Guilty or Not Guilty – Is That Your Question? {The Grove: Guilt}

“Dear Parents,

Kindly note that your child is one of few who doesn’t turn in the homework on time. Please encourage your child to do the homework required and turn it in on time.”

Nothing like getting an email like this one when both you and your husband are former teachers! It was a huge serving of humble pie with a dollop of guilt and a cherry of shame on top.

This email was just one of many things that I have felt guilt over, especially while living overseas. I have been tempted to feel guilty about:

  • How our families seem to miss us more than we miss them
  • The way we use our money for vacation
  • How this move is affecting our kids
  • The envy I feel when I see relationships others have that I want
  • How exhausted I feel during transition

I think expat life brings with it a lot of potential reasons to feel like we are failing – either failing a self-imposed standard or failing other people: our church back home, our team, our family, our partners.

Over the years, the Lord has been teaching me to identify whether the guilt I feel is true guilt or false guilt. It has been helpful for me to ask two questions:

Am I feeling guilt over something Christ actually shed blood for? Is there anything I need to repent of?

Asking these questions has helped me to sort my feelings of guilt into two categories: circle of concern and circle of responsibility*. I have sometimes literally sat down to journal and sort through my feelings. For example, I don’t need to repent of the fact that our parents miss us so much. Christ didn’t atone for the sadness I feel when I know how hard the distance is for them. I am not responsible to keep them from that pain. So my sadness goes under circle of concern. It weighs on me but all I can do is continue to honor them as best I can and entrust my parents to the Lord.

Envy, on the other hand, is a sin Christ shed his blood for. Christ calls me to repent of it– so I bring it to the Lord and repent. Envy is unbecoming to a woman who exists inside Jesus Christ. His generosity and love are mine to enable me to rejoice at others’ abundance. As I repent, He gives faith to accept both His forgiveness and His righteousness.

What a joy and relief that he not only took my guilt but also my shame. I don’t need to carry around guilt for the sins that my High Priest already offered a single offering for, and which the Holy Spirit remembers no more. (Hebrews 10: 1-23). What a promise to defend ourselves with when guilt wants to bully us: Christ has taken away all our sins. Praise the Lord that in Christ, we are always declared not guilty!

Back to that email from the beginning: the reason our daughter hasn’t been completing all her homework is because of the way we’ve divided up our work. One of us (I’m not gonna say who) thought the other was doing homework with our kids on certain days, while the other studied language. And the other one of us… well, I am not exactly sure what the other one thought.

The truth is, we are limited by many things, including the fact that we are resettling into a new life after being in between countries for 5 months. Balls got dropped. But there was nothing to truly repent of. So we emailed her teacher, thanked her and assured her we would be more careful. We looked at our system and tweaked it. Then, we asked for grace to keep walking by faith.

*I learned this at my home church in the US

How are you learning to recognize false guilt in your life?


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1 Comment

  1. Elizabeth April 11, 2019

    Such an important distinction between necessary guilt and false guilt! Thank you for bringing it into the light.

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