You don’t have to suffer continual chaos in order to grow.
John C. Lilly
It’s so unseemly when we should on ourselves! Yet for almost all of us, except for perhaps those on Capitol Hill, guilt seems to be the Great Common Denominator. We torture ourselves with it, sabotage ourselves with it, spend millions of dollars in therapy because of it, and warp our religious heritage because of it.
I spent more than half my life dragging my own personal Old Testament Tribunal with me everywhere I went: finding myself guilty and choosing my own punishment, until I escaped because I learned I was treating the wrong things reverently.
One day recently, I was watching television. During the holidays, certain commercials play on what seems like a continuous loop. I saw the one showing the abused and neglected kittens and puppies, with the sad, pleading eyes. Only $19.50 a month would save them. “ I should save them!” I thought. I felt like a personal failure for not taking all of them home. Before, I knew it, I was in the middle of a second commercial for the Wounded Warrior Project. Only $19.50 could pay for a caretaker for one of these magnificent warriors. “ I should do this! They fought for my freedom!” Before I could even reach for my check book, a third commercial appeared about becoming the benefactor of a starving child in a far- away country for only $19.50.
By the time the three ads finished running, I was convinced that the Pergo floor my chair rested upon would open up and my immediate descent to Hell would begin. I felt guilty that I was confused as to which charity I could afford to give that money. I felt guilty that I actually assessed my budget and whether it would support this monthly commitment.
Then, I remembered that I am supposed to tithe 10 percent to my church, and if I gave to these charities, I would not be able to do that. The bonus of legalism had crept into the mix in the span of 3 minutes. Guilt had led me down a labyrinthine rabbit-hole to a place where God would be mad at me for giving money to the less fortunate, because to do so, would lessen my tithe. I had should on myself until I couldn’t see straight. I had confused compassion for those who are hurting, with being the source of that pain. Did God send these confused and guilty feelings? No. I generated them in my own spinning little brain in response to a thing created by humans, designed to move other humans to gratitude and compassion.
What is the remedy for this dire state of affairs? A little bit of irreverence– enough to gain a fresh perspective.
Guilt is a serious subject because I take myself way too seriously. It stems from the delusional and arrogant belief that I should be perfect and be all things to all people, and when I don’t meet this standard, I fail.I realized that I suffered because I chose to punish myself with guilt. It was an albatross I was voluntarily strapping to my back.
I finally got that guilt is always a choice and that shoulding on myself isn’t ever divine. It is exactly what the expression implies: a decision to denigrate and punish myself for human failings. A loving Creator, who created me to be me, would never give me the near constant message that I was not enough. I no longer believe that God has a smite button he longs to hit whenever I fall short of the mark. I believe I cause most of my own suffering, with my beliefs and attitudes, and that God does not want me to take on his job of judging or punishing. I believe my Higher Power rejoices in my progress and the fact that I am imperfect and fearful enough to constantly seek him and his guidance. He rejoices in forgiving me.
Guilt does not lead to spiritual growth or transformation; it prevents it. It keeps us regretting the past and fearing the future and robs us of peace and the ability to fully give ourselves to others in the present. True remorse and a desire to obtain forgiveness for our wrongs brings us closer to our Creator, while guilt causes us to run and hide from our Creator and those we may have wronged, because we haven’t acknowledged these mistakes and decided to make amends and do better. God’s grace is inexhaustible.
For we are his workmanship, created … for good works, which God prepared beforehand. Does this sound like a creature to be should upon?