Tag Archives: guilt

Forgiven: How Guilt Can Block God’s Forgiveness

Forgiven, that’s what we all want: to be forgiven…by God, by others, by ourselves. The following is an excerpt from by latest book: Starting Over…finding God’s forgiveness when you find it hard to forgive yourself.

Meet Steveforgiven

Let me tell you about Steve. Steve has a drinking problem, but he never saw it coming. He got started drinking heavily in college with his buddies. He thought after college that things would change, but he found that old habits die hard. Steve realized that he didn’t have the self-control he thought he had.

How would your life change if you knew that you were completely forgiven and accepted unconditionally?

When Steve’s friends invited him to the bar, he always said yes. And when they encouraged him to have one more, he never said no. After the third drink he lost count. He knew it wasn’t right but thought, “Hey, I’m not hurting anyone.” He was just having a good time.

In his honest moments, Steve knew that he was hurting someone. He was hurting himself because his drinking hurt his health. It hurt his relationships. It hurt his job performance. It also hurt his relationship with God.

Steve’s excessive drinking made him feel guilty. But things had gotten out of control, and he didn’t know how to get back on track. Like I said: he never planned his life to be this way. One thing just led to another.

When God is the Problem

Interestingly enough, Steve’s faith in God was actually a part of the problem. He felt so ashamed of his failure that he drank more trying to cover his guilt. It was a vicious cycle. The more he drank the guiltier he felt. The guiltier he felt the more he drank. He never dreamed of being forgiven.

After a while, Steve stopped feeling guilty. He grew numb. He just accepted that he was a drinker and resigned himself to a life without God. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was better than feeling guilty all the time.

Steve’s story describes many people I’ve talked to over the years. Just change the name, and the addiction, and Steve might be someone you know. Steve might even be you. Instead of a drinking problem it might be a problem with food, pornography, gambling, shopping, anger, or any number of things.

Guilt: The Roadblock to Being Forgiven

What often keeps us from getting the help we need is guilt. We are so ashamed of what we’ve done that we push God away, assuming he wants nothing to do with us. But in doing that, we push away our greatest help.

What if Steve could live a life free from guilt? How do you think Steve’s life would change if he knew that he was completely forgiven, and God accepted him unconditionally, just the way he was… warts, addiction, and all?

More importantly, how would your life change if you knew that you were completely forgiven and accepted unconditionally?

I’m not talking about being free from all guilt. Some guilt is good…I’m talking about the false guilt that lingers and often turns to shame. I’m talking about the feeling that weighs on you and makes you want to avoid anything remotely associated with God, because you are convinced of his disgust for you.

True guilt has a short shelf life, that is: once guilt serves its purpose in getting you to see your wrong, it starts to spoil. It’s like soured milk: guilt turns from being helpful to being hurtful. But many people keep drinking the “sour milk” of guilt thinking it’s the right thing to do… even the godly thing to do. They just assume that all guilt is from God and so they embrace it. Big mistake.

The truth is that God wants you to move from guilt to grace as quickly as possible. Put your past behind you and start building your new regret-free life. Live forgiven. [adapted from chapter nine from Starting Over: The Problem of Guilt.]

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Don’t Let Guilt Go Sour On You

True guilt is a good thing. But if you aren’t careful, it can go sour on you. Let me explain by telling you about Steve. (Track back to read more from this series)

Steve has a drinking problem. He never thought it would happen to him. He got started in college with his buddies. He thought after college things would change but he found old habits die hard.  Steve realized he didn’t have the self-control he thought he had.

guilt

Don’t drink sour guilt.

Steve was a Christian who wanted to honor God. But things got out of control

and he didn’t know how to get back on track. Interestingly enough, Steve’s faith in God was a part of the problem. He felt so ashamed of his failure that he drank more to try to cover the guilt. It was a vicious cycle. The more he drank the guiltier he felt. The guiltier he felt the more he drank.

But after a while… Steve stopped feeling guilty. He just accepted that he was a drinker and resigned himself to a life without God. It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was a lot better than feeling guilty all the time.

