Escaping guilt-driven living

Why did I torture myself all those years? Why did I beat myself up so often? Why was I so motivated by guilt and shame?

You know those days when you just can’t get everything on your “to-do list” done (the one in your head that has 37 items)? While making dinner, you think back on your day: meal plan for the week (check), grocery shopping (check), two loads of laundry washed, folded (check – but still need putting away), dog walked and fed, baby fed and changed (numerous times – check), one chapter of bible study read (check – but still need to answer questions).

And then you sigh, kicking yourself that you didn’t get to the other 30 items. You look around the house and see some groceries still sitting on the counter (oops, forgot to put them away when the baby needed a diaper change). Dinner is going to be 15 minutes later than you hoped and you never even had a chance to take a shower today. You must not be a good wife … mother … friend … Christian …

Really?! What a way to live! And yet, I did that for so many years!

Last week, I was thinking back on my early adult years and remembering those nagging thoughts and guilty feelings. Wow! How I’ve changed!

I reached for my bookshelf and pulled down, “12 ‘Christian’ Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy: Relief From False Assumptions,” by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend. I turned to that chapter that made a huge impact in my life about 10 years ago. “Assumption #8: “Shoulds” are good.”

The word should expresses obligation, compulsion, duty. It implies that we have no choice; that if we do other than we should, we are bad or condemned … The problem arises when we do things in order to be good, instead of because of the blessings we will gain by doing them. The problem is doing good things from a sense of obligation instead of out of genuine love.

The book goes on to explain how, even as Christians, we can get stuck emotionally “under the law”, and how to move into living in Christ’s freedom.

That was the beginning of my renewed understanding of the “shoulds” in my life.  I realized that I was constantly condemning myself and never quite felt “good enough”. I had many accomplishments – living on my own starting at age 17, gaining employment and putting myself through college, buying cars, graduating summa cum laude, starting my own private music lesson career, and the list goes on. I had a strong work ethic and many friends. Yet I was still secretly unhappy much of the time due to unreal expectations for myself.

Thankfully, I had a breakthrough and God slowly began to change my heart and mind. I learned that being motivated by guilt is based on “wrath at self” (ouch!) due to being under the law of sin. But being motivated by love is based on Godly sorrow and embracing God’s grace and acceptance of me.

How is it that a woman raised in a Christian home can get stuck in such a pointless, painful cycle of self-loathing? Well, we all have imperfect families and imperfect lives.

It’s been a gradual process to unlearn my previous ways of thinking. I began to accept that I could never jeopardize God’s love if I failed his expectations. I began to embrace my positive qualities and not worry so much about the “negative” or “less-than-perfect” ones. I began to live in God’s grace and freedom. I also started setting more realistic expectations for myself.

What a relief!

I believe that escaping my guilt-driven living allowed me to make the choice to step away from a job eight years ago that I had worked so hard to gain, and thought would make me very happy. Unfortunately, that job became my nightmare and my dream was shattered. But instead of continuing on, thinking I had a “duty” to put to good use all the education and hoops I had jumped through to get the job, I released myself and chose to live a life driven by my true desires.

As I sit here typing, I’m looking around our condo. It’s a little messy, I admit. There are many things I could do. But what I choose to do are the things that will contribute to making our home one of joy, peace, and love. My relationships are much more important than things.

I no longer constantly tell myself that I must always be doing or “being” more than I am. I smile (most of the time) and think of all the ways that I am loving life.

I still have some “shoulds” in my life that creep around occasionally, but they have almost faded away and are easily recognizable to me now. Mostly, I am directed by the “want to’s” that are motivated by a desire for God and the life of freedom that He has already given me.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

I’d like to know, what have you been set free from, or what are you working to escape from?



Filed under Christian life, Life Journal, Spiritual life

5 responses to “Escaping guilt-driven living

  1. I learnt to replace “should” with “could” several years ago…really in order to stop beating myself up about trivial stuff. For example, instead of saying “I should have cleaned bathroom this weekend”, I now say “I could have cleaned the bathroom this weekend…but I chose not to (for the following reasons…or no reason at all)”. It’s such a small word, but can weigh you down so much! Amazing the difference it makes when you stop living a guilt-driven life. 🙂 Thanks for you continued sharing.

  2. Judy

    Thank you for sharing this, Clara. I am having an event at our house Sat and will keep this at the front of my thinking as I proceed with getting ready and realize that everything does not have to be perfect; the important thing is just enjoying a get-together with friends and if I miss a little dust, it does not matter. They will not see it if the atmosphere is warm and welcoming. I also tend to miss many opportunities for sharing moments with friends because my house isn’t perfect….shame on me. You put the perspective back into life.

  3. Pingback: Multiple Thoughts Today, Beware of Rambling | Roots to Blossom

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