Today let's talk about GUILT! You know, that feeling of being responsible for an offense or something that went wrong. Guilt serves a useful purpose when it reminds us not to do something that we know is wrong; it can serve as a powerful deterrent. I do not want to drink and drive and get into an accident where someone gets badly hurt or killed - I could not live with the guilt. I could not physically abuse or neglect another person - I could not live with the guilt. I do not steal from my employer or cheat on my spouse - I do not want to live with the guilt.
Guilt is a byproduct of conscience... it helps us make wise decisions in determining right from wrong. It is said that the measure of man's true character is what he would do if he wasn't found out. But sometimes living with the knowledge of our guilt can be far worse than being found out. Guilt can sentence us to a lifetime of sadness and shame.
I've discovered that often people who are very judgemental about life (take me for example, though I like to tell myself I'm not) also tend to be very hard on themselves, actually judging themselves far more harshly than they judge others. We tend to take the messages we receive as children about our goodness and worth - or the lack of it, and let them grow in our heads until they overtake reason. There are those people who believe that everything that happens in their lives is someone else's fault, they never assume personal responsibility; and then the are those of us that take on responsibility for the world... everything that happens is our fault, we are always to blame. Guilt and the accompanying feelings of worthlessness are a heavy burden to carry thru life, it can prevent us from the lives of purpose and joy that God intended us to have.
I also think there is a BIG difference in feeling guilty for things done consciously with the intent to hurt or hinder someone else, and things done that hurt others unintentionally. Sometimes our best efforts fall short or we fail to see the long-range effect of our actions until it is too late to undo them. We've all said things in anger that we wish we never would have said at all. We've all lashed out a people we love because we were hurting. We've all neglected to take the time to listen or help someone out who really needed a bit of our caring. We aren't perfect, we are work in progress. It is right to feel remorse over such things. It is not ok to be still beating ourselves up over it ten and twenty years later!
We need to take a hard look, as adults, at the feelings of guilt we carry and the blame we ascribe to ourselves. Many times situations have been partially, if not totally beyond our control. Often, given a particular situation, we handled it the very best we could, with the knowledge and life skills we had at that time. That doesn't mean we never did anything poorly, or wrong. I'm sure I could come up with a list of a hundred or more things I wish I would have done or handled differently in my life. I don't believe I always did everything right as a child, or as parent, or as a spouse. I don't do everything right now either, though I can honestly say I try.
There comes a time when we need to let go of the past, to stop being chained to who we WERE, so we can shine in the light of who we ARE! It can be hard to forgive those who hurt us, it often seems even harder to forgive ourselves, but we must. As we've talked about before, forgiveness doesn't mean you are saying that everything was fine and ok, it means you aren't going to hold on the the emotions tied to it and let them cripple you any longer. When you forgive yourself for your perceived shortcomings, you are releasing yourself not from responsibility, but from the burden of guilt. It is IN THE PAST, lay it down and leave it there. Say I'm sorry to anyone you are able to reach out to, apology is healthy for the heart and soul. If you can't reach them, apologize in your heart. Write it down on paper, and while you're writing... write yourself an apology letter too... for being so hard on yourself, and for never loving and valuing yourself enough!
No, I didn't do a great job being the kind of person I like to be yesterday. I admit that. I apologized to a couple people today for my surely attitude. I apologized to myself for letting meget backed into a corner instead of addressing the issues at hand. I thought about it, and I feel better prepared to handle today. We fall down, we pick ourselves up and we start again. Break the chains that bind you to the past, stop adding to that long list of personal failures... burn the list! New day, new doorway - I'm stepping thru and not looking back, why don't you join me?