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How Do We Manage Guilt?

We have all made mistakes in our lives and we have all had the experience of carrying those mistakes with us often unnecessarily in the form of guilt.  Left unattended, guilt like this can turn to shame which can bring darkness.  How does a Christian overcome deep and debilitating guilt and shame over past mistakes?  Because we are sinners, aren’t we inherently guilty?  Is guilt good?  Is guilt bad? How does the Bible say we should deal with this?  Stay with us!

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11 comments to How Do We Manage Guilt?

  • Marjo

    I think it is not good to think too much of what you feel guilty about. Jehovah can forgive many things. If this guilt bothers, the best thing is to pray heal your wounds from Jehovah. But you also have to do something to forget it. Only that matters that you have solved your relationship with Jehovah. It doesn’t matter what other people think. Some people might have this bad habit to make you remember what did you do and feel bad about it. It is good to remember that they also have to solve their relationship with Jehovah sooner or later.

    • greg (Bible Student)

      Greetings Marjo.

      I appreciate your comment. For years I found it very difficult to heal my relationship with Jehovah God. Of course, JW’s were not only unhelpful, they were a large part of the problem because the large majority of them still depended on externally-imposed shame as a useful tool.

      I have found it helpful to remember that guilt is simply about what you’ve done. Shame, on the other hand, is about how you are perceived–whether by others, or by yourself. Another useful concept for me was to understand that labels are for food, not people.

      Permit me to explain.

      I found healing in accepting that what I have done is NOT who I am. What I once did in ignorance, I now feel regret about. If I knew then what I know now (or what I’d yet like to learn), I wouldn’t have done what I did. To label myself as wicked is only confusing. “Wicked” is a static label. An action that has come to be viewed as “bad” can be called wicked, but as a person, I am constantly in a state of growth, constantly learning. To put a static label on myself is to imprison me in suffering for it voids the possibility that I can (and will) regret, learn, grow, improve. Whereas the bad action of the past can not grow, learn, improve.

      I believe that God, in his graciousness, does not want for me to be forever stuck in painful patterns of behaviour. What he wants to see in me is that I learn and grow and continuously strive to improve. So for me, accepting guilt is to accept responsibility, to get to a place where I can say, “Yes, I did do that. But now I see that I’d like to go back and do things very differently.”

      To take on shame is to say, “I’m a horrible person. I was a horrible person. I’ll always be a horrible person. There’s no point trying to change because I’m still always going to be that horrible person.” Hating myself, beating myself up, calling myself names only makes it harder for me to see any point in trying to improve because I simply end up getting better at looking for my faults, and I know I’ll always be able to find another one.

      So unhealthy shame keeps one imprisoned in a self-fulfilling prophecy as you can never be “good enough” to nullify the past. With this kind of shame, our focus is on the things behind rather than the things ahead, and on the things we cannot change rather than on the things we can change.

      Once I stick a label on myself, I rob myself of the possibility of changing me. Once I get the idea in my mind that this is simply the way I am, it’s going to be nearly impossible to see that I can (and earnestly want to) do something different. As long as I have this view of myself, I’m not going to find it easy to heal my relationship with God.

      Just to be clear, I’m not saying we forever cast off all forms of shame completely. There is, in my mind, a healthy kind of shame, but that’s a naturally occurring, internal form, a kind of measure that gently acknowledges that I did not live up to my healthier expectations of myself. But this includes the opportunity for growth and learning and improvement.

      Let’s face it. We’re all imperfect. We are all born in ignorance. We learn as we go. We learn as we grow. We grow as we learn. Let’s never stop growing, learning. Accepting that I am guilty in this manner need not consume me, nor imprison me. Jehovah could have pre-programmed us with all the answers, all the knowledge, all the experience we’d ever need, and he could have even made it impossible for us to “mess up.” And yet the Bible is full of stories of people who messed up. Some of them messed up repeatedly. But God made us such that we gain experience as we grow.

