The Good of Guilt

Recently I did something that I’m not particularly proud of. What did I do? Nunya business, honestly. I don’t want the focus of the post to be on my scandals.* What I do want to make it about is the guilt associated with my scandals.

The next day after my scandalous behavior I woke up with that sickening  guilt that churns around in your gut relentlessly. When I sat down to read my biblio and pray, I felt like a traitorous infidel.

Then my ego-preservation-mode kicked into overdrive, and I thought of so many reasons why what I did wasn’t all that bad. My mind performed some impressively creative feats of self-justification, and one side of me was like, “Chillax, yo! So many people have done so much worse!” but another side of me was like “Nah, you dumb.

Then my self-disgust-mode kicked into overdrive, and I felt a strong compulsion to do some penance. My mind generated several paths of punition for me to complete until I (hopefully God, too) would feel okay about me again. One side of me was like “You are a disgusting worm, and now you must roll around penitently in the dirt like a worm, but another side of me was like, “What’s done is done, brah.

So I sat there for a while, battling myself. And both of mes were kinda right, and both of mes were kinda wrong.

Then a few thoughts struck me as I sat there like a Guilty Gabriella –

  • One of the reasons I didn’t want to pray was that I didn’t feel I deserved for God to give me anything. Uh-oh, legalism-o! Apparently my heart had swallowed a sneaky nugget of self-righteousness dunked in entitlement sauce without my conscious consent.
  • This deep sense that my misdeed deserves punishment is rooted in a truth, but an incomplete one. My actions did demand a punishment, but I wasn’t the one that would take it.** It was such a discomfiting idea – that immediately after I had done this legitimately foolish deed, I was good.  No flagellation required.
  • It’s much more difficult to judge people when I remember how… delicious… sin can be. The humility of receiving grace takes the wind out of the judgiest of sails.
  • I wanted to tell someone about what I did, right away. And I didn’t want to tell someone who would pat me on the head and tell me I is kind, smart, and important (but I also didn’t to tell someone who would look aggrieved and spread this “prayer request” to the rest of the gossip girls).

In toto: Guilt is one of the worst feelings to ever assault the human mind, body, and soul. It’s not appropro when it causes you to obsess over your own badness, but neither is it always an inappropro feeling that should be dismissed immediately. It can 1) expose our general sense of entitlement, 2) awaken us to the heart-twisty kindness of Jesus, 3) give us grace towards others, 4) motivate us to confess (which ultimately helps keep us accountable in the future so we will be less likely to turn right around and repeté).

Don’t try to dismiss your guilt, but don’t wallow around in shame, either. Use it as an opportunity to become all the more in awe of and thankful for the kindness and necessity of Jesus.

— EDITORIAL NOTES —

*Don’t let your imagination run too wild. If you need something concrete to tack onto this story- just pretend that I threw away recyclable plastic in the trash… yah, that was it *laughs nervously*

** “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” – 2 Cor 5:21

 

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4 thoughts on “The Good of Guilt

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