Feeling Guilty ... When You Aren't

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. —Romans 8:1 NLT

I read the email with a rising dread and despair within. Yet another friend with deep needs wanted to know if she could come over for a talk. I was a homeschooling mama of two who was teaching a Bible study, leading a prayer group, mentoring two young women, and trying to be “best friends” with a host of others. It was all suddenly too much. I wanted to help this dear friend, but as I looked at my calendar, I saw few free spots for me to even invest in my own husband and children. And, I thought with panic, when do I have a quiet time for me? I was burned out from trying to meet every need that came my way. And that old feeling of guilt crept into my mind, heavy and dark, accusing me of being a poor Christian with my reluctance to serve when there was an obvious need. Condemnation hit so hard that I crossed out a little outing I had planned with my daughters and invited the friend over instead. But then that guilty feeling was right back again. By meeting my friend’s needs, I was disappointing my dear girls.

For years, I was the queen of what I eventually learned was called “false guilt.” When my husband was angry about something that happened at work, I would apologize as if it were my fault. If a daughter was depressed, I felt guilty and questioned whether my mothering was to blame. I could work myself into a lather of guilt and condemnation in no time at all. In fact, I was swimming in a thick soup of clogged good intentions crammed together so tightly that I finally couldn’t swim at all.

Here’s the thing about guilt. Genuine guilt happens when we have “committed an offense, crime, violation, or wrong, especially against a moral or penal law” according to Dictionary.com. The examples I listed above did not fall under that definition. I might have felt guilty, but I wasn’t. I was living under condemnation, which does not come from God. Romans 8:1 is clear, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (NLT). I was holding myself responsible for situations not under my control. I did not cause my friend’s trouble. I did not speak harshly to my husband. I had not spoken cruel words to my daughter. I had not sinned. I had, however, allowed the enemy of my soul to distort my own self-importance to the point that I somehow felt I could “save” these people, and if I did not make them all happy, then I was to blame. I am not a savior. I am not responsible for the anger, depression, or even the neediness of others.

Another passage of Scripture that helped change my perspective is found in Mark 1:35-38: “Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. When they found him, they said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ But Jesus replied, ‘We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came’” (NLT). As I read these verses, I realized that Jesus’ response to “Everyone is looking for you” was not to hurry on down and make Himself available to “everyone.” No, He had gone away to pray, and He had heard from His Father that He was to go elsewhere. While inhabiting His human body, Jesus did not help everyone. He needed rest and solitude and time to focus on His disciples. Yes, He healed. Yes, He gave of Himself often when He was exhausted. Still, He also chose to rest, and He chose to go where God sent Him, letting God direct His day instead of the demands of “everyone.”

Here’s what I do now when I feel engulfed in guilt and a sense of shame for the things I cannot do.

  1. I do what Jesus did and I go away to an isolated place. For me, that usually means getting up early and meeting with Him on my old brown couch before the day intrudes. I read His Word, quieting my soul and drinking in His truths. I give Him priority in my life.
  2. I lay my guilty feeling before Him. Lord, have I sinned in this case? I wait and listen. If I realize that I have broken one of His commands, then I go to Him in confession and repent. But often, as I wait and listen, no commandment comes to mind that I am guilty of breaking.
  3. When I realize that I am once again feeling responsible to “save the world,” I confess that particular sin of pride and ask God to do the saving in whatever situation has created my false guilt.
  4. I ask Him what He would have me do. What is “my part” in serving or helping an individual? Honestly, sometimes He releases me from any responsibility at all. I lift this person to God in prayer, and ask Him to provide the care he or she needs. Then I trust Him that this person is not my responsibility. Sometimes, He gives me an idea of a little thing I can do—send a Bible verse or text “praying for you this morning.” And once in a while, He asks me to invest more fully in the situation I’m praying about.

Being able to recognize the difference between condemnation from the enemy and real guilt based on my sin and need to repent … has been a tremendous help to me. I don’t run myself quite as ragged these days, and I trust God to be the Savior of the world. I never was any good at world saving anyway!

Father God, how I praise and thank You that there is no condemnation for those of us who are Yours. You don’t condemn. You convict of sin when necessary, but always with a call to repentance and forgiveness. Help me, Lord, to hear Your voice alone. Show me when to help and serve and when to decline a request because You have reserved it for another or for Yourself alone. Keep me trusting You to do the saving. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Next week watch for companion post: Feeling Guilty … When You Are

You are loved,
Sharon

 

 

Sweet Selah Ministries

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6 Responses to “Feeling Guilty ... When You Aren't”

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  1. Margharet Fowler says:

    A much needed message for my own heart. I specialize in "false guilt". As well as real guilt of course. I need to recognize the difference. Thank you for this timely message.

    • Sharon Gamble says:

      It's definitely something I am still learning, too. Bringing it before the Lord and asking Him has helped me so much!

  2. Nadine Davis says:

    Excellent word of encouragement my sister. What relief it brings to my soul.

  3. Your post is so apt. God is refining me of my need to save and control when in fact I have no ability to do either. What a relief to do my part and leave the results to him.

    • Sharon Gamble says:

      Oh Ann, that is the very word to use. Relief to not be in charge. It's how I feel, too. Thanks for sharing.

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