Grace Over Guilt: Learning to Let Go


When I saw this statement in one of the Over app art packets, I thought, wow - I need this.

I need to choose grace over guilt. For myself, and for those I love.

We attended Easter service at the local Khmer church last month. I brought Declan, and we sat in the back of the church with the other mothers, trying to keep our little ones cool in the heat of the morning. I sat on the floor, nursed Declan when he fussed, and tried to keep him happy. 

After the service ended, everyone gathered to eat lunch together. But I was hot and tired, and Declan was sticky with sweat. When it's over 95 degrees with high humidity every day, I get paranoid about keeping the baby outside (or in hot, non-airconditioned rooms) for very long.

I wanted to stay for lunch, but I also didn't. And I started fretting a bit over what the Khmer believers would think if we left without eating. Because being together and eating together is a huge part of this culture. And I felt guilty for not wanting to join in. I also felt guilty for preferring to go to an air-conditioned restaurant instead of staying with the church, just because it was more comfortable. Let's keep it real here.

One of the American missionaries was there, and I mentioned to her I felt conflicted. She replied, Stop worrying about what they think! Accept grace from the church - they're happy you came at all. Everyone else with babies stayed home.

I struggle with that - accepting grace from others when I can't do everything I felt I should do as a believer and foreigner. Because it's easier for me to accept guilt - yup, I didn't do it right, and I'll try harder next time.

Unfortunately, this feeling also extends to those I love. If something doesn't get done the way I think it should, I automatically extend guilt. What, you feel bad for letting me down? You should. Do better next time.

Maybe I don't use those exact words, but that's often how I feel in my heart. Loving, isn't it?

Even though I confess Jesus as the leader of my life, it's still hard for me to follow in his grace-filled footsteps. Because by accepting grace, I admit that I need help; I can't do it on my own. And humility isn't one of my strong points.

And guilt is something I struggle with a lot here - even for things that aren't my fault but just the result of my birthplace and status. I feel guilty I can use air conditioning every night, while our Khmer friends may or may not even have electricity to run a fan. I feel guilty I can afford to travel to another country to have my baby, while Cambodian moms struggle to find a good doctor.

My feelings of guilt aren't admissions of sin. I haven't done anything wrong by being American or having an education or money. Yet I feel...bad for those things at times - also knowing that even if I revoked those things or went shoeless for a day to show solidarity, it wouldn't improve anything for the people around me.

Seeing these differences should drive me to invest myself in positive change. And I'm seeking out how to do that here in Poipet. I know if I allow my feelings of guilt to overwhelm me too much, it will be the motivation behind my actions.

And that is dangerous.

If guilt is driving my actions, it means I only want to change things to feel better about myself - to feel less guilty. And that is just depending on my own work to make myself right. Also known as, self-righteousness.

That's why people who make themselves martyrs for a cause can also become incredibly arrogant. They feel superior to other people, because of the sacrifices they have made. They depend on those sacrifices to feel ok about themselves.

I tend to go to the other extreme - feeling depressed and ashamed, because I don't think my sacrifices measure up to others'. I feel guilty for complaining about an electricity outage for an afternoon when I have friends working in places where they have power three hours a day, or go without running water for two weeks.

In the end, I have to surrender my "guilt" to God. I must recognize that my sacrifices (or lack thereof) don't change my standing with God. If he does call me to greater challenges, I need to have a heart motivated by his glory, not my own reputation. I have to be motivated by his grace, not my own guilt.

I hope we can all make that choice, as Jesus enables us, to choose grace over guilt - whether it's for ourselves or others - and for God to use us to show his glory to the world.

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