Guilt is a Choice

This is a very brief version of my sermon from yesterday. If you would like to hear the entire message, please click here.

Psalm 32:2 very clearly tells us that God is not keeping track of our mistakes. Who knew? Generations of people have been led to believe that the Almighty One is making a list and checking it twice in order to accurately determine the course of our miserable existence. And, perhaps if we feel contrite enough, guilty enough, ask forgiveness enough, then just perhaps God will see fit to let us enjoy heaven someday.

Psalm 32:2-5 puts a whole different spin on this concept.

“Happiness comes from YHWH not counting your mistakes, from having nothing to hide. As long as I kept my stubborn silence, my bones grew weak because of my constant complaints. Day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped by a summer’s heat. Finally I admitted my sing to you, and stopped hiding my guilt. I said, “I confess my rebellion, YHWH,” and you took away the guilt of my sin.”

According to the psalmist, guilt is not required by God, or given by God. Guilt is actually taken away by God. This perceptive passage essentially says that we will know peace and joy inside when we recognize that YHWH does not keep track of our mistakes. Alas, we are apt to try and hide our mistakes from God, to keep our stubborn silence, as it were. We don’t talk about our guilt. We hold it close to our breast and it feels like a weight, like a heavy hand upon our hearts. Little do we know that it is not God’s heavy hand of condemnation, but God’s hand of love and forgiveness that we are loathe to accept because we have deemed ourselves unworthy (thanks, in part to the church telling us this for centuries). When we finally get exhausted from carrying our guilt and pain, we lay it at the feet of the Divine and finally are able to leave it.

To be even more clear, we need to remember that the Divine IS love and forgiveness – by definition. So, by definition, the Divine would never want to hold us in an unhealthy place where we feel overcome by the things we’ve done wrong. The God I know is not an angry, punishing, judgmental God. We hold onto our guilt until we’re ready to let it go… and then we feel the light and love and forgiveness that had been there all along.

Sure, one could argue that guilt is a healthy, essential feeling that helps guide our moral and ethical life. Feeling guilty may even prompt us to change our behaviors or life for the better. However, when one gets stuck in guilt and allows it to consume large amounts of energy for large amounts of time, one must conclude that guilt has become unhealthy. This kind of guilt eats away at one’s soul, one’s happiness, one’s balance, one’s relationships, one’s ability to function in the world. But this type of guilt is also a choice.

Thinking about this, we have to ask ourselves, what function does this type of guilt serve? As far as I can tell, it gives us a way to beat ourselves up. Period. It does not heal the one we may have hurt. It does not heal us. It continues to hold power over us and keeps us from moving forward with our lives.

I have been there and done that, right up to the point where I decided that I really didn’t want to live in that place of anguish anymore. It was then that I discovered that it was my choice to dwell in the guilt.

What was done was done. My apologies were said. I had atoned for my failures as best as I could. The past was the past. There was no going back. I wanted to live again. I was not serving the ones I had hurt by my guilt. I was not serving myself. And, I was certainly not serving God. For me to be whole I had to let it go.

To let go I had to become conscious and mindful of the guilt when it started dragging me down.  It was hard, but more and more I was able to look my guilt in the eye and say, “No. I’ve done enough of this. It is what it is. I deserve to be happy and whole.” I just wouldn’t go there. More and more I allowed myself to be seen and loved by God. I wasn’t hiding so that I could hold on to my pain.

Perhaps some guilt simply shows that we’re humans with a conscience… but living there denies our full humanity in that it denies us the right to life in it’s fullest. And we each hold the key. When you go there, try to cut yourself some slack. We’re not God, we mess up, we feel bad, but no one is asking us to live there. We are forgiven and set free… if we choose.