One night as Karen Lang put her nine-year-old son to bed, he asked her if she would lie down with him. For some reason he was afraid.
Karen was getting ready for a busy week and she was tired, so she replied, “No, you’re fine. Go to sleep.”
The next afternoon her son was hit by a car and he died. The denial of her son’s last request resulted in overwhelming guilt that burdened her for several years.
Every anniversary of her son’s death she would go over and over what she didn’t do those last few days of his life. She wasted enormous amounts of energy re-enacting what she could have done differently. It made her feel bad even when she didn’t feel bad.
She would not let go of her guilt. She felt the need to punish herself after his death for all the things she hadn’t done in his life. She would pretend that if she had made different choices, she could have changed the day he died.
It didn’t matter how much people reminded her of the good mother she was; she constantly questioned why she hadn’t done more.
The fact that she held onto her guilt affected the rest of her family because she couldn’t be fully present for them. http://tinybuddha.com/blog/let-go-guilt-keeps-chained-past/
Have any of you ever punished yourself for something you felt you did wrong but didn’t? Perhaps you actually did do something wrong but wouldn’t let go of the guilt.
It’s like a cancer cell that didn’t get killed off and it multiples until the cancer has spread through the other parts of the body.
But wait just a minute. Can’t guilt be a good thing?
What if you took something that wasn’t yours, cheated someone out of money, lied to your spouse or parents, misused the Internet for unholy pleasure, refused to be generous with your money, and never felt any guilt? Would that be a good thing?
Imagine a child that never felt any guilt for bad behavior. That child might be headed for juvenile court or worse.
Several years ago a study was done at the University of Iowa with toddlers. They were given a toy and were told that it was very special so they needed to play with it very carefully. However, the toy was rigged so that when the children began to play with it, it fell apart easily. That was followed by the adult saying, “Oh, my.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/science/25tier.html?module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Science&action=keypress®ion=FixedLeft&pgtype=article
They kept track of these children for five years, logging their behavioral patterns. They discovered that the 2-year-olds who showed more expressions of guilt during the broken-toy experiment were the ones that had the least amount of behavioral problems as they grew older. (Ibid)
So that settles it. Guilt is a good thing, right? Well, it can be.
We’ve all seen those little hellions in the nursery that destroyed property and made all the other children cry and it didn’t seem to matter. They didn’t seem to have any guilt at all about their bad behavior.
Later when you report what’s happened to their parents you understand that their little darlings were not used to having many boundaries or consequences for their bad behavior.
One author has said that “guilt is always associated with feeling of wrongness and potential punishment, either real or in fantasy.” (Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, p. 99).
So if we don’t believe there are any consequences for bad behavior, or if we don’t believe the behavior is wrong, we aren’t going to feel guilty.
So guilt may at least indicate that you have a conscience and that’s a good thing.
But can you get too much of a good thing? Yes, you can.
When guilt runs loose and unchecked, it becomes destructive rather than constructive.
However, a fever is an indication that something is going on with the body that isn’t right. Without the fever, we might not ever know. The fever may be the thing that leads us to the more serious issue, which when treated, then eradicates the fever.
If we ignore the fever and allow it to run loose and unchecked, the fever can be a destructive thing.
When we feel guilt, we should ask, “What is causing this guilt? Then we need to identify the source and deal with it so we can let go of our guilt.
Sometimes the guilt will be coming from something we did wrong or from something we should have done that we did not do.
Sometimes we might blame ourselves for things that are not our fault and things we had no control over.
Sometimes we even have guilt for things we have created in our minds.
Either way, God wants us to let our guilt go. While it may serve a short-term purpose, it does not have any worthy long-term benefit.
Sometimes guilt seems to go away; like a cicada bug that sheds its shell and digs a hole in the earth, it disappears, only to reemerge at a later time. The cicada bug stays buried seventeen years before it reemerges.
Guilt can hide within our soul and live there for a long time before it reemerges, but when the season is right, it will crawl out of its dormant stage and take wing and fly around in our lives causing us all kinds of grief.
For the lady I spoke of earlier, her guilt reemerged every anniversary of her son’s death.
Some people do not let go of their guilt; they only suppress it. It reemerges when they attend a funeral, hold a baby, go to a graduation, walk into a hospital, smell a certain perfume, listen to a certain song, try to date again, or bow their heads to pray.
