How do we deal with guilt (the fact or state of having committed an offense or crime)? It seems that our society has fostered the blame game so well that our first response is to assign responsibility elsewhere. She pushed me over the brink of patience. He cut me off at the intersection. I’m in pain! The booze at the party was free, what was I supposed to do? Someone or something else must be to blame; surely it isn’t me!
We will never be rid of guilt by placing the blame on someone else. Whether resolution is needed between two people, between someone and the legal system or between an individual and God, accepting responsibility for one’s own behavior is the essential first step.
If you have read The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis you will remember the despicable character Eustace, nicknamed “Useless.” His unacceptable behavior resulted in dragon scales covering his body.
Tim Keller writes, “The way to deal with guilt is not to avoid it, but to resolve it. Eustace … realized he couldn’t get his own skin off, that only God can come and take your skin off, and to do this you have to let him pierce deep. You must take all the guilt on yourself and stop blame shifting and take responsibility for what you’ve done wrong. No excuses. Full in the face.”
When we do that we position ourselves for forgiveness, from God, from offended people, even from the legal system. Any of the offended may need or require recompense or restitution of some kind.
We all need forgiveness. We have all offended and forgiveness is what we want. It is possible only when we acknowledge the wrong we’ve done.
The dictionary offers another definition of guilt: “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, whether real or imagined.” When we are actually guilty of wrongdoing we should feel appropriately guilty. But there is a plethora of guilt out there that has no basis in actual wrongdoing.
Guilty feelings can be killers when they are vague, broad, unfounded; we can’t put our finger on what we’ve done wrong. Such feelings usually stem from perceived expectations we haven’t met, of parents or spouses or churches. We really haven’t done anything wrong and yet there is this cloud of guilty feeling surrounding us.
Maybe we could do a better job relating to those whose expectations are unmet, but we are not guilty of wrongdoing that requires forgiveness. Sometimes the objectivity of a trusted friend can help us discern whether we are dealing with genuine guilt or unfounded feelings of guilt.
When wrong has been done, admit it, seek forgiveness and move on. When you have been wronged, forgive. (More on that in tomorrow’s blog.)