Have you ever noticed how often people (okay, women) say, “I feel so guilty”? Or, “You make me feel guilty!” Or “You shouldn’t feel guilty about that!” I think it happens quite a bit in casual conversation between women. But first let me define guilty. Guilt is when you have committed a crime or broken one of God’s commandments. You have done wrong. It is a serious thing to be guilty. But often we use it to just mean that we feel bad. Let me give some examples.
Guilty Example #1. You ate something (delicious) and now you feel guilty. You tell yourself you are a big loser because you ate it. Your friend dashes by on her morning run, and you haven’t exercised in a week. You feel so guilty. Should you feel guilty? True guilt is connected to real sin. Did God forbid that you eat it? Did He insist on the exercise? No, but you are counting calories, and that sent you over the limit. You let yourself down. So next time eat a carrot. But don’t convict yourself of sin over it. You can’t confess that kind of guilt to God, because He is not going to forgive you for something like that. What you may need to confess is making up rules for Him.
Guilty Example #2. You show your friend the curtains you made or the sweater you knit or the garden you planted or the bread coming out of the oven, and she says, “You make me feel so guilty!” Now there are several possibilities here. First, maybe she is trying to give you a compliment, and she doesn’t know how to do it, so she compliments you on making her feel bad about her own failings compared to your achievements. Not a very complimentary compliment. And I doubt that she is really thinking this through. Second possibility is that she is envious of your achievements, and so this is her response. She doesn’t want to give you a straight-up compliment, so you get a back-handed criticism instead. It seems in a way as though her comment is designed to try and make you feel guilty for showing her your curtains, as though you were at fault for being so crafty. Then you will probably quit showing her the stuff you do, and you may even feel guilty for making her feel guilty. Not exactly helpful in any direction. How much better to leave her guilty feelings out of it and simply say, “Oh, they are gorgeous!”
Guilty Example #3. Let’s say you hear a sermon or read something about how you should be honoring your parents or respecting your husband or loving your kids. Your response is something like, “I don’t like his sermons because they just make me feel guilty.” Let’s look at this. If by guilt you mean that you are convicted of dishonoring your parents or disrespecting your husband or being mean to your kids, then you should by all means feel guilty. If this kind of guilty is a godly sorrow, it drives us to repentance, and that is a good thing. That kind of guilty is healthy. I would prefer that we call it conviction of sin. If you read an article against shop-lifting and you have never shop-lifted in your life, you should not feel guilty, you should not feel a conviction of sin. You are innocent of shop-lifting. But if a sermon reveals to you that you’ve been letting something slide, then thanks be to God! The Holy Spirit is convicting you and Jesus has made provision for your forgiveness. Go to Him and receive it. Christianity is the religion for us sinners! Christians ought to want to grow, which means getting rid of the bad things and adding new things. God cuts off the dead branches and causes fruit to grow. He uses sermons and books to teach us, and when we learn, we will learn what we should stop doing and what we should begin doing. This is not something to “feel guilty” about. We should identify conviction of sin as a good thing.
If you feel convicted by the sermon on shop-lifting and realize you have to return some stuff, and a well-meaning friend says, “Oh don’t feel guilty about that! I do it all the time,” you should not find comfort in her confession. We women sometimes tell one another not to feel guilty when we ought to leave well enough alone. True conviction of sin is good because it leads to repentance. Feeling guilty about eating that cookie is not conviction of sin (unless you stole it). So stop it. Enough with the guilt!
Here’s what I think the bottom line is on this topic. We ought to quit letting other women’s successes provoke envy or jealousy in our hearts. We should be content. Then we can enjoy and benefit from their fruitfulness rather than “feeling guilty” over it. We ought to quit feeling guilty over stupid things, and we should encourage one another, where there is real sin, to repent.