My guilt overwhelms me—
it is a burden too heavy to bear.
PSALM 38:5 (NLT)
There is virtually no end to the things that we can feel guilty and subsequently miserable about. And if we feel guilty, most of us automatically assume that we are guilty. But like every part of our human nature, our consciences are flawed and imperfect. Sometimes we feel guilty when we are not. So it is important that we learn to distinguish between true guilt and false guilt:
True guilt says, “I have done something wrong that I am responsible to make right.”
False guilt says, “I feel responsible for something that is not my responsibility or is out of my control.”
At the root of much of our false guilt is a fuzzy understanding of our responsibilities. Some of us have what can be called an overactive responsibility reflex. We think we are responsible for everything!
I know that I experienced tremendous false guilt because of my overactive responsibility reflex. I thought that if a responsibility came across my path, it must have come from God. And because it was from God, I was responsible to take care it. I put completely unrealistic expectations on myself and felt incredibly guilty when I couldn’t meet that standard.
Robert McGee, author of The Search for Significance, describes the responsibility trap that sets us up for false guilt as being “rooted in the false belief that we must meet certain standards to be acceptable and that the only way to deal with inadequacies is to punish others and ourselves for them. There is no way we can shoulder such a heavy burden. Our guilt will overpower us and the weight of our failures will break us.”
Unfortunately, an overactive responsibility reflex often shifts into high gear in the face of personal crisis. False guilt continually lies waiting at the door – pointing an accusing finger that spurs its overburdened victim to assume yet another responsibility – often a responsibility that belongs to another family member, a friend, a medical professional or even to God.
Someone suffering from any illness, for example, may feel false guilt for “being a burden” or “being self-centered” because of their needs. A caregiver may feel false guilt for having personal needs as well as for being unable to meet the needs of everyone else. Close family and friends may feel false guilt for their own good health or not being able to remove their loved one’s pain.
In each of these situations, the individual has assumed personal responsibilities that belong to others or sought to meet an unreasonable expectation. It isn’t necessary to shoulder such heavy burdens. If you are feeling overwhelmed by guilt, ask God for wisdom and discernment.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you.
JAMES 1:5 (NLT)
Ask God to show you if you are taking on a responsibility that belongs to others or if you are feeling responsible to meet impossible expectations. If your responsibility reflex is in overdrive, it is important to learn to let go and place the responsibility where it belongs. As you do that, the burden of false guilt will diminish.
Thank you for loving me so much that you care about every part of me even my emotions. Please give me Your wisdom, discernment, and truth so that I don’t take on the burden of responsibilities that belong to others. Help me to have appropriate expectations so that I will avoid the trap of seeking to prove that I am acceptable. Make my heart sensitive to your leading so the I will walk confidently on the straight, safe path in the midst of this difficult time.
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
stay on the safe path.
On the journey with you,