“So, my brothers and sisters, you owe the flesh nothing! You do not need to live according to its ways, so abandon its oppressive regime.” (Romans 8:12, VOICE translation)
One of the quickest ways someone can distance me from him or her is to try to lay a guilt trip on me. Call it a quirk in my personality, but I don’t cotton well to being nagged at or manipulated through false guilt. (Just so everyone knows…when I’m distant or slow to return calls and emails, there really is a good reason.) And yet, when I look over my life, so many of the bad decisions I have made have been in times when I’ve allowed guilt to sink its hooks into me. While I shy away from people who try to turn me into a chess pawn, I still have yet to completely break away from self-imposed guilt—that drives me to work myself into oblivion for fear that I haven’t given enough. As you’re reading this, chances are, you are shaking your head in agreement because you too wrestle with a life out of balance.
So you may say, “A little guilt never hurt anyone.” There’s a huge difference between conviction and condemnation, friends. The Holy Spirit convicts. Conviction is an admonishment that is always intent on bringing us up higher in our relationship with God. Conviction challenges us to do the right thing regarding our relationships with God and man. Conviction will steer us away from making costly, wrong decisions. Once we make the right choices, the conviction then lifts…and we go on about our way, liberated and our peace still intact.
Condemnation, on the other hand, has no intent on making us better. Condemnation is Satan’s (and sometimes, people’s) tool to keep you in a holding pattern of feeling nothing you do will ever be good enough. Condemnation doesn’t want your debt paid. It won’t let you free from its manipulation, because the one wielding condemnation against you retains an advantage over you. You’re under that person’s thumbnail. You will exhaust your last resource just to placate the nagging, and still it won’t go away. Condemnation affords no peace. That’s a prison without walls.
Guilt steals your health. I’ve been there. I’ve hung onto toxic relationships sometimes for years, and to my detriment. I’ve given up so much personal enrichment time that it’s incalculable. Whose fault is it? Most certainly mine. Exercise and right amounts of sleep and solitude and prayer and Word time have sometimes gone right out the window, because I reasoned that I just HAD to work more…doing things other people were putting on my ever-growing to do list. (Don’t expect that other people will recognize and respect your need for some personal space. They’ll keep taking as long as there’s a drop of you to give!) My list has grown to unmanageable proportions because I wouldn’t say no. Guilt saw to that. Without safe boundaries, all the joy has at times leaked right out of me. And you know what? God isn’t in one bit of it. He isn’t glorified at all when my health and mental health are at times a wreck; or that I have grown overweight and dangerously out of condition, or that I resent being me. Know what God does and doesn’t give you the green light to add to your schedule. Ask Him. Even if it’s a good thing in and of itself, it might not be in His plan for you in particular…and He isn’t obligated to finish what He didn’t author! Don’t let guilt-laden activities weaken your immune system and cause you to become sick!
Seasons are temporary. Don’t let guilt make them permanent. There are seasons in our lives when we do find ourselves pulled-on out of necessity. You may be caring for a sick spouse or aging parent right now, or several small children. And when you hear someone say, “You’ve got to take some time away. You have to take better care of yourself. You can’t keep going forever with no down time,” it would sound so good and right if not for that nagging voice of guilt. Even God’s voice can be heard, however muffled by the screams of the urgent present, pleading with you to slow down. You have a choice at this point: you can listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit that says, “Pace yourself. Work on boundaries and balance. Keep God first and make enough time for yourself before you pour out to other people. Remember, this season will pass; and you need your health now as well as after these demands are no longer upon you. Take care of your spirit, soul and body for the long haul!” And deep in your spirit, you know it’s a right word. Whether you listen, or you cave into the fear that others will judge you unfairly, it’s a call you’re going to have to make.
I’ll never forget a lesson I learned when flying a few years ago. As the attendant went through safety protocol with us, she explained that, if the oxygen masks dropped out of the ceiling, parents of small children must apply their own masks first. Wow. And the reason being, if the parent were to pass out, he or she wouldn’t be able to save the child. How many times over your life has guilt caused you to do some things in the exact opposite order? We become so busy doing the work of the Lord that we neglect to walk in the cool of the day with Him–and when I say “we” I’m even including you pastors who find yourself in this same position! May I remind you, if you let yourself go physically and spiritually to pot, you will be of no benefit to anyone else.
