I know that I’m “in the middle” of a series on chronic illnesses but I’m just not feeling it today. So maybe it’ll be a long-spanning series. Who can say? Ok, God can say. But I cannot.
What I can say is what God is teaching me about right now.
I have a lovely friend who has been talking to me lately about her marriage. She told me that even when things are going better, she still has this overwhelming feeling of guilt for all the things she has done wrong previously to this.
So even when it’s good, the good is overshadowed by past bad.
Tears rolling down my face because I KNOW this feeling.
Punch in the gut.
Lay in bed all day.
Ok. Deep breath. And another. And another.
What I’m about to tell you will (not) surprise you.
First, guilt is one of the toughest feelings that women struggle with. We wonder if we’re REALLY forgiven by God, by our spouse, by our parents, by our friends. We wonder if we’re screwing up our kids and how will we even know until it’s too late? We pile it on like junk in a closet – we keep throwing it in there, ignoring it, but when the door opens, it all comes crashing down. And that hurts.
Second, guilt is a choice. Yes, other people can choose words and tones that try to MAKE us feel guilty. Yes, others can bring up past mistakes and rub salt into a healing wound. But that’s not God’s way. In these cases we have to choose God’s way.
Which, is thirdly, to rest in His mercies which are new each morning. Yes, we made mistakes yesterday, the day before, and every day before that from our birth. Yes, we made mistakes today, and every day forward to our death. Which is bleak. UNLESS we rest in God’s mercies. We apologize for the wrong we do, and move forward, growing in the ways God has for us to grow – which are uniquely our journey, and know that He has mercy for us each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Satan is crafty – he knows our vulnerabilities. He knows that if we are working on doing better in our marriage, that playing that card will have a bigger impact on us. Hey, remember last week when you were husband bashing with your girlfriends? How dare you go to his face now and tell him how much you admire him? And don’t bother trying to give him a back rub – he knows you only do that when you feel guilty, and you don’t want him knowing that you’re failing, do you?
There is so much about what we’re doing and what we’re fighting for in our marriages that is hard, maybe some of the hardest things we’ll ever do. And maybe not.
Either way, it’s a journey. A marathon, not a sprint. It’s growing, and changing, and maturing in our walks with the Lord.
And it’s multifaceted.
For one thing, we have to know who our motivation is. Are you trying to make our spouse happy or God happy? And by making God happy, sometimes, we are not making our spouse happy. Or sometimes we do not feel love from our spouse, even when we “get it right”.
I know, and I’m sorry.
Also, we learn along the way that no matter how hard we try, we cannot change someone else. So our motivation can’t be to change our spouse but rather to draw closer to the One who created us to know love. And sometimes we still don’t feel that from our spouse.
I know, and I’m sorry.
It’s hard not to feel love from the man who is supposed to be our example of Christ’s love for His Church.
I know, and I’m sorry.
But we cannot change someone else. We can only work on growing in our own journey with God. Encouraging others in theirs. But we can’t do for them.
We can’t earn our spouses love by getting it right, just like we can’t earn God’s love by getting it right.
And as much as we know that, it’s hard. Hard to be married to another sinner who is on their own journey.
Let me tell you, Satan knows that. And he’ll work his wedge right in there. With grudges. With bitterness. With anger and frustration. With hurt feelings. With guilt.
If you let it, the guilt always follows you – there is always someone to disappoint, someone to feel guilty about. The hardest thing I’m learning is that we’re not trying to please our husband or our kids – that’s just a nice by-product. Rather, we are trying to please God. The same God who sent His only son to die for each one of us and make it so that our sins would not show up under our name in the book of life. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to grasp a hold of – God, can you really forgive THAT?!? And even if You can because You love me unconditionally, can my husband?
Today’s dare is on-going and not easy. I dare you to look for opportunities to NOT choose guilt. To thank God for His mercies and to keep working and keep praying that He would lead you to more of His ways. Not because you can earn love from Him or anyone else, but because as His precious child, He wants to impart more of Himself on you. WOW.
I’m learning to leave the guilt behind. I will always hear that voice in my head saying that B’s are unacceptable when you are capable of A’s and my inner knowing that yes, I have it in me to do it but I can only carry so much and I have to make compromises because I’m not a robot. I run out of energy, I get touched out, I need silence, sweet silence to regroup. I need to take back a corner of myself for me, but the voice still says, you are capable of so much more! Adding a lifetime of dance to that, pushing through the pain, pushing on in spite of injuries, go 150% in practice because what you practice will be what you perform. Ritualistic guilt building.
I am my productivity. My self worth gets tied to what I create rather than being able to simply create to express. Artists block grows from this. I can perform someone elses choreography without a second thought, but when it’s time to dance my own story, it’s just not good enough. I’ve actually rewritten entire choreos a day before a show because I had it down the way I wrote it the first time, and worried the audience might get bored with it – to predictable results. Confusion and chaos, mucking through with a B where I could have had and A, feeling out of control in spite of positive reinforcement and whoops… guilt. I notice this in prayer. I have no modesty in praying for friends and family, but when it’s time to give over my own powerlessness I still struggle. “I need” are dirty words.
