The Many Kinds of Guilt

When I thought about the theme of guilt, my first reaction was that I don’t feel guilty or experience guilt all that often.

I haven’t robbed a bank or stolen a car. I don’t have anything major to be guilty of, right?

But the more I thought about this theme, the more I realized that guilt is a very real part of our lives as overseas women.

I looked up the definition for guilt and found that the first thing listed is the most obvious. Guilt for having committed a crime. {see the statement above}

The second definition for the word guilt was more compelling and applicable.

It says, “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.”

As I read that over a few times, I could see a working definition for my life overseas.

Guilt as a feeling of responsibility for something whether real or imagined.

That spoke volumes.

So much of our lives overseas cannot be planned, fixed, orchestrated, or understood. We can’t even imagine some of the things that come our way or begin to explain the decisions we have to make on a daily basis.

Yet, we carry the responsibility of it all.

Guilt as a mom

Raising third culture kids is hard. It places us in situations of watching our kids struggle through transition, change, goodbyes, new schools, scary sicknesses, culture shock and grief. We push them into new places, countries, cultures, languages and friendships. We know the amazing benefits of their experiences and how they will have an incredible world view. But we also know the pain and hardship our kids walk through each day. And the guilt we carry for that is sometimes hard to escape.

Guilt as a wife

This kind of guilt is subtle and behind the scenes. We can feel guilt for not always being as excited about our work overseas as our spouse might be. We can feel guilt for the way culture shock affects us each day. We can feel guilt for getting sick or not being able to drive in the traffic of our host country or having a regular headache. For most of us, we know our husbands don’t want us to feel it, but we do. Real or imagined, guilt as a wife can quietly cause hurt and pain in our marriages.

Guilt as a friend

When I was stateside, I could take a friend to lunch for her birthday. I could go out for coffee or babysit her kids. Now, so often, I feel guilt for not being able to reciprocate the beautiful things my friends do for me or show them how important they are to me through simple acts of friendship. I feel guilty for not being there for girls’ nights or church events or getaways. Missing out on these friendship moments is not easy.

Guilt as a sister and daughter

Again, family would never want us to feel this way but real or imagined, the guilt is there. To not be at birthday parties or host family events or have a way to shop for meaningful gifts or help with doctor’s appointments or babysit my nieces and nephews. To not be there during long illnesses or the passing of a loved one. To miss weddings and births. We participate through FaceTime or make sure to send a gift card but it’s still not the same and we feel the guilt of missing important family moments. The guilt of our kids having so many other aunts and uncles on the field or not being as good at keeping up with cousins or grandparents as we’d like them to be. A lot of guilt goes with the topic of family and living overseas. Guilt that is hard to navigate.

Guilt as a Christian

Am I giving enough? Doing enough? Sacrificing enough? Thankful enough? Am I losing touch with the church as I knew it and not fully jumping into the church I’m now in? Am I following my calling, trusting fully, obeying in everything? These are things I work through and then have to work through again. They are deep questions with few answers.

Guilt as a worker

Did I post too many fun pictures on social media? Will our supporters think we aren’t working, aren’t doing what they expect, or stop support? How do I balance the poverty I see around me, the blessings I have as a westerner and the job I’m supposed to be doing in this new place? What about numbers and reporting and asking for money? Balancing all of that is full of emotions… guilt being one of them.

Guilt as ourselves

Who am I now? Have I changed too much? Not enough? Am I walking through culture shock and culture stress in mature ways? Do I cry too much or feel too little? This is guilt we carry deep inside ourselves as we walk this path of life overseas.

These are just a few ways we can experience guilt as a woman living overseas.

I’m sure you can add to the list. Feeling guilt, real and imagined, is a very difficult part of what we do.

Thankfully, Jesus has a lot to say about guilt. If we open our hearts, we will see that he is right there with us. He’s willing to heal, mend, comfort and hold. He came to set us free from guilt, shame, and all the crazy things we tell ourselves, real or imagined.

Jesus loves us desperately. Fully. Completely.

He is compassionate towards us and offers abounding grace.

As if that isn’t enough, he would love us the same whether we were overseas or not, serving in another country or not, fulfilling our calling or not.

He simply loves us because we are daughters of the King.

This gift is new every morning and never ends.

Great is his faithfulness to us.

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23 NIV

Which kind of guilt do you resonate with the most? What categories could you add to the list? What Truth do you run to when the guilt feels heavy?

Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash

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