Anyway, guilt and fear. Let's start with guilt. We all have pasts, both good and bad. We all have situations in which we didn't exactly comport ourselves well. Further, there are actions that have been perpetrated on us that are unhealthy and hurtful. In either case, guilt begins to grow inside of us. We use phrases like "I have to make up for that" or "I must have done something to deserve this" or even "I owe that person something." Recognize any of these phrases?
Now let me be clear. We actually might owe someone something and we may have to go back and apologize for something that we did to someone. It would be ridiculous (and selfish) to deny this. So what am I saying? What I'm saying is that we need to move beyond guilt. We need to "repackage" or "rebrand" why we do things. I think we have all felt this before. When we do something with guilt as the motivator one of the nasty things that arises in us is another motivator that we often ignore, contempt. When guilt drives us, we often will hold in contempt the person or situation in which we are engaging in to jettison the guilt. So now we have an equally difficult problem.
Perhaps your situation is one in which you have had terrible things happen to you. You may find yourself in a place of guilt (or shame - there are not the same, by the way) that something is your fault and have to make up for it. Your problem may not be contempt, but it might be fear. That's something I'll talk about below.
Ultimately, guilt as a motivator creates untenable situations with problems that you cannot even envision . . . until it's too late.
Let's move on to fear. There are a million things that we are afraid of. Pop culture, the media in particular, has trained us to act out of fear. Both the "left," "right," and everyone in between is afraid. When we talk about fear I think we need to make a delineation between everyday fear and deep, profound fear. I'm not saying that everyday fear cannot be profound. What I am saying is that fear of your burger burning on the grill or when your neighbor is going to move her car from out in front of your mailbox is a different kind of fear than the kind of fear that keeps us up at night (if the burger or mailbox situation keeps you up at night, I got nothin' for you :) ).
You know what kind of fear I am talking about We are afraid that we're not good enough parents; we're afraid that we're not good enough spouses or friends or daughters or sons, etc. We are afraid that our lives will not count and that we won't leave a lasting impact on the world. We are deathly afraid or not keep up with the Jones's. "Will our retirement be enough?," "will my children need therapy for their childhood difficulties?" (this might make us feel guilt, if so, read the above again). These are the kinds of questions that force us to lose sleep.
To be sure, some fears are well-placed. There is such a thing as healthy fear (I really question, though, if there is such a thing as healthy guilt). What I am saying is that most of us, at a very visceral level, have unhealthy, unproductive fear - for whatever reason.
If contempt is the result of guilt, then worry and anxiety are the result of fear. When we fear things, we worry about them. Sometimes we worry non-stop. This is called anxiety. Often we let worry morph into anxiety (as someone on anti-anxiety medication I get this all too well). Think anxiety and worry aren't problems? Think again. I bet you know at least one if not two people in your lives who is on anxiety medication (maybe one of those people is YOU).
As a run-of the mill Christian person and as a vocational pastor I am aware of the impact of guilt and fear. Let's be honest, many of my pastor-colleagues and religious "leaders" have probably been the source of your guilt and fear! That being said, I do believe that religion and faith in particular have something to offer. The next blog post will address just what religion and faith have to offer!
Comment below if you have something to say. Share your experience with guilt and fear . . . and also what helps you out with it.