The number one benefit I have experienced in leaving the church and letting go of my idea of God is a loss of the “guilt trip”. I no longer feel guilty (or bad) for things I haven’t done wrong or might do wrong.
I was raised in the church with a fear that God was watching everything I do and if I stepped out of line, whether or not anyone else saw me, God saw me. While this fear probably kept me out of a lot of trouble growing up, it also led to this push-pull relationship that I had with others and my idea of God. Since I also believed in God’s grace and forgiveness, even if I did something wrong I knew God would forgive me. More importantly, God HAD to forgive me.
So beginning when I was a child and ending just about a year and a half ago, I was on a carousel that looked like this: I would “sin” (either against God or others), I would feel really bad or guilty afterwards, and I would then pray and ask God to forgive me and would immediately feel a sense of peace knowing that I was once again clean in God’s sight. But internally I never felt clean. I still felt guilty, dirty and shameful.
One of the primary guilt laden areas of my life revolved around sex. It was all very confusing about what was and wasn’t a sexual sin in God’s eyes. For example, in our church youth group we were taught that masturbation was a normal part of growing up. It wasn’t a sin in and of itself, but if it involved sexual thoughts and lust then it was. Also, we were certainly told that premarital sex was a sin, but even more than that our youth pastor would say that “sex begins with holding hands”. He would say that since everyone that has had sex usually holds hands first, we have to be very careful of the slippery slope that could lead us to having sex. This involved holding hands, kissing, hugging, super-kissing, super-hugging and so on and so forth. Needless to say, I spent much of my young adult life feeling guilty and praying for forgiveness.
I thought that once I got married this would all be in my past, but it wasn’t. Especially early on in our marriage after we made love, I would lay there in coital bliss telling her I was sorry. “Sorry for what?” she would ask. “I don’t know,” I would say, “I just feel guilty”. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong, yet I felt bad about the act. I knew I didn’t need to pray for forgiveness in this instance because I hadn’t done anything wrong, however I often felt “bad”. I did pray for God to take those bad feelings I had, but they would regularly return.
But it wasn’t just sex that I would feel guilt over, it was many things. It seems like I lived my life looking over my shoulder, wondering if this was a sin or that was a sin. And sins weren’t only the things I did wrong, I would feel guilty for things I thought I should be doing to please God (or others). Nothing I did or was doing was ever enough to get rid of the thought that I just wasn’t measuring up. I sincerely believed in a God that loved me in spite of my failures (I preached grace more than any other message), but I just never felt I was worthy of it.
Now, I have such a sense of relief about the guilt trip I have experienced for most of my life. It simply no longer exists. When I let go of my skewed ideas of God, I let go of the guilt trip I had been living. Good riddance.