How big of a role does guilt play in your life?
I don’t mean the kind of guilt that normal (non-psychopath) people feel after doing something wrong.
I mean the nebulous kind that floats around in the atmosphere and stealthily attacks in unguarded moments, making us feel like we are never doing enough.
The kind that parades across the stage of our minds as we attempt to sleep, accusing us of not reaching out to enough neighbors, not doing something about unfair labor practices in China, not helping the homeless regularly enough or mentoring troubled kids or recycling or making enough hospital visits or sending thank-you notes or buying organic produce or saving the world.
I have noticed that when I give in and dwell on the mountain range of what I “should” be doing, it robs me of the focus and joy to do well what God has set before me.
But does this sort of guilt – this feeling of never doing enough – serve a purpose?
How much IS enough when it comes to doing good things?
After all, there are enough situations and people who clamor for attention that we will NEVER be able to “do enough” to satisfy them all!
The wonderful ladies in my family and I are reading Sally Clarkson’s excellent book, “Own Your Life” together and discussing it. Although we’re only on chapter 2, I am already benefiting from the wisdom it contains in learning to take ownership of what’s mine, and not taking on responsibility for what isn’t.
My expectations for what I can accomplish in life, while recognizing and expecting the power of God as I obey Him, must be grounded in the reality of my situation and resources – energy and time being two of the resources I must consider.
I am only one person – you are only one person. We can’t do it all. There will ALWAYS be more things we aren’t able to be involved in than the very small (relatively speaking) number of things we can be involved in. That is okay.
When that fact sinks in, we can begin to adjust our expectations of ourselves.
Other people’s expectations of us may be even further from reality, and should not determine the focus of our lives.
If I live my life reacting to everyone’s expectation of me, I will become schizophrenic in my focus and thereby lose my effectiveness (and wear myself out).
Is there another way to live?
Starting from gratitude.
“Gratitude, not guilt, as motivation is always His starting point, thus guilt as a motivation leads nowhere.” ― Geoffrey Wood
If my starting point is guilt over all the wonderful things I’m NOT doing, that trajectory will lead me to a frenetic, scattered, ineffective life.
If my starting point is gratitude – for what I have, for how God is already using me, and for His leading for the future – that trajectory will lead me to greater joy and a closer walk with Him, allowing me to better know His voice and sense His leading. Those, in turn, will position me to respond to HIS promptings to act.
Donald Miller, in his article on guilt in the Relevant Magazine blog, says:
“I don’t want to be driven by guilt, I want to be driven by love.”
What a difference!
My job is to do well what God gives me to do. To accomplish this, I must learn to say the “N” word.
You may not have uttered it recently yourself. Your tongue may be out of practice. I encourage you to try it out a few times and remind yourself of this fact:Saying “no” to things that aren’t God’s plan for me means a better “yes” to those that are. Click To Tweet
A “no” to teaching another class at church, or chairing a committee, or running a large event if it is not something God is prompting you to do, means a better yes to caring for your family, yourself, and your existing commitments.
His sheep know His voice. If we practice listening, daily, we will know when He is asking more of us. We will hear when His still, small voice directs us to minister to someone or add something to our schedule.
And in that place of submission and obedience, His power can flow through us, making our efforts fruitful and not futile.
So do me a favor. Take out a piece of scrap paper. Draw your best stick figure right in the middle. Make sure it’s smiling – you might need that smile for encouragement as you learn to say “No”. That stick figure is you. Now draw a circle around the stick figure on the paper.
Inside the circle are the things God has given you responsibility for or dominion over. Yourself, of course. Your immediate family, your home, your gifts and talents and the expressions of them He had led you into. Your job, etc.
Everything else in the world goes outside your circle.
That curving line is the protection of your sanity and of all that the circle contains. It is the boundary around your life. See the smile? 🙂
Guard your boundary. Do well, with gratitude, what He has given you to do. I know you’ll be ready when He prompts you to add or change something.
The rest? Leave it where it is, and remind yourself that you do not have to live your life plagued by an ill-defined sense of guilt telling you that you are never doing enough.
If we are doing well what God has given us to do, we are doing enough.
How do I know?
Because at the end of the day, it all boils down to love. Jesus says, in Matthew 25:31-46 that when He returns, He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be welcomed into eternity with God, and the goats will be cast out.
What makes one person a sheep and another a goat?
The distilled answer is love which results in obedience – Jesus said if we love Him, we will obey Him.
If we loved well the people God brought into our lives – our circles – He counts it as service done to Himself.
I want to be motivated by love and not by guilt so that my life is fruitful and not futile, and I believe you do too. Let’s pray for each other:
“Gracious Father, thank you for your leading and Your love. We want that love to compel us to do well all that You would have us do. Would you help us to quiet the voices that would scatter our efforts and make them futile, and instead to focus on your gentle voice? Lead us to live the fruitful lives You desire for us, and to replace nagging guilt with joy and gratitude. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
With faith, hope, and love,