Guilt Is An Invitation to Union
(Or An Opportunity for Separation)
Jesus doesn't give us freedom from failure, Jesus gives us the freedom to fail.
Guilt is the outcome of realizing you have acted incongruously with your values. It is a feeling we
dislike because it includes a conviction that we have not been who we aspire to be. Our distaste for guilt often leads us to be dishonest with ourselves about how we have acted or how our actions have affected others. If we are unwilling to accept and address our feelings of guilt, we will inevitably end up living in a false reality, one that drives us further away from the people we care about.
Willingness to accept and address guilt is also a way to avoid the crippling effects of shame, which come about when guilt is not honestly engaged. When guilt moves from a response to choices and behavior into a reflection on one ’s core identity and possibilities for growth, it metastasizes into shame. Just as we can live in delusion or denial, we can also live in self-hate and unhealed suffering if we do not adequately go through a process of repentance.
The shadow is a term used to describe the internal hiding place we stuff our guilt in order to avoid an honest accounting of our failures. The shadow does not resolve them, it merely masks them from our conscious mind, leading to problematic “acting out” somewhere else in our lives. We become hyper-vigilant for and reactive to criticism, easily depressed and moody, unpredictably and explosively angry, or simply increasingly withdrawn from authentic relationships. The shadow is where shame grows unencumbered.
Repentance is a gift that one gives to the entire world by giving it to oneself. When we start doing our shadow work, when we start honestly naming and interrogating our mistakes, failures, and harmful behaviors, we start differentiating from the things we have hidden in our shadow. They become things that we did rather than descriptions of our true selves. Honest repentance allows us to stop running from our past and integrate it into our whole selves. Our past is no longer our torturer, but instead becomes our teacher. Our hyper-sensitivity to critique wanes, giving way to a desire to grow and learn from feedback. Only then can we truly be in solidarity with others; only then can we truly be committed to transformation and liberation.
The most challenging part of a life of faith (beyond the initial decision to trust in the possibility of Love) is becoming willing to be repentant. The pressure to appear as if one has finally “figured it out” is high, mostly because of the aforementioned distaste for guilt. I will always want to avoid this feeling. Knowing that avoiding honestly addressing this feeling inevitably leads to dysfunction leaves me with the conclusion that being led by my feelings alone will take me where I do not want to go. I must build my stamina to endure guilt, to listen to critique, to hear the truth of the harm that I cause. I must do so rooted deeply in my awareness that I am not my behavior, I am not my impacts or contributions, I am not my work. I am a beloved child of God, incomplete and in process. I am seeking to see, know, and abide in the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.
In Peace and with Love, Pastor Andrew