This week, a situation arose which left me feeling very guilty about some careless and thoughtless remarks I made; remarks that hurt the feelings of someone I care about. I was later able to apologize to that person and receive their forgiveness, but on the inside, my thoughts kept agonizing over the mistake. How could I have been so stupid? What was I thinking? (I wasn't, that much was clear.) My thoughts mulled over what a truly selfish and terrible person I was, even though I had apologized and things were fine between us now.
As women, I feel like we harbor a lot of guilt inside. Think about it: if someone is short with you, or in someway not acting in their usual manner, what's your first response? Mine is always to ask myself: What did I do? Are they mad at me? In other words: what am I guilty of? In speaking with several of my close friends, I find that this is a common response among us women. We tend to assume that the fault lies with us, even if it turns out that our boyfriend was just tired, or our roommate received some bad news she wasn't ready to talk about yet. But we don't have to feel this way. We don't have to be plagued by feelings of guilt.
Once, when I was really struggling with some overwhelming feelings of guilt, my pastor gave me some deep words of wisdom that really helped me. There are two feelings that often come after we do something wrong (or perceive that we have done something wrong): conviction and condemnation.
Conviction comes from the Lord. The Spirit comes to us when we've sinned and convicts us that what we've done is wrong, and we must ask forgiveness, and try to right the wrong. That's the feeling you get when you know you need to apologize, or go tell the truth, or whatever the situation might be. The Spirit gently guides us in order to bring us back to the right path. (I'm sorry, this all sounds a bit cheesy, but the gist of it all is this: conviction = good! Without it, we'd never return to repair relationships that we damaged.)
Condemnation, on the other hand, comes from the Evil One. He wants to paralyze us with guilt, crowd out the voice of God, and leave us to drown in a sea of helplessness. You see, if he constantly reminds us of what terrible sinners we've been in the past, we can't fully embrace or enjoy our lives as forgiven saints. I'm less likely to listen to the Spirit when it whispers bold action in my ear if my heart is weighed down by the notion that I can't do anything good. This probably sounds a little melodramatic, and perhaps my wording is, but think about it. When you feel guilty, when your thoughts repeatedly return to all the little mistakes you've made: the misjudgements, the thoughtless words, the lies that slipped out to cover your mistakes... When you're heavy with guilt, how do you act? Like someone whose been saved, who's loved by the Creator, who will have life ever-lasting? Or do you act like you're guilty and don't really have a right to join in the celebration?
Jesus came and died for us. He gave his life so you could live free. Ever read Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities? or that Keanu Reeves movie The Day The Earth Stood Still? or even the Will Smith movie Independence Day? They all have someone who sacrifices their life so that others may live free from whatever threatens them. Jesus did the same thing, only he didn't save us from slavery to alien races, or keep us for dying on a guillotine; he saved us from an eternity separated from God. Far worse, if you ask me, than aliens. So why live burdened by the mistakes you've made? The verdict over your fate has already been given: Not Guilty! Respond to the conviction the Spirit places in your heart, then let it go. It's not easy; I often forget. But life is so much better when you accept the gift of Grace.