How often do you hear the word “mom guilt”? It’s so pervasive in our culture that I am absolutely certain you’ve heard the phrase. And what’s worse, I believe that it’s not the only hopeless, condemning guilt we feel as women. There’s "career guilt." There’s "wife guilt." And for military spouses, I think there is a special flavor of "spouse guilt," reserved just for us.
It’s a special combination of all the guilt mentioned above. It’s the merciless voice in your head that makes you feel guilty when you aren’t super mom, even though you’re in the midst of yet ANOTHER TDY, and you’re all on your own. It’s the voice that makes you feel shame when you consider the career aspirations you set aside to support your husband’s career. It’s the thought that you are the most selfish and terrible wife in the world when you feel irritated with your husband during a deployment. It’s dripping from that moment when you say, “I’m just a spouse,” because you feel that your role in military life is insignificant. It is the perfect storm of worldly lies that haunt us in military life.
All of those types of guilt are unhealthy. They are full of condemnation, which has no place in the heart of a Christian. Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
But not all guilt is bad. The guilt given to us by the Holy Spirit is actually meant for our benefit (Hebrews 12:4-11). The Bible makes the difference between these two types of guilt perfectly clear:
"Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10).
Good guilt takes us to God. Bad guilt takes us to death. So, how do we know the difference between “Godly sorrow” and “worldly sorrow”? And how do we fight for the health of our spirits and our hearts by blocking the worldly version of guilt? Let’s start by figuring out what the root causes of worldly sorrow are.
“Holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,” (1 Timothy 1:19 ESV).
Our good conscience before God depends only on what His word teaches us and our righteousness before Him. The Bible doesn't say anything about needing to have both a perfect career and a perfect family. It doesn't say that your children need Pinterest-inspired lunches and lives for you to be a good mom. Bad guilt reveals our worship of worldly values, instead of Godly ones. When we focus on the world's standards instead of (or on top of) God's standards, we set ourselves up to fail in meeting the ones that really matter, and we shipwreck our conscience before the Lord.
We strive for an identity that is watered down by worldly things that don't matter for our souls, and in doing so we sink. We don't just look to God for approval, we look to the world and we ask, "Are we enough?” Our focus on worldly values can make us lose sight of the standards that matter and that are completely attainable through Christ. In Him, instead of condemnation, there is ALWAYS mercy when we fail and ask Him for help.
Worldly standards have little to do with our well being. They fill our heads with self-reliance in meeting the impossible and misguided standards humans set for ourselves. When we make those the standards we are living for, we idolize worldly things over God’s standards. What we really need is Jesus-reliance in meeting the loving standards HE set for us.
The Disease of “Enough"
Our unhealthy guilt is worsened when we are fed the lie that we can be "enough." It's a nice thought on the surface, telling each other that our authentic selves are enough. It seems loving and accepting. It seems like it would give us emotional freedom. And our authenticity with one another is indeed essential for fulfilling relationships.
But being “enough" dooms us to sorrow because it really isn’t possible. Whether we strive for worldly standards or Godly standards, "enough" isn't something we can be on our own. No matter how hard we try, we will never please all of the imperfect people we inhabit this earth with. Jesus was perfect and still His very own people chose to crucify and abandon Him. When it comes to God’s standards, we all fall short and need Jesus.
The lie of being enough disables our ability to face the “Godly sorrow” that would lead us to true fulfillment. Being “enough” is based entirely on a gospel of self-reliance. It is difficult to believe you are “enough” and simultaneously reconcile or address the very real, natural, and healthy guilt that the Holy Spirit uses to draw you closer to the Lord. Our desire to be “enough” is good, but when we believe it’s something we’ve already achieved, who can tell us we’re failing? How can we draw nearer to God by relying on Him?
The world has made us believe that not being “enough” is a bad thing. It has made us believe that weakness of any kind is unacceptable, and yet it leaves us without a realistic path to the perfection it demands. But that isn’t what God wants for us.
God wants our authentic selves, but He also wants us to be honest about who we are. He wants us to recognize all of the ways we fall short — but instead of condemning us, He wants to complete us. He wants to refine us in ways that will bring us peace, rest, and joy.
"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV).
Bad guilt makes us hopeless because it is born from impossible, worldly standards and wrong values that will shipwreck our relationship with God. Healthy, holy guilt from God is full of hope and energy and grace, because most of all it is born out of love.
To root out the first kind of guilt consider which areas in your life make you feel like you are not enough. Look long and hard at where your “mom guilt” or “spouse guilt” comes from. Then consider if those are standards that God has set for you in His word or if they are from the world. Dig into scripture if you aren’t sure — what does He say about what makes a woman the perfect mother? What does He say about being a wife? Does God care about how successful your career is? Or does He care about how successful your heart is?
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What do you feel most guilty about in your life? Try to identify specific areas where you fall short (so instead of just saying "being a good mom or wife," identify what makes you feel guilt in those areas).
Is your guilt based on standards that the world sets (through social media and comparison with others)? Or is your guilt rooted in not meeting God's standards?
If you initially think your guilt is rooted in worldly standards, is there a deeper issue that reveals you aren't meeting God's standards? (For example, you might feel guilty that you yell at your kids and other parents don't, but is the real issue a lack of patience?)
What standards does the Bible set for this area of your life? How does focusing on biblical standards change the guilt you feel?
More than ever, our standards are being set by social media and how we see others living their lives. Take a day to refocus your standards. Don't use social media for a whole day this week. That includes Pinterest, SnapChat, and all the big social media apps. Instead, when you open your phone to get your social media fix, download and open a Bible app. Spend the minutes you would spend on Facebook reading God's word. At the end of the day, take a mental evaluation: how do you feel about yourself? What do you feel guilty about? What do you not feel guilty about?