Steve’s story describes a lot of people; just change the name and the problem and Steve might be someone you know or Steve might even be you. Instead of a drinking problem it might be a problem with food, pornography, gambling, shopping, anger, or a number of things.

Does Guilt Define Your Life?

Whatever the problem, the common denominator with Steve and all of us who struggle with these things is guilt.  Guilt defines our lives and pushes God away. Somehow I don’t think that’s what God had in mind for us. Do you?

What if Steve could live a life free from guilt? How do you think Steve’s life would change if he knew that he was completely forgiven and God accepted him unconditionally, warts and all?

More importantly, how would your life change if you knew that you were completely forgiven and accepted unconditionally? I’m not talking about being free from all guilt. Some guilt is good. Guilt helps us recognize that we’ve done something wrong and helps us to take ownership of our problems.

I’m talking about the guilt that lingers and often turns to shame. I’m talking about the feeling that hangs on you like a scarlet letter and makes you want to avoid anything remotely associated with God.

Don’t Drink Sour Guilt

True guilt has a short shelf life.  That is: once guilt serves its purpose in getting you to see your wrong and change, it starts to spoil.  It’s like milk that sours… it turns from being helpful to being hurtful. You’ve got to throw it out.

But many people keep drinking the sour milk of guilt thinking it’s the right thing to do… even the godly thing to do. They just assume that all guilt is from God and so they embrace it like it’s their penance for bad behavior. Big mistake.

If you’ve made the mistake of consuming old guilt, do the right thing: throw it out! If you’ve made the necessary changes then there’s no need for guilt. Let it go and enjoy the forgiveness of God.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Question: Have you been drinking sour guilt? Why is that? Leave your comment below.

Subscribe to this blog and I will send you a free copy of the e-book “Forgiven…once and for all”.

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Forgiving Yourself – part one

Forgiving Yourself

Forgiving yourself is one of the hardest things to do.

I finished teaching on God’s forgiveness and felt pretty good about it. I presented what I thought was an “iron-clad” case for why God’s forgiveness is free and unconditional. When I asked for questions Angie said, “I understand God’s forgiveness. I don’t have a problem with that. I just can’t forgive myself.”

Forgiving Yourself

Over the next few posts I want to offer a few suggestions for forgiving yourself. The first one is understanding that we are all failures. It might sound negative but it’s true. We’ve all failed at something. No one is perfect. Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Some people insist on beating themselves up. They recognize that everyone fails in life but they believe against all reason that they are the worst of the worst and deserve harsher treatment. But the Bible tells us that…

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:23,24

We’ve all fallen short

We are all in the same boat. We have all failed God and fallen short of his standard of perfection. I heard it described once as comparing an Olympic gold medalist swimmer to a novice swimmer.  In a pool, the Olympian stands out against the novice.  But put them both on the shore of California and tell them to swim to Hawaii and they will both fall short.  The size of the ocean is the great equalizer.  And the same is true of us all when compared to God.

In a court room some of our lives may be more illegal than others.  In a church, some of our lives may be more immoral than others.  But when compared to God, none of us measure up to his perfection.  No one can boast and no one can take undue guilt upon them because “there is no difference”.

We’re all freely justified

The second part of the verse I quoted above is equally important. It says that “…we are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Yes, we all fail. But more importantly, God forgives us and justifies us; that means he puts us in right standing with himself despite our failure.  It’s free. A gift. And it’s made possible – not because of what we have done – but because of what Jesus did. Who are we to object to what God has decided? 

Forgiveness is for all. It may not make sense or feel right but it’s the truth. We need to bring our thoughts in alignment with what is true.

In another place the Bible says this…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast…Ephesians 2:8,9

If we are put right with God based on what HE has done then no one can take any credit for being spiritual.  But it’s just as true that no one can deny themselves God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is for all. It may not make sense or feel right but it’s the truth. We need to bring our thoughts in alignment with what is true.

I’ll explore forgiving yourself more in days ahead.

Question: What makes it hard for you to forgive yourself? Leave your comment below.

