(**This post is written unabashedly from a Christian, LDS, perspective. I don't know how to authentically and fully share this post in any other way as so much of what I have found helpful on this topic is so rooted in True Gospel principles. I hope that whatever you believe and however you live your life, you find something of value, here. Also - there are NO affiliate links in this post.**)
I've been pondering what to write about this topic for several months, now. With only about 30 seconds of focused effort on the subject, my mind was able to conjure up at least 9 specific friends who have mentioned feelings of guilt in private, recent conversations with me. These friends of mine (all women) are wonderful, good people, who are accomplishing great things in their families and communities. And yet they are guilt-ridden. They are trying to do their best in all the areas of life that matter to them, and they feel they come up short every time. They feel bad for their inadequacies. They criticize what they do accomplish. Then (and this is the worst part, isn't it?), they know they should be feeling grateful and happy and that others have it worse off than they do and . . . they feel bad for complaining and feeling guilty.
It's a vicious cycle. And I have a massive, undeniable, grotesque hunch weighing me down (figuratively speaking, for now anyways) that my 9 personal friends aren't the only ones in the universe who need some loving advice and encouragement in this area.
Before we tackle this topic, though, I must mention that there are two kinds of guilt in life: helpful, God-given guilt and what I like to call stupid guilt. The scriptures back me up, here:
"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death." (2 Corinthians 7:10)
God-given guilt (godly sorrow) is a gift from a loving Father in Heaven who wants more than anything else for us to live with Him again. To live with Him again though, we must be perfect. ". . . no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence. . ." (Moses 6:57) God has given us the gift of His guilt so that we will want to repent, or change, through the grace of His Son, so that we might qualify to live with Him again. This guilt often starts with a stinging realization of our nothingness, and our unworthiness. It is sometimes the most painful kind of guilt. The culmination of this kind of guilt though, should fill us with hope: hope in our Savior, hope that we can change through Him, and a clear path of action. God's purpose in giving us guilt is to inspire us to change. He doesn't shock us with guilt just so we will just sit paralyzed in fear and shame about what we've done and hate everything about who we are. If your guilt is paralyzing, or leading you to hate yourself, you can be pretty certain that guilt is inspired of an evil source. This is stupid guilt.
Stupid guilt (sorrow of the world) often comes from our own (foolish) expectations. It is inspired by Old Scratch and his minions. It causes us to feel bad, but doesn't inspire us with a way to get out of the hole it traps us in. It blinds us to the good things we are accomplishing with God. It fosters enmity within us for others. Honestly, it is downright depressing!
Me, myself and I? We have all had our fair share of stupid guilt. We have also found out through trial, error and Heavenly guidance, how to generally eradicate the stuff. ("Enough of the plural third person, please. It was amusing in the first sentence, but by the second it was getting old." Ok. Point taken.) I really don't suffer much from stupid guilt. I am pretty comfortable with who I am, who I am becoming, and I trust the One who is helping me accomplish all of that. Over the years, He has instructed me how to trust Him more, and as I have done that, I have found more confidence. Some of the things I am sharing are broader principles, and some are specific behaviors. They are all things I have felt were inspired, inspiring, and life-changing for me in getting rid of stupid guilt. Tune in to the Spirit as you read and see if there isn't a message here for you.
Use the atonement, not only in dramatic circumstances, but all the time. Are we not all beggars? We are! God gives us every breath we breathe. He gives us our health, all that we materially possess, and all our skills and talents. We are indebted to Him for everything we have and are. In the words of Hugh Nibley, "Work we must, but the lunch is free." The sooner we realize where our lunch comes from, the less attention we have to focus on working for a lunch that has already been gifted to us. The grace of Jesus Christ's atonement not only helps us when we make mistakes, but it also enables us to accomplish and become so much more than we could with our natural capacities. We have nothing to prove, no one to compete with - only one master to serve in love and humility. And in doing so? We will feel His love more deeply and be blessed even more boundlessly.
In ditching stupid guilt, throw out the temptation to stop trying. That will only compound the problem. No offense to you, me and everybody on this Earth, but you really aren't perfect just the way you are. This is a pernicious lie from Old Scratch being perpetuated in myriad ways by his lapdogs, the popular media, meant to sedate you to mediocrity. Everyone has room for improvement. Of course you should try! That you always strive is your essential contribution. As you do, just remember who gives you your lunch.