For others, their guilt never goes dormant. It wakes them up like a rooster each day and stays with them all day like a shadow.
But I am bringing the gospel to you this morning. The Lord God says to us, “Let it go.”
How is that done?
If we are at fault, we must own our shortcomings and confess them. Let guilt serve its purpose and let it go, otherwise it becomes destructive.
In Psalm 51, King David confesses to God his sins of adultery with Bathsheba. He also had the blood of Uriah, her husband, on his hands. He confesses this to God as well.
As the leader of the army, he had sent Uriah to the front of the battle lines. He had his commander pull his support away from Uriah in the heat of the battle.
David set Uriah up to die because Uriah didn’t sleep with Bathsheba when he came home from battle.
He didn’t think that such a pleasure with his wife was honorable while all his comrades were still in battle.
David was unable to make it appear that his and Bathsheba’s to-be-born child belonged to Uriah.
Grieved by his sins, David cried out to God.
“I know my transgression, and my sin is ever before me.” (v.3)
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation.” (v. 14)
David’s heart was broken and his spirit was humble. Because of God’s grace, he was able to leave his guilt at the altar as he made sacrifices to God.
Guilt is such a lonely emotion because we don’t like telling God or others the source of our guilt.
It usually brings up painful things we have done, which are embarrassing, things we don’t want to admit to anyone.
Because of this, it is easy to become trapped in our loneliness and our guilt, something the Evil One celebrates.
Finding a trusted friend or counselor to talk to about our guilt is one way to help us break free of our guilt and learn to let it go. It is freeing to speak the truth about ourselves.
David not only prayed this Psalm; he wrote it. He wrote it so he could share it with others.
Sometimes we have guilt for things we have not done.
Sometimes we have guilt for the mess others have created that surrounds us.
Many of us feel guilty for things that others have placed on us but we feel responsible for. We hold on to them because we believe we deserve to be punished.
We need to remember that Satan is a liar. He lied to Eve in the Garden of Eden. The Bible calls him the father of lies. Every time we are tempted there is a lie in the temptation.
Even when we have done nothing wrong, if Satan can make us to think we have, and can get us to carry the same kind of guilt around that we would have if we had done something wrong, that is some really sneaky work on his part. The guilt then becomes like a fever that goes untreated.
Believe me, we all have plenty enough sin to own without carrying around guilt for things we have no control over.
When guilt pops up in our lives, God wants us to let it go. God doesn’t want guilt hanging around because it is a joy stealer.
When we realize our guilt is being caused by circumstances beyond us, we need to love ourselves and give ourselves the same grace God gives us.
The young mother who felt burdened by the guilt she carried around discovered that guilt had become a pointless burden on top of her grief. She knew she needed to let it go because it was affecting her relationships with other members of her family. (Ibid)
God does not want us to be plagued by our past.
He does not want us to be continuously harassed by guilt for things we have done in the past or for things we didn’t do at all.
If there are things we can change about mistakes we have made, we should do them. If we can seek forgiveness, if we can work to repair a relationship, if we can make restitution, then we should do these things. These things help us let go of our guilt.
However, ultimately, the place where we find that we can part with our guilt is at the foot of the cross.
David laid his guilt down with a sacrifice on the altar. There he expressed his regret in a tangible way, giving up something valuable as a way of saying, “I was wrong. Receive me back in your good graces.”
We come to the cross with this same attitude, but Jesus has made the sacrifice for us. While we may be guilty of an offense against God, because of the cross, Paul said to the church of Rome, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)
We can let go of our guilt because when we identify ourselves with Jesus, God does not judge what we have done as being worthy of punishment.
Because Paul told the church at Ephesus that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (NIV).
God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves. He has made us holy in the sight of God.
He declares that we are “Not Guilty!”
Otherwise, all us of us would remain guilty because the Bible says that none of us are righteous, not a single one of us.
Thankfully, God provided a way for us to let go of our guilt.
This morning, if you are holding onto your guilt, you are allowing Satan to win the day. Why would you want to do that?
So say a prayer this morning like David said:
Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails! (7-11)
Once we pray a prayer like this and believe that God will do what he says, He will “Forgive our sins.” He will “Remove them as far as the east is from the west.” He will “Remember them no more.”
So let go of your guilt today, whether it is guilt for something you have done or didn’t do or you have been unfairly blaming yourself for things you.