Why Guilt Can Actually Be a Good Thing

Susan Narjala   |   August 4, 2023 

Guilt has a bad rap. For obvious reasons.

It dredges up memories we would rather avoid and feelings we would rather ignore. No one wants to feel guilty. Or, as we like to say, no one wants to go on a “guilt trip.”

Guilt “trips” are not fun little vacations. They usually make us want to bury our heads in our hands and burrow under the sheets. Guilt trips come with a lot of baggage—and it’s all dirty laundry.

But can feelings of guilt actually serve to grow us in our relationship with God and others? We hear in Christian circles that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sin and guilt. Does that mean we shake off feelings of guilt as soon as they strike?

In recent days, I’ve come to see guilt, or at least a version of it, as a good thing. Culture, even Christian culture, seems to see guilt as something which stifles our freedom in Christ. But here’s what I’ve come to believe: when we allow feelings of guilt to lead us to the Throne of Grace we experience true freedom.  

I don’t typically use automobile analogies in my writing but I’ve heard guilt described as a warning light that comes on in a car’s dashboard.

I know that when I see one of those little red lights pop up on my car’s dashboard, I need to do something about it. Usually, for me, that means to let the husband know that...er… a little red light has popped up on my car’s dashboard.

He typically asks me what it looks like and I typically give a nondescript, “I dunno. Just a blinking light that looks like a donut” type answer.

But eventually we do something about it. (Okay, if we want to be precise, the hubby does something about it). He looks up the manual or contacts the dealership about servicing (or something similarly boring but necessary).

We all know that if we keep ignoring the warning light, eventually, the car will run into bigger, more expensive problems.

While my analogy is not perfect, here’s the point: when we feel a twinge of guilt, we ought to pay attention to it.

Let’s make it personal. The other day, I blew a fuse with my teenage daughter. She evidently had “nothing to wear” which in teen speak means “nothing cool to wear.” I interpreted that to mean, “you don’t buy me enough clothes.” So tempers rose and words were dispensed. I let my emotions take over, marched over to her closet and made ludicrous threats of giving away all her clothes and never buying her a single thing every again. Clearly, it was not exactly a mom-of-the-year moment.

A few minutes after my mom meltdown, feelings of guilt started to set in. I could have  justified my actions because after all she “deserved” the “loud lecture.” I could have ignored my actions because after all which mom doesn’t lose it— and hello! hormones. I could have explained it away with Christianese that Jesus died for my sin and guilt and so I’m all set.

But none of those things would have glorified God. Guilt or the Holy Spirit’s conviction is God turning on the “check engine” light.

That day, the best option for me was to go to God with my mess of emotions and say I’m sorry. Yes, Jesus laid down His life to free us from our sin and guilt. When we receive His forgiveness that gives us freedom. We don’t need to wallow in our guilt anymore. And when I receive that grace from God, I am able to seek forgiveness from others as well.

By God’s grace, that day I was able to have a good conversation with my daughter, ask for her forgiveness and clear the air. I’m also happy to report that we reached an amicable settlement about the status of her closet.

Jesus acquitted us from our sin and guilt. We don’t need to evade our guilt. Neither do we need to wallow in it. But if we want to experience the abundant life that Christ offers us, we need to take our guilt to the Throne of Grace to receive His forgiveness and freedom.

 

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

 

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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog, www.susannarjala.com

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