Pray to see yourself as God sees you. Whenever I feel really down about myself, I remember the advice my mom gave to me in my struggling teen years, "Pray to see yourself as God sees you." His perfect love has never failed to lift my spirits to see the potential I possess, even amidst mistakes and outright failure. And that really makes His love for us all the more inspiring, doesn't it?
Less stuff is more freedom. Sometimes people feel like they have too much on their plate to manage, because they literally have too many plates, and toys, and clothes, and stuff, and stuff, and stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff! The more things you can get rid of that you don't absolutely need, the less time and effort you will spend worrying about things that absolutely don't matter, to impress people who absolutely don't care. Minimalism is a pretty awesome movement. It goes beyond getting rid of physical stuff, too. I recommend you join the party and ditch the stupid guilt you carry because you simply have too much stuff to manage.
Tune out of social media and generally competitive people. How many articles must we read like this, and this, and this before we learn that excessive Pinterest/facebook/pretty much all social media time, is bad for our mental and emotional health? If you're getting depressed about your lack of craftiness, rock hard bottom, or perfectly coiffed couch pillows, maybe an assessment is in order. Track how much time (and energy) you are devoting to social media. Less just might be the prescription for less stupid guilt. OR - a change in how you use the sites? Only you can determine that for yourself. Think about it and proceed with a plan. Online and in person, there are people who are a drag with their one-upedness. If there is someone in your life who always has to compete and compare themselves with you, limit your time with them and your stupid guilt will diminish correspondingly.
Throw out spiritual checklists, and tune in to the Spirit. This one is huge. MASSIVE I TELL YOU!!!! Did you hear me shouting, there? Why is this so big?!?!?! When our spiritual things find their way onto our checklist of things to accomplish, we have really missed the whole point, haven't we? The point of reading scriptures every day, praying every day/all the time, doing FHE once a week, church meetings every Sunday, going to the temple X number of times a year, doing visiting/home teaching once a month, feeding the missionaries twice a month, listening to Mormon Tabernacle choir every morning, doing a secret act of service each day . . . is to come closer to God. If we are closer to God, we feel more loved, more inspired to do good, and to be better. When we robotize (is that a word?) or sterilize our spirituality by trying to spell it out as a specific formula, we shouldn't be surprised when those things stop being uplifting. I'm not undercutting the importance of doing those things and if you are successfully managing them, this is not an encouragement to drop excellent habits. I'm just saying that we have to always keep in mind the purpose of why we do those things in our minds. We should be careful to not offer or accept righteous routines as the actual Gospel principles/truths they espouse - or to think that a righteous routine in place, excuses us from giving more of ourselves, or time or talents, when prompted. When we focus on structured religious behaviors instead of the principles behind them - and the voice of the Spirit instructing how We might live them - we will discover an abundance of stupid guilt. So, do the opposite: focus on true principles and how the spirit instructs you to incorporate righteous habits in your life. It is so much more effective, and much less guilty-making. I highly recommend John Pontius' book, Following the Light of Christ Into His Presence, on this topic.
Speaking of routines . . . ;)
Keep a simple household routine. I know it is kind of in vogue to brag about how filthy our houses get as stay-at-home moms these days. We all know the Law of Entropy is alive and well in all houses - especially those with toddlers. But, let's talk about how to overcome (or at least manage) that, shall we? Having a decently tidy space helps keep everyone feeling happier, less guilt-ridden, and more productive. Here a few things I do each day that make all the difference in managing my household with three very young children. I wake up, make my bed and get down on my knees to pray. Then, I throw a load of laundry into my washing machine and go empty the dishwasher. I fold the load when it is done (and usually start one more, too). I load dishes at each meal. I make my kids tidy up their toys/books in the proper places before they go down for nap/quiet time each day (or else they lose the toys they leave out for a day). I make sure I have started a load in my dishwasher before my head hits the bed at night. By doing these things every day, my house stays generally under control. We don't have to deal with mess crises. Figure out a systematic routine for managing your household, and your stupid guilt load will come out clean. I highly recommend Daryl Hoole's, The Ultimate Career, on this topic. I recently read it, and got so many amazing ideas for household management.