Learn more about how to forgive yourself in my book, STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.

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How to BE Forgiven – Part Two: Express Sorrow

I’m talking about how to be forgiven or how to offer an effective apology. Track back to read about the first step, admit the offense.

How to be forgiven: Express Sorrow

How to Be Forgiven: Express Sorrow

How to Be Forgiven: Express Sorrow

Imagine I’ve offended you deeply and I admitted it. What do you want to hear from me next? I think you want me to show some remorse…to express sorrow for what I’ve done. You want to know that I feel bad about it.

Sorrow isn’t just saying “I’m sorry”. We see people make poor apologies all the time in the media…typically athletes and politicians. They’ll do something stupid and then they’ll call a press conference and say…

I’d like to offer an apology for (insert stupid thing here). I understand that some people are upset that I did this. It was never my intention to offend anyone but if anyone was offended then I’m sorry.   Read about Rush Limbaugh’s apology

But what’s wrong with that apology?  There is no admission of guilt. They are sorry that people got mad. It’s like they are saying, “If you are so foolish to be mad about what I did, then I’m sorry for you”. But they don’t have any sense of doing wrong.

How to be forgive: It’s About Empathy

The key to expressing sorrow is that you express it in terms of the person you offended. There are many things to be sorry for that have nothing to do with the person you offended. I might be sorry that I got caught. Sorry for the consequences. Sorry for my looking bad. Sorry that you are mad. Sorry that you think less of me. But if I’m not sorry for the hurt I’ve caused you then it’s not the sorrow you expect from me.

The kind of sorrow that you want to hear is that I feel YOUR pain…that I understand how YOU must feel. You want to know that I spent time thinking about how I hurt you. That’s called empathy. So my apology needs to be rooted in your feelings. I need to carefully choose words that convey to you that I understand the impact of my actions.

For example it would help to say something like this;

I’ve been thinking about what I did and how it affected you. If someone did to me what I did to you this is how I would feel. I’d feel disrespected and abandoned. I’d feel taken for granted and I’d want to shut them out of my life. So I just want you to know that I get that and I appreciate any hard feelings you might have toward me. They are totally justified.

Notice here that I didn’t tell you how you feel. No one likes to be told how they feel because I don’t really know how you feel. What I said was, this is how I would feel if I was in your shoes. If what I say matches how you feel then your trust for me grows. You will say to yourself, “Amazing. He actually gets it. I finally feel understood. Maybe there is hope after all.”

Question: What makes it so hard to express true sorrow? Leave your comment below.

This post is adapted from the book STUCK…how to mend and move on from broken relationships.

Related Posts:

  • How to BE Forgiven – Part One: Admit (readingremy.com)
  • Rush Limbaugh Apology: Four Keys to a Good Apology
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What Causes Shame? – Study Guide 2

shame

What causes shame?

This is part two to an overview of my book  Healing the Hurts of the Past; a guide to overcoming the pain of shame.  You can also listen to a radio interview that covered this in more detail. We looked at what causes shame.

The second interview covered what I call the “roots of shame” following my model of the Shame  Tree. We spend most of our time reflecting on abuse but here are the five areas discussed in the book:

  1. Abuse
  2. Ridicule
  3. Neglect
  4. Family and Personal Secrets
  5. Trauma

What Causes Shame?

When I talk about shame most people assume I’m talking about feeling ashamed for the bad things you’ve done. But in reality shame has more to do with things that have been DONE TO  YOU. The bad things you’ve done can lead to shame but more often guilt. I discussed the difference between shame and guilt in a previous post (see below).

The Lies of Shame

The most important thing to understand about the cause of shame is that it’s not an event that causes shame. It’s the LIES YOU BELIEVE about that event. Where there are no lies there is no shame. It’s the lies that breathe life into your shame.  For example, when you are abused you might believe the lie...If this important authority figure is abusing me they must know something about me that I don’t. I must be worthless. 

Overcoming Shame

The connection between events and the lies we believe is actually good news because if you can deal with the lies in your life you can ELIMINATE THE SHAME. If shame was directly tied to the events then there would be no escaping the pain of shame.   But lies can be exposed as false and when that happens freedom follows.  If what causes shame is lies. Then truth is what will overcome shame.

