You know something that I’m starting to learn about us women?
We’re really good at guilt.
We’re really good at heaping guilt, for sure. “Oh, no, it’s fine, honey, don’t bother with the kids! I’ve just been on my poor feet all day long with absolutely no help from you because you were at work all day while I slaved away with our children!”
But more than heaping guilt, we’re good at feeling it. All it takes is walking into a home that is cleaner than ours, and we’ll feel guilty because of the dirty dishes in our sink; check your heart when you see a mother speaking sweet words to her children -you may just find that you feel guilty about the last harsh thing you said to a little person in your home; and if you happen to work outside of the home and run across a website like this, you may grumble, “Snooty home-keeping women think they’re better than me!” the same way a stay-at-home mother might run across a feminist website talking about the shackles of domesticity and feel that these women must be out to get her.
And in the wave of animosity towards the guilt that often rears it’s ugly head, you may wail (as I have, so many times), “You know, the last thing we need is more guilt -where is the love?”
But lately, I’ve been thinking about a different response.
There are usually two completely different reactions to guilt. Gail might walk into a cleaner home than hers and immediately ask the keeper of that home for a list of rules and regulations she can enact to keep her home looking just as spotless. While Joy may get in the car on the way back to her slightly less pristine home and start a spiteful conversation about how “Suzie’s home was cleaner than mine, but did you see her homely dress? Did you notice how judgmental her attitude was? I’m so glad I live in my home -I bet her husband’s afraid to even sit on the furniture!”
Now, we’ll come back to this example later, but, realize, we can substitute Suzie’s cleaner house for Suzie’s dresses-only stance… The fact that Suzie’s a stay at home mom… Suzie’s choice to homeschool her children… Suzie’s other convictions…When we see that we’re different from Suzie, what is it that induces that guilty feeling? And why do we always blame Suzie instead of looking at our hearts?
1 : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty;
2 a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy
Before we make bold proclamations about how “the last thing people need is guilt,” we need to recognize that there are different kinds of guilt. The first kind of guilt is the kind that we experience because we have sinned against God. The good thing about this kind of guilt is that it leads us to repentance:
As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. ~2 Corinthians 7:9
Paul goes on to say that godly grief produces repentance that leads to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). When we feel sorrow over the sins in our life -and when we feel conviction during the sanctification process -our reaction should not be to try and squelch that guilt (even though, in our psycho-analytical culture, all kind of guilt is seen as something that needs to be stamped out)… it should be to turn away from our sin, towards the ways of Christ.
As we turn towards his grace, we are free from guilt and condemnation (Romans 8:1) because of His sacrifice on the cross… but this does not mean that we continue to dwell in sin (Romans 6). Righteousness is not the cause of our salvation, but it is a byproduct of it. As Jesus Christ continues to work in our lives, the fact that we continue to wrestle with sin is an indication that he is continuing the work he began in us (Romans 7; Philippians 1:6). Brothers and sisters in Christ can be used to aid this process; sometimes, being loving is saying difficult, convicting things (Proverbs 27:17).
In my opinion, there is too little guilt in our society… too little grief over sin -too little evidence of a Christian conscience. Conversely, though, sometimes there is too much superficial guilt in the church: guilt over externals instead of conviction over issues of the heart… a desire to look as holier on the outside than we are willing to become on the inside (Matthew 23:27)… and adherence to the letter of the law on the outside while a prideful heart screams on the inside.
So where do we find that balance between “godly grief” and superficial condemnation?
Back to the example of the clean house: you may walk in and see that your sister’s house is cleaner than yours is, and you may feel a prick of guilt for your dirty kitchen. Now you can either take the legalistic approach towards dealing with guilt and look for a list of rules and regulations that will make you appear just like your sister on the outside… or you can take the rebellious approach towards dealing with guilt and handle it by tearing down your sister in Christ.
Or you can stop and ask yourself some questions: Is the Lord convicting you about a certain attitude you have towards your home? If so, what attitude is that? Is this a sister in Christ who can encourage you in godliness? If so, can she point you to Scriptures that will exhort you as you strive to be a more diligent home-keeper? Are you struggling with jealousy? If so, how can you mortify that sin in your life and show love towards your sister in Christ?
And sometimes, “You know what? I love Suzie! Suzie and I have different convictions (or her house is cleaner than my house). I’ve examined my heart, and we’re just going to be different. And I’m confident enough in Christ not to blame Suzie for that difference, and to partner with her and encourage her on those areas we agree with, and to challenge her in sisterly love in areas of disagreement. But I don’t have to feel guilty if I know that my heart is right before God.”
That “guilty feeling” we endure is usually indicative of a much deeper issue than the fact that there is “just too much guilt in the world,” and it’s usually indicative of the fact that we need to search our hearts. Sometimes, you are struggling under the weight of conviction. Sometimes, you are struggling under the weight of legalism. Sometimes, our brothers and sisters in the Lord are erring by holding us to a superficial standard that makes he Lord’s commands burdensome (1 John 5:3)… and sometimes, we are wrestling with something in our spiritual life and are projecting a heart of condemnation onto others. It takes maturity to evaluate our guilt rather than just pushing it under a rug or villainizing conviction entirely.
Guilt is a multi-faceted feeling. And it’s something we women are very good at taking on. But before we claim to want to do away with guilt entirely, perhaps we ought to stop and diagnose it a little bit. I know, in my case, sometimes, that feeling leads to learning a new lesson from the Lord -and that’s never a bad thing, especially when I know that I can lay my guilt -all kinds -at the foot of the cross and look to the King for guidance in all things, fettered only by the burden of being his bondservant (1 Corinthians 7:22) and casting all others aside.