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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

GUILT: Its what's for dinner!!

Have you ever been out of town on a Sunday, or you just shut off your alarm clock and slept through church? Or maybe you even went and visited a different church. But somewhere between Sunday evening and Monday morning you receive a facebook message, and/or a text, and/or an email, and/or a phone call that basically says, “We missed you on Sunday.” Now even if this is a single person sending you this message they will most likely say “we” because they mean the entire church. At first you really think that you were truly missed. But then you realize when you miss a Wednesday night service or the alternative Halloween event you also receive these messages. We missed you. This is less of an affectionate longing for you and more a reminder of your sinful, heathen ways and how quickly you will turn back into a pumpkin if you miss a service/church event. So stop skipping, or God will hate you.

It seems to me, that as much as we all like to believe we are modern Christians, guilt is still very much in style. It’s kind of like greed in the secular world. Gordon Gekko said Greed is good. I’m just waiting for some church tyrant who heads the membership committee to stand up in church on Sunday and say, “Guilt is good.” Paul said there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus, but there seems to be plenty of it in His churches. I grew up Catholic and under the guidance of very loving, if not old-fashioned parents, so I’ve always had a lot of a guilt in my life. Most of the time, I guilt myself into feeling bad about things, but that has to start somewhere. I think there are many of us guilt-sensitive folks out there, and these tyrants know it. All they have to do is plant a small hint that we’ve done something wrong and suddenly it has sprouted into a tremendous weight of bad feelings and obligation. I’m slowly learning how to weed these things out and prevent them from taking root in my heart, but I’ve had to learn to identify these seemingly innocent comments as what they are and ignore them.

Guilt is Good.
If someone is pointing out that they realized they knew you weren’t in church on Sunday, they had to be there to know it. What they are really doing is exclaiming to all who can hear or read on facebook, that they, themselves, were in church, pretty tricky, huh? So most likely these people are trying to make you feel bad, to make themselves feel better. Its the same reason you were bullied as a kid, and its the same the reason your sister told you your new jeans made your butt look big. We really haven’t grown up. We are insecure about our own holiness and the only way to divert our guilt-ridden minds from our own shortcomings is to guilt someone else.

Now, I will admit, that there is a time and place for guilt. After all, the guilt that I experienced growing up did serve to keep me 89% pure while I was in college. That, and the three abstinence pledge cards I signed while in high school. I went to a very liberal, sexually free college. In the first week I was there I had been given goody bags full of condoms, lube, and other items I didn’t recognize. I took one home to show my mother, she wasn’t amused. The other bag I used to make condom balloons and throw at other freshman girls who squealed in the halls. But I digress. I think we know that telling teens and young adults about STDs and unwanted pregnancies doesn’t work. We’ve also found that staying pure for your future husband isn’t always the best route either. But I had made a promise to God that I wouldn’t have sex and when you are insecure and 20 and the cute guy from chemistry class is kissing you and putting his hand up your shirt at this week’s frat party, what do you think will stop you? A husband you’ve never met? The threat of disease? Or that fact that suddenly you realize you are breaking a promise to God and you feel really guilty about that? In my case, the last one worked. But there were plenty of kids I went to Catholic school with who evidently weren’t swayed by guilt- or they were so sick of feeling guilty that they completely shut off any voice of reason (whether that be God’s or our conscience). And if I had felt a little less guilt and a little more love, would I have even found myself in that predicament 11% of the time? It was usually a gruesome cycle. You feel bad about something and instead of forgiving yourself you make a bad decision, and then you feel guilty about that, which leads to bad feelings and more bad decisions. Or it goes something like this. You missed Wednesday night service and you got a text message that made you feel guilty, and you feel bad all week so on Sunday morning you shut off your alarm so you don’t have to face the guilt ridden sneers of fellow church goers, then you feel guilty about missing church on Sunday and you can’t decide whether you can face the music next week.

So I guess I’m saying that guilt is not the correct route to holiness. Not for the person being guilted and not for the one laying it on (except of course in the realm of abstinence pledge cards, where guilt is always good.) But in this era of “easy-beliefism” when are we holding other’s accountable and when are we giving them a dose of guilt? Can guilt be productive? How is guilt used in your church? And if someone is laying on an unneeded dose of guilt how do we respond without being snarky? Or is it ok to be snarky? And how do we keep guilt from weighing us down and leading us deeper into self-loathing? I think I had a point when I initially started this post, but now I just have a lot of questions. I look forward to your responses!


  1. Guilt and fear, I think the people are wising up to these tactics. Nice post, I agree.

  2. Interesting. This never crossed my mind. The rare times I post that message on a friend's page, it's because I really did miss seeing them at church. Sometimes it's the only time I see a certain friend and I look forward to getting a little social, face-to-face time with them. Now if it was someone I almost never spoke to, I'd maybe question their motives but I try to think the best of folks first.