The truth that we all need to know is that God loves us unconditionally and no person can take that away from us. When we fully receive this truth and allow it to penetrate our being we will be new people. Pray that this will be so in your life!

I talked about much more on the podcast and answered some live call-in questions. I hope you can take the time to give it a listen!  Why not get the book and join  in  the study?

  • WWIB Radio Podcast: What Causes Shame?
  • Study Guide 1: What Does the Bible Say About Shame? (readingremy.com)
  • Shame: Do You Feel Like Damaged Goods? (readingremy.com)
  • The Difference Between Shame and Guilt (readingremy.com)
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The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

shame and guilt

shame and guilt

The difference between shame and guilt often confuses people. Most people think that shame is something that “other” people have and so they rarely want to think about it or talk about it. But  everyone deals with shame to some degree. As Brene Brown (see TED video below) says…the less you want to talk about shame, the more you probably have it! That’s why it’s so important to understand it…if not for yourself then at least to better understand the people around you.

One misunderstanding people have is that shame is something that only guilty people have…people with lots of regrets. They assume that if they don’t have a life full of regrets that they have no shame. Not true.  Here’s an excerpt from my book that clarifies the difference.

The Difference Between Shame and Guilt

Whenever I ask a group to define shame the first answer is almost always “guilt”. But shame is not guilt. True guilt – feeling a sense of remorse for wrong doing – is a good thing. This is also what some people refer to as being “a-shamed” or “good shame”. Adam and Eve experienced this sense of guilt when they disobeyed God in the Garden. The Bible says that they were naked and ashamed.

When I speak of shame, I am always talking about something bad – something destructive. You see, guilt is con-structive. It tells you that you have done something wrong and motivates you to both make amends as well as to seek forgiveness and restoration.

There is a remedy for guilt. But with shame, there is no remedy. Shame is de-structive. Shame is not about what you have done. Shame is about who you are. It is a condemnation of you as a person. That is why it is so devastating. If I have done something wrong, I can usually fix that. Or, if I can’t fix it I can at least seek forgiveness. But if I am wrong – if there is something inherently wrong with me – I can’t do anything about that and it makes me want to give up. Taken from Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

My point here is that shame affects everyone. It’s not about what you’ve done. More often shame is about what’s been done to you or said about you that is demeaning, disrespectful and undermines your sense of value, dignity and worth.  If you are a victim of abuse, ridicule or neglect then shame has most likely attached itself to your identity.  If your family has secrets or you’ve experienced any kind of trauma then shame may also have entered your psyche through these means.

People who suffer shame  have a whole tool belt full of coping mechanisms to off-set their shame.  Remove the shame and you can  throw the tool belt away and you’ll be amazed how much lighter  your load is every day!

I hope this helps you understand the difference between shame and guilt and how shame might play a role in your life even if you have no big regrets.  Now the question is…how can you go about removing  the shame from your life and dumping that tool belt full of coping mechanisms?  That’s a process that I outline in Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

Question: Are there other ways you would differentiate between shame and guilt? Leave your comment below.

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Guilt That Leads Away From God

Guilt that Leads Away From God

Guilt that Leads Away From God

Did you know that there is a guilt that leads away from God?

In Henri Nouwen‘s daily devotional called “Show Me the Way” he speaks about two kinds of guilt; one that leads you to God and one that sends you away. He says…

There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but rather to self-preoccupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says: “I am too sinful to deserve God’s mercy.” It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride.

…The question is: “Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God’s mercy any longer and hanged himself, or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?”  

The Peter/Judas contrast is striking to me. Peter went on to lead the church. For some reason he was able to tap into the true essence of God’s mercy and forgiveness and it was life changing. But Judas let his sin and guilt crush him.

How do you handle your guilt? Does it lead you to God or away from him? My prayer for you is that you, like Peter,  might find God’s life changing mercy and forgiveness for your past and rise to fulfill your God-given purpose.

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