Guilt Free Living

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.

12 thoughts on “Guilt Free Living”

  1. Thanks Steve. I think THIS is where I fell off the wagon so many years ago. I remember when our Youth Minister and his wife had us write down questions about sex and hand them in for answers. When they came to mine “was french kissing the same as sex” we were told yes it was. Sometimes I think I can trace my running from God to that moment. Now I probably started running long before that…….but maybe then I just admitted I was running. I know I have guilt. Getting past my guilt is my struggle.Funny how you minister to me now more than you did 30 yrs ago. Thanks dude.

  2. Self-loathing is still self-focused. The most free people in Christ are probably those who give themselves as little thought as possible. That’s not to say that they’re without insight into themselves, but that they’ve stopped focusing on themselves to the degree that it hindered them from focusing on the needs (not the sins) of others.And that prompts another thought: those who are more focused on others’ sins rather than their own are probably projecting their own guilt onto others. Similar to what someone mentioned (was it you, Steve, or someone on SCP nation?) about pastors tending to preach about the issues they struggled with.

  3. To be clear I didn’t say I don’t experience guilt any longer… I do not experience “guilt trips”. This I defined as things I haven’t done wrong or might do wrong.I would agree – a person suffering from “guilt trips” has probably undergone some type of conditioning… and of course what I experienced early on in my marriage was something that needed to be worked thru and eventually was. You said JB: <>Any casual reading of the Bible reveals that it demands certain attitudes and behaviors to please God and do right.<> And that’s kind of where I was coming from when I expressed the idea of looking over my shoulder. I thought I was clear but maybe I wasn’t.

  4. All this unhealthy nonsense proceeds from the notion that God demands total perfection from us and if we don’t deliver it, we deserve death. One can sugar coat that doctrine any which way, or switch the subject to forgiveness through Christ, but the bottom line is that orthodox Christian doctrine believes God is merciless in his demands and will follow through on his promise to obliterate the imperfect unless it is made perfect through faith in Christ.What a load. I can’t say that I ever fully believed that, but I’m ashamed I ever mouthed that nonsense.

  5. Whoa, ministers actually preached that nonsense?! that holding hands, kissing, hugging, cuddling, and all the non-sexual stuff couples do was/is the same as sex?! WHAT?! None of the youth leaders, or even pastors, I had taught that, thank gawd. (On the other hand, the idea that masturbation is a sin was espoused.) That’s effed up.Anyway, yeah. Screw guilt trips. They’re not worth it.

  6. You seem to link your guilt free living with no longer belonging to church?I have been a Christian for 18years now… I have never experienced the guilt you have.America does seem to have more churches that focus on the whole guilt thing… you’ll burn in hell for x,y,z.I just wouldn’t think it fair to lump the entire church into being the cause for guilt in people’s lives.This is my first time on your blog… I’d be interested to hear about your journey away from the church.

  7. God is love. This is a sign that hangs on the wall in my church. It also hangs on the wall of the church I grew up in and many other churches I’m familiar with. And while the people who attend these churches come with all the human struggles and make a wide range of human mistakes; they come to learn how to live into the life Christ modeled for humanity. That life is comprised of forgiveness, kindness, compassion, caring, joy, unconditional love, purpose, hope, humility, and peace to name a just few attributes.What it all comes down to is that in a faith community, we have an opportunity to work out the details of learning how to live in relationship with one another as we learn about our relationship with God. The Bible, in terms of a fundamental definition, is God revelation to humanity and humanities response to it. In that simple definition we have a lot to learn. I am so sorry you have chosen to focus on the guilt and not the love. The story of Jesus in particular has a lot to tell the world today about how to live a healthy life that builds positive relationships. May you have an open heart and mind to the power of God’s love – perhaps you’ll have an epiphany!

  8. steve,I can completely understand your dealings with guilt. It is shamefull how many churchiest use their own ignorance and fear of God/scripture to warp susceptible minds. In so many ways the church has been, and continues to be, one of the greatest psychological and socail criminals in America. And what’s worse, is that so much of it is ‘meant well’ and comes from a place of sincere belief.I must say however, that I believe guilt has a place and a healthy function in our lives. Guilt is supposed to be what keeps the crazy in check…our conscience, right? I see guilt as a reminder that I do have the choice to contriubute to a healthier relationship (with God/wife/whomever) in spite of myself. Guilt shows that I care. Guilt can reinforce love. But only if I use it as a constructive element, not this negative noose as it is so often portrayed.So do you experience ANY guilt anymore? If so, about what and to whom and why?

  9. Just read this today. Moving! I’m glad you were able to let go of your skewed ideas of God. (Not quite sure what your ideas of God are now exactly…but that’s beside the point.) I read another article today–over at imonk–I wonder if you and other readers might like it. Actually, it’s the article AND the 100+ comments that follow…also moving, and refreshing… a whole lot of confessing our brokenness, and wishing everyone in church would and could. Yeah, if we all did, then your blog wouldn’t exist, right? Link is: http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/imonk-101-when-i-am-weak-why-we-must-embrace-our-brokenness-and-never-be-good-christians#more-3046(I’ve been stopping by to read your blog every now and again for the past couple of years–appreciate the honesty and openess)

  10. I have felt the same kind of guilt and felt sad at the way it weighs down many of my good friends who live the “fundagelical” lifestyle. Interesting to me has been realizing that the denomination in which I was raised (General Conference Mennonite, in Canada) was essentially guilt-free and focused on social justice and global community. As a teenager I became involved with a baptist youth group and although I made wonderful life-long friends and mentors through this church, it was there that guilt was first really introduced in my life. It took a good ten years for me to recognize it for what it was and stop looking down on my upbringing as being somehow inferior because it was not legalistic. I now appreciate things about my upbringing that allowed me to experience spirituality in such a positive light, without the baggage associated with so much guilt. Guilt which my husband and I both brought into our marriage, as you mentioned, and which had caused so much emotional damage. I know many who have left Christianity completely have felt exactly as you do. I personally have not left the faith, but I have distanced myself from those doctrines which reinforce this kind of guilt and self-loathing. I can’t believe in a God that wants us to feel intrinsically bad about ourselves. (www.livinginthegray.com)

  11. Interesting conversation. Your struggle with your guilt and feelings – is it really about not having anyone (God) holding you accountable anymore?In Arizona, there is a big battle about highway speed cameras. Alot of people fear speeding because they know that they might get caught and have to pay outrageous fines and go to traffic school. They watch themselves and keep an eye out for the camera trucks. But, where there are no cameras, people drive freely at whatever speed they believe is reasonable (irregardless of the posted limits). They don’t have a struggle with guilt over it, because there is no fear of accountability.When you let go of your belief in the Bible as “God” speaking to you, then you have also let go of all guilt associated with behaviors and thoughts, etc. Any casual reading of the Bible reveals that it demands certain attitudes and behaviors to please God and do right.As far as guilt you were having about sex after marriage, that sounds more like a psychological issue you were having (in my opinion not related to God). You and I basically have the same evangelical/fundamental background, but I can assure you I did not experience what you described after I was married. I definitely felt guilt before I was married about lustful thoughts or making out “too much.” But after I was married, it was all good. I am no longer sinning in that area, but am pleasing the Lord – therefore no guilt.Anyway, I don’t have much time anymore to stop in, but thanks for keeping an open door. Take care!

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