Guilt is a relentless, soul-sucking monster. Hearts groan under “What if…” and “If only…” To say that we want things to be different is a gross understatement.
Two decades had passed since my father’s sudden death. I was sitting in a counselor’s office, agitated, panicky. It was clear I hadn’t really grieved my dad’s passing.
The counselor looked at me and asked, “So, do you feel responsible for your dad’s death?”
I snickered, and opened my mouth to say, “No!” but nothing came. I sat there in stunned silence.
I did feel responsible.
My mind raced back to a meeting with doctors in the hospital. They explained the situation and then looked at my brother and myself. “We need your permission to turn off the machines,” they said.
I glanced sideways at my brother, who was almost 30. He looked down briefly, and nodded his head. I looked back around, and nodded my head. I was fifteen.
For twenty years, I felt I had ended my father’s life.
Some of us live with crushing guilt. We trudge around with this ball and chain, unaware. We feel responsible. It was our fault somehow.
We wake up in the morning, and Guilt is right there with us. It says, “Good morning, friend. It’s another day. We’ll begin again with the past - what you did wrong and what you didn’t do right. Then I’ll brief you on your agenda for the day. Just think about all the mistakes that are out there waiting for you!”
As we go through the day, Guilt says, “You’re responsible for what went wrong. Let’s go over those regrets again? Yep, it’s your fault.”
We put our head on the pillow at night, and Guilt says, “How many more mistakes did you make today? Not to worry. I’ll remind you of them tomorrow.”
For some of us, Guilt’s voice is so familiar that we’ve mistaken it for our own. Guilt isn’t content with merely coming and going. It’s greedy by nature. It thirsts for control. It wants to be the atmosphere in which we do life.
In order to heal and grow, we must begin to unmask this soul-crushing villain. Here are four key things to remember about guilt:
Guilt is a monster that will never be satisfied. Left undetected, it will damage our hearts and ravage our souls. Like an infection, if not properly treated, it tends to grow and spread.
Guilt promises but never delivers. It tells us that things will be better if we feel bad about what we did or didn’t do. Guilt keeps us from taking appropriate action, like asking forgiveness and making amends. Guilt keeps us stuck.
Guilt lies to us. Guilt wants to make us responsible for everything. We mustn’t let it. Let’s take responsibility only for what’s ours. Instead of dwelling on what happened, we can focus on what to do next.
Guilt is misplaced grief. Feeling responsible keeps us from feeling the full pain of the loss, but in the end only lengthens the process. We must let guilt go. It’s time to release ourselves.
It’s time to kick the Guilt Monster to the curb. We’ll be glad we did.