Recently I’ve found myself feeling guilty all the time. It feels as if it’s not good enough even when I try to do my best.
I feel guilty for being a stay-at-home mum looking after my boys as I’m not contributing financially to our family.
I feel guilty for deciding to study in order to get a teaching job as I need to put my son in a childcare centre.
I feel guilty for breastfeeding my boy to comfort him when he is clingy as the house is a mess and dinner isn’t ready on time.
I feel guilty when I cook and do the house chores while my boys are left unattended.
The thing with guilt is this – no matter how hard we strive to do something, well, we can still end up feeling guilty. It seems that regardless of the choice and decision, guilt can still creep in, if we let it.
Guilt is like a millstone tied around our neck which weighs us down. Guilt makes us feel bad about ourselves till we can’t lift our heads up and walk proudly despite doing our best.
One may argue that guilt is needed to bring one back to our senses when doing something wrong. Indeed healthy guilt which is equivalent to our conscience does do us good and help us to improve. Our conscience makes us aware of any wrongdoing and halts us from going further by bringing repentance and freedom.
Unhealthy guilt, on the other hand, nitpicks at our every action pinpointing the negative (however big or small that may be). It exaggerates every single fault making us feeling unworthy no matter the effort. Unhealthy guilt doesn’t free us but instead drags us further down into the pit of self-condemnation.
This type of guilt paralyses us with fear from making a decision and stops us from advancing forward as we began to worry and fear everything.
When our best doesn’t seem good enough
At times, we have given our best but it doesn’t seem to be good enough. Our best does not meet the standards of others nor does it match up to our own expectations.
When this happens, it is easy to fall into unhealthy guilt that doesn’t solve anything but aggravates the situation.
We end up feeling guilty even though we did our best – which shouldn’t be the case. Nobody should have to feel guilty for giving their best. I’ve realised that I needed to stop this unhealthy guilt from stealing my daily joy and stopping me from living out the fulfilling life God planned for me.
Acknowledge our imperfections
The world pursues perfection and pressures us to strive for it resulting in guilt when we fail. Social media, with all the perfect pictures and posts, adds on to the guilt when our reality isn’t anywhere near in comparison to that posted by our neighbour, colleague or relative.
The neighbour –a perfect parent out on a walk exercising with lovely children and dog.
The colleague – a perfect working wife cooking up a feast on a weekday.
The relative – a perfect student acing one's PhD while still enjoying time out for hobbies and travelling.
When we fail to be that perfect parent, employee, student and friend, we easily feel guilty. The first step to ending unhealthy guilt is perhaps then to simply acknowledge that we will NEVER be perfect - there is no way we can please everyone, including ourselves, all the time.
Recognise our season
We are constantly in different seasons and will excel in our different roles at different times. So there’s no guilt in not bringing in an income when we choose to focus on looking after our young children. Neither should there be guilt in spending time studying or working or even sparing time for ourselves.
The wisest king, Solomon, has good reasons for recording in Ecclesiastes that there is a time for everything. Each season brings out a unique us with varying strengths and weaknesses. Understanding the season we are in enables us to look beyond our imperfections during that particular season to focus on what we excel in.
Not always possible or dependent on us
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”(Romans chapter 12, verse 18)
This verse has taught me a few things about living peaceably. ‘If possible' means that there will be times when it is not always possible, 'so far as it depends on you' means that sometimes it doesn’t depend on you, and 'with all' means yes, ourselves included.
When we accept that there will be times it is impossible in our current season, even with our best, to please others and ourselves, we release ourselves from that guilt. We can breathe a little easier even when we’re not matching up because we know we won’t match up all the time, and it's okay not to.
Galatians chapter 5 exhorts us to “live freely, animated and motivated by God’s spirit… not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely… everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good.”
So when our best doesn’t seem good enough, instead of feeling guilty, we give God control and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done in love. We have already given our best and that itself is worth celebrating.
Esther Koh is a stay-at-home mum living in Wellington with her husband and two sons. She loves people and has a passion for helping others find their purpose for living.
Esther Koh’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/esther-koh.html