When you feel guilty, what do you do? That was a question asked at Life Group this past week. As is usual, I could not answer. It wasn’t that I didn’t have an answer, but that it wouldn’t come out.
It is like for most other things in my life… like when I was in cadets, and people there had people over to their house. Afterwards they would ask me why I didn’t come. “I wasn’t invited,” I would answer. “No one was invited,” they would respond, “you just show up.”
Nope. No matter how much I wanted to go (and I really did!) I couldn’t just show up. I missed out on a lot that way, but it wasn’t possible for me to invite myself anywhere let alone to someone’s house. What if they didn’t want me there?
Well, if they had asked me at Life Group what I thought, I would have shared my answer. Since I wasn’t asked, I couldn’t speak. But then, to be fair, if they asked and I didn’t have an answer, I would have felt as if I were being put on the spot – which would have increased my anxiety, and left me wanting to hide.
Guilt for me is very much like anxiety. I get really quiet, and I hide from people. I isolate myself. I spend more time in my room, alone. It is only when I am starting to feel some confidence in myself that I am able to speak at all. It is only when I feel some contentment within myself that I am able to interact with others, and even desire group activities. Without that confidence, I would live my entire life as a hermit (or as close to as others would allow.)
Guilt, for me, means silence. And I think that many people don’t see it, because when I feel anxious, when I feel guilty – unless people demand my participation in that moment (in which case I am like a cornered animal, and usually end up in trouble) – I become invisible.
They are very similar for me – guilt and anxiety. Both leave me feeling like I don’t belong, and that any interaction is forcing myself where I am not wanted. I can’t live like that. Yet the feeling of guilt and anxiety within me is very strong, and hardly ever leaves.
If I were asked about what I truly thought of myself, I would say, “evil.” It isn’t that I want to do evil things, or to hurt people (quite the contrary) but that despite my best efforts, I nearly always fail to do well, and people end up hurt. That kind of evil. And it kills me.
That is the guilt I carry – but then, it was that level of guilt that brought me to God in the first place. I couldn’t do well, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t interact with people without hurting them, and it killed me. So I turned to God, and begged, and begged, and begged again for Him to heal me.
And carrying the weight of that self-assessment leaves me feeling anxious, and appearing guilty most of the time. How do I tell people I am a good person when I don’t believe it myself?
I think that most people believe they are good – or at least not as bad as other people. Not me.
Yet I want to be “good.” I put all of my energy and effort into being a “good person,” but it seems that my very best is never good enough. So mostly I think of other people as being better than myself. Somehow they must have it together – for if they didn’t, how could they stand each day? How could they interact with the world as they do?
No. I am convinced that if they felt as I do, they would hide as well.