Friday, February 19, 2010


Yesterday night at a rehearsal, the director was apologizing because she was going to be away during one of our routine performances. She had recruited a highly-skilled director to fill in for her, but she said she still felt a bit guilty for missing one of our performances. "Don't feel guilty," my stand partner piped up. "Guilt is just a waste of energy." I looked up at her as she said it, struck by the brilliance of that simple statement. Guilt is just a waste of energy.

The feeling of guilt exists for a reason. It's a warning mechanism designed to get our attention when we might be going astray, but it is not really a useful long-term activity. I think of guilt a bit like a fire alarm. When a fire alarm goes off, we assess the situation to see if the building is really on fire or if it's just a false alarm. Once we've decided which it is, we turn the alarm off. There's no point in letting it sound on and on. Likewise, guilt is supposed to spur us into making an assessment of our conduct. Once that assessment is made, the guilt has served its purpose and continuing to foster it becomes counterproductive.

Sometimes guilt is a false alarm, as in the case of my director. She had no reason to worry about us because she had provided an excellent substitute who would see us through the performance just fine. As my stand partner so sagely pointed out, guilt would only taint her trip and wouldn't help us at all. She needed to simply turn the guilt off instead of wasting her energy on it because the decision she had made was fine. At other times, there really is a fire, so to speak. Once we realize that we're doing something wrong, however, feeling guilty about it no longer helps. The only thing that will help is for us to take some sort of action to deal with the problem. Just sitting around and wallowing in guilt will neither correct the situation nor bring us forgiveness. Guilt is intended to produce some sort of reaction, so it shouldn't be an end product in and of itself.

Guilt does not help us pay for our sins. The only way to deal with sin is to repent and be forgiven. Repentance frees us from our guilt and restores our relationship with God. If we never move past the guilt, then we never get to the forgiveness and restoration. Punishing ourselves for our faults doesn't help anyone. When we allow ourselves to be healed, then we are able to once more become productive servants of God. We can't help anyone—ourselves or others—when we're trapped in guilt.

Therefore, when I feel guilty, I need to pay attention to what my conscience is telling me, evaluate the information, and make a decision. I don't want to hang in limbo with the fire alarm going off forever. I want to take action and resolve the situation. I don't want to be wasting my God-given energy on endless guilt.

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