the unique ways they are bent, and to then guide them into growing toward their God-given strengths.
It is not my responsibility to lead my husband spiritually. Only the Lord himself knows what works he has in store for my man. I am not called to be his mother. I am not called to change him. I am called to walk alongside him and encourage him. I am called to respect him, build him up and love him in the best ways I know how.
I am not superwoman, and neither are you. We all have a limited amount of time, energy, and creativity. We are not required to do it all, nor are we supposed to try. Feeling guilty for all of the things you don’t do well is foolish. It will only prevent you from experiencing joy and satisfaction in the things you do do well.
Taking on responsibilities that don’t belong to me will cloud my vision and destroy the harmony in my home. It will leave me forever feeling as if I’m not quite measuring up, and worse, that others are not quite measuring up to my twisted expectations. When this happens, it is time to reassess and determine what my real responsibilities are, and what they are not.
We cannot be all things to all people. It is okay to scale back and to say ‘no’. Know your personal limits. Jealously guard your time and energy so you can better serve your families.
#4. Stop comparing yourself to others.
I used to feel quite guilty because I don’t cook well. Oh, I can bake a mean cookie, but nutritious meals seem to elude me. As a result, my family eats far too many takeout meals, especially during busy seasons. I used to feel inferior to the homeschool moms who did lots of crafts and made learning fun. I used to feel downright frumpy next to the toned, fitness-minded mom. I could go on and on with this, but I assume you have your own comparisons.
When we compare ourselves to others, we cannot hone our own God-given gifts. This is one of the most destructive habits you can indulge in. Stop doing it.
God did not make me with a culinary passion. He did not make me with a love of arts and crafts. He did, however, make me with a deep love of words and books. He ingrained in me a passion for beauty, whether it be dance, theater, nature, or the fine art of baking the perfect cookie. He has given me a multitude of gifts and talents that I forget to see if I am looking at others.
#5. Remember who you are.
If you don’t understand yet that the person looking back at you from the bathroom mirror is not you, please take a moment and read my post, Going Outlaw. My eyes have been slowly opening to the amazing reality of my true identity. Most days, I walk around in this skin of mine and I buy into the lie that this costume I wear, or that the roles I play in this life define me. Not so. I am a beloved daughter of El Elyon, God Most High. Adored and cared for on a level that I cannot begin to comprehend.
I can only handle the faintest glimmer of my God’s love for me, but when I do catch that glimpse I want to run and sing and dance and laugh with abandon. He loves me. He loves you. He sees us as already complete and without blemish. Unbelievable? You betcha! But if we can grasp this even a tiny bit, the love and joy and peace that it brings will spill out of us in rivers of life and douse all who dare get near.
I joke with my friends and claim to be a borderline sociopath or simply an ill-tempered curmudgeon who doesn’t care enough to feel guilty. This is not exactly the case, though my lack of guilty feelings at times makes me feel as though one or the other must be true. I almost feel guilty because I don’t live in guilt. Warped, yes?
I’ve come to understand that the purpose of guilt is to bring us to repentance. It was never intended to be a place of residence. It is a temporary tool designed to draw us back to our Creator. It is not supposed to serve as judge, jury, and executioner. Guilt should bring about life, not death.
So this, my friends, is how I don’t do guilt. I am so glad I learned to tell that inner critic to take a hike. I feel peaceful in knowing I don’t have to be perfect, or be like anyone else. There is no longer any guilt in saying ‘no’ to things that would stretch me too thin. All in all, this guilt-free living is really quite lovely. Won’t you join me?
Lord, I ask that you would give us eyes to see the difference between Your loving conviction and the damning voice of the enemy. Break the chains of perfectionism and let us taste the freedom only You can offer. Give us the discernment to see clearly what our real responsibilities are, and let us not take on more than what You would have us do. Let us appreciate each others’ gifts without coveting them and diminishing our own. And most of all, let us remember who we really are…beloved children of yours, adored and safe in Your keeping. Amen.