Is Guilt a Gift?
“You should feel ashamed of yourself!” Did you ever hear that as a kid or say that to your own kids? We certainly want to teach them right and wrong, but do we really want to shape our children by burdening them with guilt?
Guilt cripples people. It weighs us down and robs us of joy. Guilt results in self-pity.
Yet, guilt has its place. It is appropriate to have guilt when we sin. The defining moment is what we do with that guilt.
A number of years ago I was installing a backyard patio. My very young son desperately wanted to help with the wheelbarrow, but it was loaded down with gravel far beyond his capacity to move it. He tried to lift it with all of his strength, but he couldn’t budge it. After repeated attempts, he finally became discouraged. He cried in desperation, “I can’t do it!”
As his dad, I came over and asked him, “Why didn’t you just ask me?” He realized that he had to let go so I could carry it for him.
Sadly, some continue to embrace the weight of guilt.
Years ago, we received a letter from a Mormon, saying, “Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.” A more recent article echoed that same idea: “Guilt is a gift from God. Guilt guides us to repentance” (Ensign, Sept. 2019).
Is guilt really a gift to embrace?
Some embrace guilt as a motivation to improve. This drives people to take pride in their personal accomplishments. The more they do, the better they feel about themselves. These distractions try to hide the guilt.
Others can’t let go of their guilt. They get frustrated by their failures. “I have to do better than that.” “I’m not good enough.” “God could never love a person like me.” This death spiral leads to even more guilt.
Embracing guilt leads to either overestimating our ability or underestimating its weight. Tragically, the guilt remains.
Guilt is evidence that something is wrong in our relationship with God. It’s intended to be too heavy so that we turn to the one who can carry it.
Guilt drives us back to God.
David understood this experience personally. He was crushed under the crippling weight of sin: “For day and night your hand was heavy upon me” (Psalm 32:4).
Finally, he turned to God: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). The relief was overwhelming.
Guilt is not a gift to embrace. It’s a crushing burden we can’t carry. Thankfully, we don’t have to. “He himself carried our sins in his body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). If Jesus already carried it, why would I hold on to it?
When we fall at his mercy we discover something that truly is a gift, his grace. Hold onto that gift and never let it go!