Thursday, June 13, 2013

God, guilt, and shame

Do you ever notice how sometimes you read something from one source and then something from another source, and the two pieces of information synthesize in your head to form a connection you hadn't noticed before?

Just now, I was in the process of my morning self-improvement routine and this happened, and I want to share my minor epiphany with you.

He Loves Me! Learning to Live in the Father's Affection is a book that has significantly reshaped the way I perceive God's regard for me, and I highly recommend it.  The premise is that Christians have seriously misconstrued God's intent and love for us, and that in order to understand fully what He has done, is doing, and will continue to do for us, we must repudiate a performance-based idea of our relationship with Him. The sentence that caught my attention this morning is as follows:
If we define God only in our limited interpretation of our own circumstances, we will never discover who he really is.
I copied this sentence into my diary for further mulling over, and went on to checking my email. There was a message from Gene Monterastelli. Mr. Monterastelli is a practitioner of EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), which uses acupressure principles to direct and control change in your attitudes and actions. This is a very useful technique, although no one really understands how it works.

But I digress. The point is that the title of this morning's newsletter is "The Inconvenient Truth About Shame and Guilt." If you, like me, have a working conscience and are aware of how short you fall from the ideal standards of conduct, this title probably grabs your attention like it grabbed mine. So I clicked the link to this article. Here are the relevant statements:
"When you feel guilty about something, you are holding the other person in a victim state."
When I think I have done you wrong, not only does my guilt impact the way I see myself, but it also impacts the way I see you, and therefore the way I interact with you.
When I feel like I have hurt you, I will call you less, be hesitant in your presence, and be reluctant to spend time with you.
With an almost audible "click" in my head, the two concepts merged and I realized:  This is true not only of human relationships, but also of our relationship with God!

When I am very conscious of my sinful nature, I feel shame and guilt and do not feel that I can approach God with the bold confidence of His child (Hebrews 4:16). When, out of shame, we hesitate to pray, open the Bible, or in some way seek God's face, we both hold back our own development and growth AND grieve our loving Father, who desires an intimate relationship with us. It feels odd to think of it as holding God in a victim status, but it is a useful analogy, in that our reluctance to pursue a relationship with Him grieves Him as much as it is detrimental to our own emotional and spiritual states.

So there's the problem: Guilt and shame prevent us from experiencing the full joy of an intimate relationship with our loving Father and God, and retard our own spiritual and emotional maturity.

What's the solution? I see several parts:

1. 1 John 1:9 promises that if we confess our sin to God, He will immediately forgive and restore us to fellowship. Confession is not complicated. It merely consists of telling God that what you did, said, or thought was a violation of His perfect standard.

2. If you have wronged someone, apologize. That clears the air between you and permits resumption of the relationship.

However, confession and apology, while removing the fact of guilt, do not always remove the feeling of guilt or shame. So how do we deal with that?

3. Use tools such as Bible study, therapy, "acting as if," and EFT.

Some Christians take the attitude that psychological tools are not valid; however, God created the human psyche and permitted us to discover certain principles and tools that work regardless of faith. I believe that both therapy and EFT are tools like this that should be available for everyone's use. Click the link above about Gene Monterastelli to explore his website and learn about EFT. I encourage you to try it. You'll be amazed at how well it works to help remove negative emotions that are otherwise entrenched in your heart.

Once we can remove the emotions of guilt and shame from the equation, a more intimate and fulfilling relationship with a loving God can be discovered. And really, isn't that a desirable outcome?