People tend to think of guilt as a bad thing. Really, all it is is an indicator. It indicates that you think you’ve done something wrong or not done something you should. If you evaluate more thoroughly, you may find that it indicates that you have the wrong perspective. Maybe you think things are expected of you that you really don’t need to worry about. Or maybe you are being influenced by sources that need to be ignored. Unfortunately, sometimes a sensation of guilt does mean you actually have done something regrettable. That is the kind of guilt that only God in His mercy can take care of. But what I want to talk about it is guilt that can be used to energize you to in moments of decision.
This sort of guilt is kind of like a pre-cursor. It is a signal that you have important choices to make and you know it. They might not be life shattering, but they affect how you treat others. These decisions involve acting in ways that respect the time and efforts of others, as well as their needs.
Let me make clear that I am not talking about working yourself to exhaustion to prove piety. Everyone needs rest and relaxation, no matter the legends of supposed saints. The world at large tends to twist the idea of good works, when it was intended to be more in tune with ordinary life. I am also not talking about constantly giving to every taker in your path, so that they strip you of vitality in order to fuel their own lives, leaving little of you left for your family and real friends.
What I’m talking about is taking those moments of supposed guilt and realizing that they are the flip side of loving your neighbor, husband, child, friend, as yourself. This is a positive choice. These are opportunities to do things that build up to almost accidentally show someone that you value them. Even if it is a one time interaction, the person will likely be refreshed by the encounter.
The ironic thing is that using guilt this way tends to strengthen relationships. Husbands know that you care about their hard earned money or opinions on family affairs. Children learn that they are deeply loved and not inconvenient. Friends benefit because you can be trusted with their hearts and their stuff. Your grocery store clerks are happier because you returned with change and they will be able to balance their tills at the end of their shift.
You can also use this “sort” of guilt for your own, more personal goals. The avoidance of regret, even if it’s not a moral issue, can be like the avoidance of pain. It keeps you in a desirable direction and helps your complete things that are good to get done. If you think of it this way, you can escape that bogged down feeling. You know, when so much guilt makes you feel depressed and lethargic.
It’s always handy when the avoidance of guilt covers more than one outcome. For instance, I can motivate myself to swim regularly by remembering that my husband spent a lot of time and money on building me a pool AND my remembering that it is easier to put out the effort of exercise one day at a time than make up for months of being sedentary. Keeping the yard in reasonable order, to the best of my ability and in line with other priorities, is motivated by wanting to be a good neighbor, relieve stress for my husband, and not wanting to be overwhelmed later with weeds because I was lazy for several weeks. Educating myself in investment practices of course makes my husband happy, but it also gives me an opportunity to be a good example to the kids. Getting (at least some) housework done means my husband and children can enjoy the home environment more and that I can find stuff when it is needed. Offering to help a friend or taking time to work out misunderstandings means they are more likely to have the where-with-all to have fun with me later! Besides which, fun is more fun (yes, I said it that way on purpose) with people you have spent meaningful time with.
All of this is, of course, easier to have the capacity for when the hardcore, real guilt is dealt with. When a person lives in the freedom of knowing that all of that is taken care of, there is more ability to live with the joyous, unforced positive attitude. It is easier to care for others when you know you are already taken care of. This is different than “following a religion.” Man-made religions are pretty good at creating guilt for their participants. On the contrary, this is the ticket to a totally guilt-free life, creating the situation where using any supposed potential guilt to motivate you is almost fun.