Guilt, the feeling of having done something wrong, can be one of the emotions that surfaces when we are facing some sort of trial or suffering. These feelings can needlessly deepen our suffering.
We may wonder what we did wrong to deserve the pain in our lives, or we consider ourselves being paid back for something we know or suspect we did. Occasionally these guilt feelings rest on truth. The woman whose children die in an auto accident because she drove them somewhere while she was intoxicated wouldn’t be far from the truth if she felt guilty over the tragedy. The man who smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years and who is now facing lung cancer might be telling himself the truth if he commented, with a voice full of regret, “I did this to myself.” [Both these people can know forgiveness and freedom from guilt, but that is a topic for another article].
Sometimes though, lies fuel guilt feelings. We may have done NOTHING to cause our pain and yet still feel that it is somehow our fault. “If only I had been a better person then this wouldn’t have happened” is one example of this false guilt. A relative of mine exhibited false guilt when her son, as an adult, became blind due to genetic abnormality inherited from his father. She tortured herself by asking “What did I do wrong?” She went to her grave feeling responsible for something she didn’t do.
False guilt can creep into our hearts when we relate to God as if we were baby monkeys. Baby monkeys must cling to their mothers in order to be carried. If they let go, then they can lose the mothers protection or even be left behind as she travels. Being connected to the mother is entirely the baby’s responsibility.
Cats operate differently. A mother cat moves her young kittens from place to place without any participation from the baby. She simply picks them up in her mouth and they go. In fact, the more relaxed and submissive the kitten is, the easier the trip.
Realistically, our relationship with God is far more complicated than monkeys and kittens. There are many more nuances to consider. But whether we feel false guilt in our suffering may depend upon our concept of how much we control our lives versus how much God controls. If we think where we go in life is all up to us then we may heap blame on ourselves when we encounter a roadblock or a detour. But, if we acknowledge that God has something to say about the direction our lives take, then we can relax a bit more, knowing that Someone else is in charge.
So which animal is hiding in your heart? Monkey or kitten?
[A friendly reminder for any type of human animal struggling with suffering: There is still time to order Sacred Suffering from Amazon.com to give as a Christmas gift or as a present for yourself.]