I was delivering Christmas cards last week and stopped in to the small gym where I have been noticeable only by my absence lately. I admit I felt a little guilty going in the door. The owner greeted me with a wide smile and we wished one another a Merry Christmas. Then I said, “One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to get here more often.” My friend shook her head. “Oh don’t do that, don’t make yourself feel guilty about it!” Then she stammered a bit. “But …. I don’t mean …. Do come back!”
We laughed and I assured her I would.
I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since. I’ve been thinking about guilt. It does seem to be a big part of what we do at this time of year. We feel guilty for all the things we didn’t do in the past year - like finish that novel or write that article that’s still in draft form in the computer -and most of us resolve to do better. So guilt isn’t such a bad thing, if, and that’s a big if, we make the changes necessary in our lives. If guilt is unresolved it becomes an unhealthy thing and can lead to bitterness and anger that will only make us miserable. But guilt that leads to change, that’s healthy guilt.
So I have decided to make that New Year’s resolution, and a few others – like finish that novel and write that article - and I’ve gone a step further. I have a plan for carrying it out. Often that’s the key. If we just dwell on our guilty feelings and set no goals or plans for how to change, nothing constructive will happen. Unhealthy guilt will result.
I’ve heard many people scoff and say that all religion does is make you feel guilty. They are absolutely right. But Jesus has gone a step further. He has set out a plan that wipes away the guilt. All we have to do is move from religion to relationship. Accept Him as our brother, our friend, our saviour, and no amount of guilt can hold us down.
The word guilt appears a few times in the Bible. My favourite is in the book of Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 22 – “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
I like those words, “assurance”, “cleanse” and “washed with pure water.” Though the guilt of our sin may bear us down, there is forgiveness. No matter what we have done, or what has been done to us, God forgives, and we are set free “by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body…” (Hebrews 10:20).
The best resolution any of us can make as we move into the next year is to get to know Him more. I pray we will all resolve to do so. It’s the only way to get rid of all that guilt.