Go ahead and take that day off. If someone offers to float you out, take him or her up on the offer. Go for a walk and then watch a clean, funny movie (maybe with popcorn or an ice cream!). You’ll feel a whole lot better. Remember, if you turn down help, not even then will guilt leave you alone. It’ll always try to be there telling you that you should be doing more. Since guilt won’t be satisfied, you may as well go ahead and find some joy and peace in your life! Let guilt go aggravate someone else for a change. Most importantly, ask GOD to order your steps. When you are starting to dip into your reserves, He can replenish you. Be prepared for Him to say no sometimes. Our pastor, Mitchell Bias, shares sometimes how his late mother-in-law, Edith, has called him on a couple of occasions and said, “The Lord says you are to do nothing but REST today. Don’t even leave the house!” Give yourself permission to back away and rest. Ask God to put people in your life who will affirm what He’s ordained for you–a life in harmony and balance. God won’t wreck your health to advance His cause. He has too many resources and people out there to rely solely on you. We need to be reminded of these things once in a while!
Guilt perpetuates your bad habits onto your posterity. It will make you a bad parent. It won’t let you discipline your kids or allow them to grow up and become independent. It will keep you from letting them encounter some hardships that develop character, because you’re always being the buffer between them and their problems. Guilt will have you paying off all their debts (and there will always be more where that came from because they know you have deep pockets and…yes…guilt). Moreover, it will have you raising your grandkids instead of requiring their parents to shoulder the responsibility. Guilt will even superimpose itself on your kids…because once you are infected with guilt, you’ll use it to manipulate and control them all their adult lives. You’ll pout and get mad when they aren’t coming around often enough to suit you. You’ll use guilt as a wedge between your kids and their spouses, between your kids and their kids. IF YOU ARE AN “I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE” ADDICT, YOU WILL IN TURN MAKE UNREASONABLE DEMANDS ON THOSE YOU LOVE!
When we consider setting up boundaries of moderation, the enemy is not going to like it. Guilt says, “You selfish thing…you call yourself a Christian and Christians are not supposed have a life.” What a bunch of baloney! Jesus came to give you ABUNDANT life, not an empty-shell existence. Somewhere among the day-to-day demands of your life, He can help you find that happy medium which gets you to the other side of the season you’re in.
Difficult seasons are temporary. They’re MEANT to be temporary. And when you’re on the other side of them, if you truly know who you are in Christ, your self-worth isn’t going to require you being a human vending machine for the rest of your life. After the time passes when you were under great demand, re-calibrate and learn to enjoy NOT being on call 24/7. You really can enjoy being fruitful without being overburdened, endlessly under life-leaching pressure, and always at everyone else’s beck and call. Don’t allow guilt to turn you into a codependent…or you’ll imprison yourself in a mode that allows others to exploit your inability to say no!
Guilt…its own reward? You can let guilt or even the need for people to recognize “poor old noble you” drive you to play the martyr. I’m being harsh here, but let’s face it: having people recognize you as indispensable is a cheap swap for walking in God’s best will for your life. When guilt has its way with us long enough, we start craving affirmation from man rather than God. Whether it’s pity or admiration we wind up desiring, it becomes the drug of choice to ease the guilt throbbing between our temples. So we wind up trying to do even more so that people when notice our sacrificial nature and praise us for it. Although Jesus was using a parable concerning giving alms, I want you to take this to heart: He spoke of people who give to the poor, in ways that they could show it off to other people and be recognized by man. He said that they already have their reward. Did you know that if you neglect what God’s will is for your life just for the recognition of being the person no one else can do without, you already have your reward? When I’m in up at night over interest-bearing debts, because guilt motivated me at Christmas to max out my credit cards beyond my means; or I’ve gone 3 years without a vacation because I was “too busy” to take time off; or the doctor says I’ve developed some degenerative disease because being a workaholic was more attractive than following God’s plan for discipline and balance…I don’t like the idea that the mess I’m in is actually my reward. It’s pretty hollow. When you’re in over your head, who really cares whether someone else admired you at one time for your lack of moderation? Walk after the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill these pesky lusts of the flesh that are the devil’s dirty bombs designed to steal, kill and destroy! Sometimes God is going to move you away from the spotlight, away from sowing into bad ground, or wasting your time and energy on what won’t bear real fruit…and believe me, it’s a good thing that He does this. Listen and be obedient when He pulls you out of involvement in matters He doesn’t want you meddling in! Only HE is omnipotent and omnipresent!
