How Do I Break Free From Guilt?

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Our lives are filled with good gifts from the Lord. Kids are a gift from the Lord. Work is a gift from the Lord. Church and fellowship are gifts from the Lord. But when we allow these things to rule us and then respond sinfully in anxiety, guilt, fear, or complaining, we need to evaluate where the source of the sin is coming from and probably take a good, hard look at our schedules.

We know that there are only twenty-four hours allotted in the day for work, sleep, eating, and play. And for the mom, in those allotted hours we must also find time to teach, admonish, play with, and nurture children. God is the only one not limited by time. He is eternal and self-existing, needing neither rest nor food. But in contrast, we are limited. We can be sick, depleted of energy, and tired fairly easily.

So instead of embracing our weakness and wisely resting or saying no, we try to cram as much as possible into one day. Maybe you are aware of your limitations but carry guilt on your shoulders. You may feel guilty because you can’t find the energy to run around the house with your lively and active kids. You may feel guilty because your kids needed to watch yet another PBS show to enable you to finish a project. You may feel guilty because you have to say no to a project that you really desire to do. There are a number of pressures you face, and, besides anxiety, one thing that isn’t often addressed is the temptation to feel guilty when you fear you are not going to get it all done.

“You will never overcome the fear of not measuring up until you embrace the finished work of Jesus on the cross.”

If you fear you won’t measure up because there’s just so much that needs to be done and you simply can’t do it all, leaving you feeling guilty and depleted, some of the best news you and I can hear is that we actually cannot do it all. The problem with guilt is that it condemns us and leaves us weary and without hope. Guilt says that the finished work on the cross was not enough, so we must bear our burden alone. In many ways, guilt is a self-centered focus on our limitations. It isn’t a crime to be tired—it’s a reminder of our need for God. It is a reminder of our need for a Savior. Guilt produces grief and sorrow and, in the end, spiritual death. You don’t need to feel guilty for needing to rest. You just have to do it—rest. You don’t need to feel guilty when saying no. You need to know that this is not failure.

I did a quick search on the Internet for “failure is not an option” and found that there are books written to help us make sure we embrace this concept. We don’t want to fail. We want to do all things and do them well. I believe this is what plagues us. It isn’t that we fear we will disappoint everyone we know; it’s that ultimately we don’t want to disappoint ourselves. We don’t want to fail.

We want to be the best friend, the best neighbor, the best roommate, the best wife, the best mother, etc. There is an element of this desire not to fail that can be God-glorifying. God’s Word tells us that whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, do it all for His glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). That means that we want to honor God in all our relationships—with friends, family, roommates, and neighbors. But, like Paul, as we desire to do good, evil is right there with us (Romans 7:21). The evil in this case is sin, and the sin that we struggle with when we desire not to fail for our own sake could be pride. Perhaps one way to fight our pride and embrace our weakness so that we can lean on Christ is to evaluate the ground we’ve been standing on.

Standing on Solid Ground

What if you are in a season in which rest is like a rare jewel—it’s there but hard to come by. I understand. As a mom to young children, for example, rest is almost elusive. My situation has gotten better because my kids are slightly older now and are sleeping on regular cycles. But I remember those crazy days of waking up every three hours to feed a baby, only to wake up at my “normal” hour to the needs of a toddler. It is hard to tell a baby to wait while you get a little rest. It doesn’t happen. We must acknowledge that there are seasons like this and cling to Christ. I hope the remainder of this chapter will bring you encouragement as you stare your weakness in the face.

I want to ask you, weary friend: What ground have you been standing on? Many Sundays I proclaim with a loud voice, “On Christ the solid rock I stand.” It’s the beginning of a chorus to a beautiful hymn that has been written and rewritten, but its central message remains: only on Christ can we place our hope; anywhere else will fail us. Often for me, and I assume for you as well, it’s not until things begin to shift underfoot that I realize I’ve been standing on the wrong ground. It isn’t until I’m exhausted from trying so hard to be and do that I realize I haven’t been resting in Him.

Following are some grounds we might stand on.