      So for me to heal my relationship with Jehovah, I had to accept the fact that I did not initially (at birth, or at any other time since) have all the answers. I also had to accept that I might struggle sometimes to find those answers. And I had to accept that Jehovah God already knew that about me, and that he (as much as me!!) couldn’t wait for the day when I’d finally understand what he what he wanted me learn.

      I found that adopting that kind of attitude nearly eliminated the toxic forms of guilt and shame that had been ruling in my life. Am I still guilty? Yeah. Do I still feel regret? Yeah. And I wouldn’t change that one bit because now that I better know how to use my guilt and my regrets, I have been able to become a better person today.

      Really, isn’t that the essence of the human aspect to God’s Divine Plan of the Ages? And so through God’s Grace and Jesus’ Ransom, I can now find a solid hope and the courage I need to press onward in my learning and healing.

      Compassionately,
      -greg

      • Marjo

        Greg sometimes I wish human brains would have this computer option, remove to recycle bin and empty recycle bin option. But I guess Jehovah didn’t want human brains to work that way. I guess he wanted our experiences were they good or bad to deform our mind. I was shy and weak before, but now my experiences made me stronger. Some cases healing might take longer, but with friends support you will survive. I think God want’s to prepare our minds to becoming events like Armageddon. Maybe each one of us will have some sort of mission after Armageddon. But the most important lesson in human life is that, whatever the sin was we have made don’t keep on doing that.

  • Lincoln

    Dear sister Jacqueline,

    Thank`s for your answer. I will keep in mind the words you give me. Hope you are well Jacqueline and everything is fine with you. I love you sister.

    About Jeff; yes I am sure he is a fine brother and I appreciate him as well. About the link to Paula. Yes, it is in Portuguese. Sorry, but my idea was that the Spirit in the whole prayer performance and the response to the audience would help our Paula.

    This is morning in Denmark right now. time is 7 o’clock in the morning. It has been raining during night and I think more rain comes. I use to do jogging around our lake in the mornings (2 miles) every second day. Just to keep fit.

    See you soon again. About Skype; I will think about it.

  • paula

    I really needed to hear this talk.. Thank you.. i was raised in the truth, and my mother is still a Jehovah’s witness.. I kinda stumbled upon this site and it was just the talk i needed to hear.. I been dealing with guilt for a long while.. Jehovah works in mysterious ways.. i was really down yesterday and what a coincidence a sister on field service just so happened to stop me on my way to the park with my 2 kids.. gave me a couple magazines and really bettered my day.

    • Peter K. (admin)

      Paula – I am glad you enjoyed listening to the Christian Questions radio program. If you have enjoyed Rick and Jonathan, there are so many other encouraging topics they discuss that you may find to be a blessing. I see they also had another older program on GUILT from 9/21/2003. You can find their archive of radio topics and programs here: http://www.christianquestions.net/archives-all-programs/

    • Jacqueline

      Hi Paula, welcome to the site and discussion. So many of the articles soothes the conscience, for we have a forgiving God, Jehovah.

      • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

        Lincoln, this is Jacqueline. I found your reply to Jeff awaiting approval. It does that sometimes when the reply is long and has links. So sorry it took me so long to realize it was there.
        You are definitely welcome here. That one is on me. I have been having test at the Cardio doctors and couldn’t check the back end of the site.
        Jeff is a really good guy and friend. When I first found my way out Jeff was my buddy until the end. He is very kind. Even when he was going thru a huge health trial he was not too sick to help on the site.
        This one is on me. I dropped the ball in approving your comment with links. Please keep on replying to comments. When I see a reply I try to get in touch with the individual and let them know you are talking to them if they don’t see it. On the Wednesday night study now. You can come on by skype I think because we have a brother that comes on that way.
        Take Care.

      • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

        Lincoln, I clicked on the link that you put up for Paula, is it correct or could you check and see if that is what you intended. It comes up as a play and is in a foreign language different from Paula. Maybe I made a mistake tho. Check your link, please, Thanks

      • Lincoln

        Dear Paula, dear sister.

        Here is one with English subtitles. Maybe I can give you this one. Don’t be afraid. give yourself to Jesus, The Holy Spirit will comfort you.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X9_odzDOJ7c

        God Bless you.

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