While we celebrate our nation’s freedom this week, many among us are feeling anything but free. More people than you can imagine feel as though they are imprisoned- by a guilt they cannot escape. The Guilt Prison is full of good people who look great and talk a great game, and are anything but great. One of those good people may be you. If so, you know personally just how heavy and haunting guilt is, almost like an enemy who lies in wait to ambush you, often enough to keep you on edge even when there is no attack. Just the threat of guilt rearing its ugly head in your head is torment enough.
Real freedom is an inside job. What I mean is, if we don’t feel free in our spirits, we don’t feel free at all, no matter whether we live in the land of the free or not.
In the old Andy Griffith Show, way back when TV was in black and white, there was a character named Otis Campbell. Otis was the town drunk, and because Mayberry was so peaceful and crime free, he was practically the only person who did any jail time. The crazy truth was he imprisoned himself. He had a key to the courthouse, and to the jail cell. After a drinking binge, he would stumble over to the courthouse and lock himself up. After he sobered up, he would reach through the bars to take the jail cell keys off of a conveniently placed nail on the wall outside the cell within his arm’s reach and let himself out, to go back home or to work.
Break free from your guilt. Grab the keys to the jail cell you keep yourself in, and set yourself free.
Key #1 Stop beating yourself up
You know what they say; guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. We become experts at guilting ourselves, and we make ourselves feel lousy. On top of that, we condemn ourselves, criticize and berate ourselves and say, “I shouldn’t have done that!” In other words, we “should” all over ourselves.
We feel like if we impose a penalty upon ourselves, we’ll eventually feel better, and be free to move on after we pay the price. It just doesn’t work; quite the opposite- it backfires. Psalms 38:4 says, “My guilt has overwhelmed me; like a load it weighs me down.” I’m guessing a lot of folks can give witness to that truth.
Guilt can actually make you physically sick. Numerous research studies have confirmed that guilt leads to depression, mental illness, and poor heart health.
A wise strategy to help you grab this first key is to beat truths like this into your head.
- Beating yourself up doesn’t fix your pain, it just keeps it fresh.
- Reliving your past will not change it.
- I’m not the only one who has made mistakes that they regret.
- I do not have to be defined by my mistakes.
Key #2. Stop letting others beat you down
Is there some one person in your life that is keeping you stuck in your guilt? If you have someone like that in your life, you won’t have to look far to find that person. It’ll be someone close- chances are it’s a parent, a sibling, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a spouse or ex-spouse.
They may never change what they say or do to you, but you can change how you respond to them. Don’t wait for them to change or hope they will change how they treat you. You change.
Grab this second key by repeating these kinds of truths until they unseat the lies you have bought.
- I will not let anyone steal what rightfully belongs to God- the determination of my value.
- I will not give other negative people’s words any power over me, any longer.
- I will not give away my power to determine my self worth to anyone else.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission.” You can decide to let other’s attacks roll right off of you. Tell yourself as often as you feel the need, “That won’t work on me anymore.”
Stop living like Otis. Stop heaping guilt on yourself for what you’ve done or letting others do it for you. Live for today, because it’s the only thing you can do something about. Freedom is a feeling we can have only in the present. Not the past, not the future. Today.
Greg Griffin is a Pastoral Counselor in private practice in Marietta, GA. His specialty is relationship repair and rescue- helping partners, spouses, and parents and their adolescents. He’s also the author of Dungeon Times Survival Guide, and Vital Faith.
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