The ground of me. When I grow weary in doing good, I often discover I’ve been operating in my own strength. God so kindly urges us to rest in Him. I am weak, and when I realize my weakness, rather than proudly trying harder, God gives me grace. His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9–10). This means that when I can’t get it all done in a day, I don’t have to feel guilty. I don’t need to muster up enough energy—I need to rest. I need to rest in Him even when I can’t rest physically. And when I feel that He is nudging me to physically rest, I need to do it and embrace my weakness and dependence on Him.

The ground of them. When I am discouraged because of the busyness of life, I often discover that I’ve been running around to please others. At first glance it might be easy to place the blame on the person who needs our attention. But we are never called to be ruled by others. We are called to serve others but never to be ruled by them. Of course, we are indeed to submit to proper authorities. What I have in mind is sinfully trying to please others. And we can’t blame other people when it happens. It is not their burden to bear.

We must ask God for wisdom and know when to say no. This people pleaser knows how hard this is. Saying no will, however, only serve you and the other person in the long run. The stability of my feet and my faith should never rest in men.

The ground of circumstances. When all is well in the world, my heart and flesh don’t fail me. As with the example of getting it all done, I am content as a bird flying high when I feel that I’ve accomplished what I needed to. But when circumstances become rocky, so can my foundation. I am tempted to despair. And though I know the truth of God’s sovereignty and His goodness, I simply choose, at times, to ignore it.

The problem with our measures and these grounds we stand on is that if we complete our tasks or fulfill our desire, we’re left feeling satisfied and good about ourselves. But when we do not complete our tasks or fulfill our desires, we feel only condemnation and guilt. The danger comes when we make these earthly standards into God’s standards for us. In reality, God’s standards are much greater than ours and far more difficult to achieve. The fear of not measuring up, as already mentioned, may really be a fear of failure, which could be rooted in self-righteousness and pride. And none of us are immune to it.

And yet . . .

When our hearts fail us, God continues to be our strength; He teaches us and is patient (Psalm 73:26). God chose the weak and leaky vessel to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). When I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Those Scriptures build my faith because I know that God is with me through my weakness, but it doesn’t solve my standing problem. My feet must stand firmly, securely on the hope I have in the gospel. My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Otherwise, I continue to strive, I continue to place unhealthy and unfair expectations on others and myself, and I continue to hope in my circumstances.

Jesus reminds me that I could never do enough or be enough but that I am enough because of Him—because He is enough. Jesus reminds me that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, so I can have grace for others who demand my time and attention, and He will enable me to lovingly serve them. Jesus reminds me that I have a great inheritance, so while the ground (or my soul) can give way, He is still my hope and stay. As the hymn proclaims, “On Christ the solid rock I stand / all other ground is sinking sand. / All other ground is sinking sand. . . . / When all around my soul gives way, / he then is all my hope and stay.” I tell my soul: Stop standing on sinking sand, please!

He Measures Up

It can be a hard realization, but, as I’ve shared in this chapter, you and I don’t measure up, and our fearful pursuit of measuring up is in vain. It would be sad if that was it. No hope. No good news. Just, “It is what it is.” Thankfully, our reality is much better. We don’t measure up, but Jesus does. The good news is that Jesus died and fulfilled the law that was required of us. The sweet cure for our fear of failure is the gospel, which reminds us of our limitations and weakness and our need for a Savior. Jesus is everything you and I can never be on this earth. All our weaknesses were taken upon Him and paid for on the cross. All our imperfections are perfect in the sight of God because of Jesus.

Do you believe this? You will never overcome the fear of not measuring up until you embrace the finished work of Jesus on the cross. You won’t be able to walk out your faith with confidence in Jesus until you understand that He is your risen King and is interceding for you now. He is so for you. There is no better news than this. You do not measure up, but He does.

For Further Reading:

Fear and Faith

by Trillia Newbell

We will never be short on fears. Failure, rejection, sickness, losing a loved one, being alone—the fears we carry are many and heavy. Fear can...

book cover for Fear and Faith