What I'm Learning About ... Guilt
Guilt. Shame. Regret. Even the sound of those words are cringe-worthy and disappointing. So many Christian women live stuck under the weight of guilt. And while genuine guilt serves an important purpose in drawing us back to God, too often we seek forgiveness and then continue to carry the burden of shame. We asked several church leaders to share about their experiences with guilt and how they were able to get out from under its weight. Here's what they shared.
With the relentless sobbing of three preschoolers ringing in my ears, I succumbed to a full-blown mommy-meltdown. I sank into the nearest chair overwhelmed and shaking. For months I'd been running ragged on the fumes of an empty tank.
The reality of this truth threatened every fiber of my being. I adored my "three musketeers" (all in diapers), who kept me running. But I also continued to minister to a host of people through golden opportunities I couldn't resist. Lost in waves of failure and pain, I felt my husband's hand on my shoulder. I looked up to find him holding out my Bible, my purse, and the car keys.
"Brenda, it's time for a break." His eyes were kind. "We'll be okay."
Laced with love and no condemnation, Tim added, "Don't come back until the boys are in bed."
Guilt threatened my next move—but with a hefty dose of persuasion, love won out.
"Okay," I said. It was a moment of victory. I slipped through the door, ignoring the heightened wailing that ensued.
The right driving force
Guilt. It's a driving force behind much of our exhaustion. As Christian women, we say too many nos to the rhythms of rest and too many yeses to good things, like baking cupcakes, chaperoning car washes, shopping for a neighbor, or helping with the church's website. Every guilt-driven yes means a no to something important in my life.
Every day holds 24 hours. As gifted as we are at multi-tasking, there are concrete limits to what can get done in any given day. The result? We routinely short-change the top priorities of our lives. We're irritable and impatient with those we love. We forfeit our need for sleep. We pass through many days oblivious to the presence of God.
A remarkable story about guilt is tucked into the very first chapter of Mark. I missed its message for the first 40 years of my life, but it will be a driving force for the next 40.
When Jesus visited Simon's home where his mother-in-law was sick in bed, Jesus healed her and the news spread quickly. That evening the whole town gathered at their door. Jesus ministered to each one late into the night.
Waking early the next morning, Jesus slipped away to a quiet place to be alone with his Father. As the sun rose, a fresh batch of people gathered at the house. A group of disciples went looking for Jesus. When they finally found him, they announced, "Everyone is looking for you!" Can you hear their intent to instill guilt? The people waiting at the house for Jesus had legitimate needs and a real desire to meet him. Yet listen to Jesus' reply: "Let us go somewhere else …"
Refusing to be guilt-driven, Jesus chose to be Spirit-led. Jesus' holy yes to God meant an earthly no to real people with real needs. The lesson is clear—just because there's a need, doesn't mean I've been called to meet it. The next time an opportunity comes knocking on your door, consider these three suggestions.
Stop. Don't answer on the spot. Reply, "Let me get back to you." Then pray. Listen carefully. If you're living with little margin, any "yes" you say will demand a "no" to something, whether you want it to or not. What will that be? Face the truth.
Know your mission for the season of life you're now living. Name it. Claim it. Be incredibly sensitive and prayerful about any yes outside its domain.
Following Jesus' lead, remind yourself that saying "yes" or "no" requires direction from the Holy Spirit. It takes conviction, vision, and stamina, but it produces, joy, confidence, and a work of God that far exceeds the guilt-driven yeses we are often inclined to give.
Are you facing a decision that will place you on overload? Are you willing to pay the price? Are you willing to require your family to pay the price? We're asked to run hard, but not at the continual expense of rhythm. An earthly no may very well be the best yes you've said to God in a very long time.
Serving at a Christian retreat center in NE Indiana, Brenda Jank has been launching ministries that introduce people to the rhythm of rest for 16 years. As the mother of five, her passion for rest stems from a home-grown need to rediscover Abundant Life in the chaos of 21st-century living. Roasting mini marshmallows over candles is a favorite family tradition.
Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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