Guilt. It sweeps in and captures the mind, overwhelming the senses and paralyzing thoughts of a future. At times, it surrounds a legitimate issue or a poor choice. Often, it is launched by completely uncontrollable circumstances or familial history.
As I mentioned in the launch of my lent project, my life is often drizzled with guilt. Occasionally, the guilt is triggered by the memory of a bad choice or decisions, and often by the realization of a wasted opportunity. More often than not, it floods my mind as quickly and naturally as breathing; not because of anything I’ve done, but simply because of who I have come to be.
“I’m sorry.” It was the motto of my childhood. I heard it all the time. I said it all the time.
Early in life, I was taught to “take the low road” in interpersonal conflicts, and to “remember who you are and what you stand for”. Taking responsibility for my actions and any conflict was very important, and doing what I could to remain a proper example for other was equally valued in my home.
While a respectable standard for living, for me somehow this belief system morphed into a warped view of the world. Everything was my responsibility. I apologized because a restaurant ran out of soup; I should have anticipated this and suggested a different diner. I apologized when we ran out of milk; I should have bought a cow for the backyard. I apologized when a mobile call was dropped; I should have mounted a cell tower to the roof of my car. I apologized when flights were delayed; I should have my own jet by now. I apologized when I wasn’t able to do brain surgery; where’s my dang scalpel, anyway?
To top off this absurd self-imposed responsibility for balancing the magnetic positioning of the earth, I knew that it was my job to be a good example for everyone, pleasing all persons: strangers, foes, and friends. If someone needed a ride, I’d drop what I was doing to help them. If a person insinuated something needed to be done, I plopped it onto my overflowing plate. If a choice was to be made, my thoughts and opinions were relegated to last place.
As a result, I’ve spent years doing things for others and denying my own purpose and calling; telling myself I was Joseph investing in others’ dreams. I’ve taken jobs I didn’t want to help others. I’ve filled my calendar with grunt work to relieve friends and co-workers. I’ve silenced my own “controversial”, personal beliefs about faith and scripture to avoid disappointing family or friends. I even dropped a scholarship to an Ivy League university to help someone out. (Did I mention I’m an ignoramous?)
All because I felt “guilty” and assumed responsibility.
Several years ago, my wonderful friend Mickey gave me a book called Women Who Try Too Hard. At first I thought it was a ridiculous assumption. Me? Truly?
As I began walking through the pages, I was introduced to a new concept for me: saying, “No.” The book showed me sides of myself that I was clueless to for years. Slowly, I began learning to cherish who I was and believe that I have something to offer beyond my sacrificial mentality. My worth and contribution to God was not my faux management skills. It was rather my existence and love for him.
The more I embraced my newfound ability to accept life as simply life, the brighter my days became and the more fulfilled my relationships grew. Weights that I had carried for years began to shift and slowly slide off my back. Gently, God began introducing me to his love and complete competence; a concept I strangely hadn’t accepted in my own life.
Recently, however, that all came to a screaming halt.