Guilt is an insidious reaction that contributes to stress. Guilt cries out, “Never enough!” When you feel guilty or ashamed, or you blame yourself for not being or doing all you think you’re supposed to be, you can never find peace. Relentlessly goaded by guilt, your life becomes a stress-filled attempt to make amends. Guilt is a crushing load that breaks the back of even the strong. No one can bear up under it. Few things rob us of peace and create stress in our lives more than guilt.
We feel obliged to make room for our guilt; we pick it up and carry it around with us wherever we go. Guilt, therefore, is a prime candidate for sneaking its way back into our lives, if we don’t replace it with gratitude.
Not all guilt is wrong, of course. Each of us has a conscience, an internal barometer of right and wrong. As a Christian, I accept the reality of falling short (Romans 3:23).
False guilt, however, has a way of appearing uninvited from unreliable sources, and it is often inappropriately transferred from the guilty to the innocent. I’ve found this in adults who had difficult childhoods. When they were children, the adults in their lives transferred to them their own guilt for neglect, substance abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, rage, or lack of success.
False guilt is especially stressful because there is no way to make amends. The truly guilty refuse to accept responsibility, no matter what you do. You cannot work hard enough, do enough, or be enough to remove the guilt, because the guilt was never truly yours in the first place. The stress you feel today may be from carrying around this false guilt from your past. Already loaded down, you’re trying to carry around the added demands of your own life, and the weight is too much.
Gratitude is an antidote for guilt. When you feel guilty, you focus on what’s missing and strive to make up for the loss. When you feel gratitude, you focus on what you have, not on what you don’t. Guilt says, “This isn’t enough;” but gratitude says, “This is enough.” Living gratefully means accepting when enough is enough. Living gratefully means letting God determine when enough is enough.
When I was growing up, in church we sang a song about counting your blessings; we were told to name them one by one. As a child, I remember trying to do just that. Somewhere along the way to adulthood, I forgot that simple approach to gratitude. When did you last stop and count your blessings? Start with the most basic: life itself; then move on to food, clothing, shelter. How are you blessed physically or through your relationships? Each of us is blessed in so many ways, day by day, that we too often fail to appreciate those gifts.
As a reminder of your blessings, take each day of the week and assign it a blessing to be thankful for:
Monday—your life and health
Tuesday—your food, clothing, and shelter
Wednesday—your employment or financial provision
Thursday—your family and friends
Friday—your mind and intellectual understanding
Saturday—your free will and capacity to make choices
Stress will always seek to find a place in your life, trying to crowd out God’s blessings, obscure God’s power, and drown out God’s promises. Stress will always look for ways to rob you of your joy, thus stealing away your moments and squandering your years.
The anger, fear, and guilt of this world can produce so much that is negative. But God is able to take those negatives and turn them into positives. When you truly believe that, when your attitude is positive, you will find you have so much to be thankful for! Gratitude will cease to be such a chore, something that you must emotionally muscle your way through. When you recognize the blessings you have, gratitude will well up inside you with such force, it will be impossible to stop!
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