Sometimes guilt is a great motivator. Sometimes guilt keeps us from accepting the love that others have for us. I think type A personalities and perfectionists in particular suffer from this a lot. Back in the 80’s, underachiever syndrome was a really popular way to describe kids who were supposed to be high potential learners that didn’t come through academically. I look at this and say something got broken inside these people from a young age. The joy of movement was lost somewhere when the expected benefits didn’t show up. Guilt is 25% unmet expectations. I did what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t get the payout I hoped for. Did I do something wrong? Maybe if I do it again it will work. It still didn’t work? Screw you, I give up. Oh wait I don’t give up, I’m sorry, I’ll try harder.
Intermittent reinforcement is actually one of the most powerful tools for getting someone to continue a behavior. If you only tell the dog no jumping sometimes, the dog will jump MORE because he’s trying to figure out how to jump in a way that is acceptable. It also engages our inner risk taker. It’s challenging, it might work, it might not work. The question is, do I feel lucky today? Oh, you’re yelling at me. I must have jumped WRONG rather than I should not have jumped at all. Here, I’ll jump again… still wrong? Hmmm. Now I feel bad and I don’t know why.
Transfer the concept to marriage. When you’re dealing with another person who is dealing with their bad days, their ups and downs and isn’t always going to be able to reenforce your achievements, especially in the context of home makers, whose achievements are for the good of their families, then guilt becomes a power player. You didn’t notice? Did I do it wrong? Have I not done enough? I’m tired enough, there is no more of me, and there is so much more to be done – here I’ll work harder. I’m beat, I can’t work harder… whoops, guilt again. Accepting that we can’t make everyone happy all the time and that sometimes people are responsible for making themselves happy helps. Not taking responsibility for others bad days and not seeing their behaviors as direct consequences of our actions helps. Spiritual maturity means silencing the voice inside that attributes everything that happens to us as being a product of our work and worth. Sometimes it just rains.
Good topic! Therapeutic to think about how our need for consistent reinforcement can make us feel we are not doing enough and how we really need to have our work validated in order to feel good. The highest validation is knowing in our hearts that we are doing Gods work as he intended for us, but sometimes the distance between the mind of God and the mind of man leaves us chasing our tails!
Growing up spiritually. says
Hi Mandi. Great comment. I don’t really have anything to add- just that I can relate so much to your drive to perform. I am type A all the way. Lol. I don’t know how I would have turned out if it hadn’t been for some major dysfunction in my family as a kid- maybe I still would have been controlling and perfectionist? Either way, it really is something that has had a hold on me. My husband is much more laid back and unstructured- and although he longs for more structure and direction in his life, he definitely does not want to be pushed or driven, and especially not by me. I truly don’t always feel “understood” at home, but I am learning that that’s OK. My husband can’t meet every need of mine anyway.
The very biggest thing God has taught me about guilt is this: fire anyone who insists on being a ‘Travel Agent’ for ‘guilt trips’. It is YOUR walk, not theirs. It is YOUR marriage, not theirs. I am going through a tough family situation, one of the toughest, and my choices are my own – made through prayer, through talking with my husband and my pastor. They are not subject to someone’s opinion on what they think I should feel or believe.
We are told to ‘test the spirits’. I do this often when I am dealing with guilt and insecurity. I pray that God will help me honour the Holy Spirit and I ask Him to bind away from me the devil’s spirits of guilt, doubt, manipulation and whatever ones are bothering me. I surrender those feelings to God. I ask my husband if we have anything that needs to be apologized for or resolved – being a guy he almost always says no, but sometimes he says yes and we talk. And we pray. And we let it go. The past is the past. No score keeping and no points. Hold it, own it, forgive it, accept it, move on.
If the expectations of someone else are weighing you down – give those suckers back to their owners! They are not yours. Don’t carry them like they are. 🙂 And do it with a smile. And a prayer.
Growing up spiritually. says
Hi Leah. Thank you very much for this post. The timing was perfect for me. I woke up in a funk yesterday that I couldn’t quite shake– until I read your post, had a good cry, and then started resisting and saying no to the guilt that had been gnawing at me. The devil really IS seeking whom he may devour, isn’t he?
The night before last, my husband and I had a short but serious talk about my pridefulness and lack of teachability. 🙂 My husband wasn’t being mean; he was just being honest. And, amidst many tears and feelings of defensiveness, I let him know that I completely agreed with him–because I DO have a big problem with pride.
Our conversation got started at suppertime with me not flipping the hamburgers on the grill very effectively–I was breaking the burgers apart. My husband is a much more experienced cook than I am, and therefore, he is much quicker and less afraid of getting burned. He didn’t like my timidity in flipping the burgers, and I sure didn’t appreciate his correction that night when I was just trying to relax and have fun after a long day of job hunting. Truly, I overreacted to the agitated look on his face, a look that in reality had very little to do with me and very much to do with how tired he was from his labor-intensive job.
I chuckle as I share the details here, and I only share them because I am really working on being honest with people–admitting that neither I nor my marriage is perfect. I cringe to admit that I do not have a perfect performance– as a chef, as a wife, as a child of God, as anything… I truly don’t have it all together, which honestly frightens me. I have been terrified of being weak and vulnerable and emotionally open with people, and the pride that I thought was masking all that fear is coming down bit by bit, day by day, one burger flip at a time.
Just wanted to share. Thank you for being a vessel of the Holy Spirit to make a difference in my day and week. The part about knowing that God forgives you but not being so sure about your husband totally echos my thoughts from the other night, although my husband is awesome and doesn’t seem to hold a grudge.