No one’s taking this away from me. In recent days and weeks, I’ve been trying to take all these things to heart. I’ve been experiencing burnout big-time, and God is calling me to start lightening the load. The first things that get sacrificed when someone wants something of me are the very things that give me life. I’ll skip exercise…and I’ve done it for years. I’ll shorten my prayer time or try to do it on the fly. I’ll neglect my housework and not even see the mess I’m stepping over to get to that next thing on my to do list. I’ll deny myself recreation and travel and the solitude which is so important to the writer God has called me to be. I will go days at a time without looking into a mirror, and when I do, I see someone I don’t recognize. Older, not vibrant and enjoying her life.
When I woke up this morning, even though I’d been busy till 3 AM and had cleared out my inbox before nodding off, it was already filling up again. Part of me wanted to say, “You know, people will think I’m a slacker if I don’t fly right into these things for them.” Guilt. But you know what? I got dressed and I got on the elliptical machine..something I wasn’t doing for myself even as recent as a week ago. And for 30 minutes my chubby self said out loud as I sweated and panted, “No one’s taking this away from me. This is mine.” Yeah, I’d rather have been doing something a little more enjoyable, but I’m going to MAKE myself become disciplined to set some boundaries. And if I have to psyche myself into thinking that exercise machine is something I can’t bear to do without, I’m going to learn how to fight for my fitness time. I’m making it my goal not to give up any more real estate in my life in areas of spiritual and physical maintenance. God has something important for me to do, and I can no longer afford to neglect the one vehicle I’ve been given to transport me through this short vapor life. Neither can you…I don’t care how important you are.
Jesus did not cower to guilt, and neither should we. Remember, Jesus was moved by love, by compassion, by empathy, by the faith of others, and even a time or two, by righteous (sinless) anger…but He was never moved by guilt. I can’t find one instance where He got out of the will of God because of someone or something pressuring Him or guilt-tripping Him into doing the wrong thing. He got talked about sometimes, and was misunderstood by many, but He never let that manipulate Him out of His identity. Even when Satan tempted Him to prove that He was the Son of God, He was not moved; He stood His ground. He would not be bullied into proving Himself. And a number of times we read where He regularly separated Himself from people to just get alone with God. There were folks who would just had to wait on Him, but He wasn’t going to cut His time short doing what was needed in order for Him to really do what was needed! I want a Jesus kind of restraint. I want to be steadfast and immovable. I want to be disciplined and balanced and have self-control that shuts out the drive to under-prepare and over-achieve. I don’t want guilt to have a ring in my nose, leading me to live in ways that compromise my health and my peace. I only have to please God; and if I am feeling a spirit of guilt instead of peace, then I’m hearing the wrong voice. Jesus says His sheep hear HIS voice and another they will not follow! May we all recognize whose voice we are hearing at any given time, and discern whether that voice is to be followed, ignored, or even silenced!
“Father, help us to voluntarily remove ourselves from the court of public opinion! May we keep our eyes and ears focused on You rather than the endless expectations of others. Help us to shut out the voice of the Accuser which says we can never do enough, never be enough. Conviction is Your righteous voice that will never place unreasonable demands upon us. Conviction releases peace and never an insatiable unrest in our lives because obedience brings a finality and a reward. Condemnation, however, keeps us walking by works instead of faith, and that’s never where You intended us to go. We rebuke the spirit of guilt from our lives, and will stop living in the dimension of always owing and never being able to pay in full. We submit ourselves to You and we resist the Accuser! He must flee from us, and take all his unreasonable demands with him! In Jesus’ name, Amen.”