Do something that will last, every day. Daryl talks about this in her book, and I have thought this myself, too. So much of the things we do are never-ending chores: laundry and dishes, specifically. If we can spend a little time each day doing something that isn't one of the those never-ending chores it will help us feel more accomplished. Write a blog post. Sew something. Do some family history research. Go on a hike. Read a book for 30 minutes. Organize a closet. You get the idea. Doing this will give you a boost and help reduce stupid guilt.
Read words of life. What is your favorite scripture? Do you have a positive mantra you like to say to yourself? Put it up where you can read it and think of it often. On my microwave, I currently have this scripture posted:
"Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life." (2 Nephi 31:20)
Perhaps a positive phrase or scripture, oft-seen, will help you internalize a more Eternal perspective, and keep your stupid guilt at bay.
Take accountability with your words. My midwife, Sharon - came to my house at my 6-week postpartum visit. She made a comment, "Where's the popcorn for your tree?" I have a naturally-decorated tree. To feel bad about not having strung popcorn on my tree would be stupid guilt. To apologize for this would be encouraging stupid guilt. I said something sort of like this, "I decided not to this year. I have in years past, and I love the way it looks, but this year our time was more limited with Jocelyn arriving and all. I decided to snuggle with her instead." Then, I let it go. We only have so much time. We have to choose our priorities. When we have chosen what is most important to us, we should own it, and ignore any nagging stupid guilt, to do otherwise would just be stupid.
Throw out the scale - or weigh yourself less. Truly make it about taking care of your body - not a number. If you must weigh yourself, let it be only once a week. Look to principles of healthy self-care and incorporate those into your daily living - not as a fad or diet, but as a way of life. Things like consuming more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods or soda, and incorporating consistent physical activity into your routine that is enjoyable to you. As you focus on those sustainable principles for healthy living, your energy will increase, your muscles with strengthen, you will feel better in your own skin, and the stupid guilt will melt away.
Write stuff down. Don't waste time worrying about things you might forget. Don't waste time feeling guilty about things you forgot. Write it in a journal, or notebook, or sticky notes on the fridge, or in your phone. Whatever. Just write it down.
Watch less TV and spend more time doing things that will truly enrich your life. If you feel guilty for how much time you watch TV (and yes, Netflix counts as TV), it is almost certainly for good reason. TV is generally a waste of precious, God-given time. We all know it. That is why we feel bad when we sit in a mindless stupor in front of the stupid box, which feeds us commercials which also contribute to stupid guilt that we don't own stupid things. Watch less TV and substitute reading of wholesome, uplifting literature. Substitute focused time spent with your family. Substitute more time worshipping and serving. More time developing talents. Do this, and your stupid guilt will diminish.
Recognize the efforts you put forth each night, and Thank God for His contribution, too. Learn to be content with whatever it was that you accomplished. Thank God for giving you whatever resources He did to make that happen: time, health, physical resources, children, skills/talents, etc.
Spend time with people who love you. Oftentimes, we spend too much time with those people who are trying to compete with us, and too little time with those who really love us and make us feel happy to be alive. Spend more time with the latter. They are the ones who will let you know if the guilt you are feeling is worthwhile, or if it should be ground up in the garbage disposal. Talk with them. Spend time with them. Become - with God's grace - the kind of person who uplifts others and helps them want to be better, too.
Get to bed at a decent time and rise earlier. I'm a night owl. Always have been. Still, I know that this advice when followed in my own life has made all the difference. It seems that stupid guilt often attacks late at night when we should be sleeping. So, sleep instead. Live more life in the sun light, and the light of the Son will lift your confidence and energize you to accomplish more than you ever could without Him.
If you have read this (Thank you!) and are now feeling guilty because you don't do everything on this list, I'm here to tell you that that is stupid guilt! You and me? We're not competing with each other. We're friends. Take what is helpful, throw out the rest - and as always - let the Spirit be your guide.
Have a Happy New Year, my friends. A happy, stupid-guilt-free year!!
How do you conquer stupid guilt in your life? Please, share in the comments section!