    Please feel free to stop by: Trailing After God

  3. Melinda, I was going to add a disclaimer to this blog because there are sincere people out there! But I threw caution to the wind and posted it without the disclaimer.

    Before Mark and I were married we lived on opposite sides of a small SD town in rural settings. In the December-January months we could miss literally weeks of church due to family holiday gatherings and the highways being drifted over with 6 feet of snow. Our pastor always called to check in on us and it was a sincere call with no guilt behind it, and we really appreciated it. However, we have experienced churches where they say they miss you on Sunday and you mention you were visiting your ill mother and they don't ask about your mother. We were expected to attend church 3-4 times a week, depending on the season, and it was always pointed out when we missed.

    Some people really do care, but some people disguise guilt with caring. And I'd rather get sporadic sincere messages, then weekly insincere ones.

    Thanks for your comment!

  4. Heh....I send our emails but only when I actually do miss someone. Guilt is not a lasting motivator unless it is accompanied by godliness...afterall Godly sorrow leads to repentance ( all guilt is not Godly sorrow ). Am I truly repentant for sinning against a Holy God or just sorry I may get caught.

    I like accountability but it must begin personally and within the home

    God bless and keep the Faith

  5. Guilt can help us in certain situations. For example, i try not to talk negatively about others behind their back bc i know I'll feel guilty next time I see them. And i wouldn't want them to do the same. I was also raised catholic and fundamentalist christian and my uncle would guilt me into going to church every week, even when i was sick, or whatever the situation. I think going to church should be the individual's choice. Didn't God give us free will? I think the reason a lot of people stop going to church is bc they feel judged by other people who go. I could understand if someone went to church every week for years, missed a couple of weeks and other people became concerned. Its only logical. But guilting and pressuring others into attending church is just wrong. There is no wrong or right way to worship God. Maybe some people would rather watch church on tv or listen to a podcast. Maybe they work on sundays.. anyhow I'm ramblng.. but yeah thats what i think

  6. Very good points Sara! Thank you for taking the time to respond! It is true that the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17 is always a good read in regards to forgiveness and things to come.

  7. it's true that guilt works. But here's the thing - it works on a very superficial level. You may get compliance, and you may get someone to do all the check-it-off-the-list type of stuff - but the guilt largely leaves the heart unaffected.

  8. Perhaps its the same Carla, maybe it isn't. But what kept me pure until my marriage (even at Coe) was not the guilt of my religion but more so personal values instilled in me. The sheer possibility of disappointing my parents if I they found out or I experienced an unplanned pregnancy was more than I could bear. The amount of trust they placed in me to do the right thing and be more than just another notch in someone's belt was very influential. God will forgive me for any sin I confess to him, and no sin is greater than any other. My parents would also forgive me I'm sure, but the motivation to be the person they saw me to be, was far more important than the fact that others thought I was "odd" or a "prude" for abstaining. The opportunity to remain seperated from what all the others were doing was a very empowing feeling and not a guilt-driven one. Just my two cents. :)

  9. Hi Elise! Thanks for commenting! I have thought about this a lot and I'm not sure if it was guilt or something else (personal values). My desire to stay pure was different from others who attended 13 years of Catholic school and was different from those that were raised in the same house as me with the same parents (ie siblings). You are right, it probably had less to do with guilt and more to do with my relationship to God. But what also played into was that I did sign those abstinence pledge cards (I know I made fun of them earlier) and I told everyone I knew, parents, family, friends, that I was waiting. I didn't want to be a liar and I didn't want to feel bad about saying one thing and doing another- here is where I think the guilt comes into play. I feel guilty about a lot of stuff and it's silly, but at times motivating. My husband would say this is from my Catholic roots, but I'm not so sure, I don't know where it comes from. Anyways, Coe was a very difficult place to stay true to my word and I put myself in situations that really challenged me and surrounded myself by people who almost encouraged me to be promiscuous. It was a very confusing time- but I only realize that in retrospect. At the time, I thought I had everything under control and that I was amazing. Perhaps, if I had relied less on bad, guilty feelings, and more on God's guidance I wouldn't have been seen as a walking contradiction.

    And on another note, you have outed our alma mater, so I must say, even though Coe is probably a challenging environment for young Christians, I loved going there and received a great education!

    Thanks again, Elise. I really do need to learn how to be more brief in the comment section!

  10. I totally agree Luther. We really do enjoy people who care about us, and our goings on. Since we moved away from our old church don't see this anymore...And we miss it;-<

    Blessings to you and yours!

  11. Hi,

    Where would swe be on our to without guilt?

    Lou Barba

  12. Excellent point! Or it leaves the heart affected in the opposite way it was intended. I know that I am susceptible to feeling guilty about silly things and it usually makes me angry with situations I was usually ok with!


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