Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘Guilt’ Category

How Controlling People Use Guilt and How to Set a Boundary Against it

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

No weapon in the arsenal of the controlling person is as strong as the guilt message. It’s likely you even heard one or two before in your life.

Do any of these sound familiar?

“How could you do this to me after all I’ve done for you?”

“It seems like you would care enough about the family to do this one thing for us…”

“You know that if I had it, I would give it to you.”

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. People who say these things are trying to make you feel guilty about your choices. They are trying to make you feel bad about deciding how you will spend your own time and/or resources and about having a life separate from theirs.

Probably everyone is able to some degree to recognize guilt messages when they hear them, but not everyone is strong enough to not succumb to them. Here are a few tips to keep in your back pocket for when these situations arise.

1. Recognize they are guilt messages and are given in an attempt to manipulate and control.

2. Know that guilt messages are really just anger in disguise. The guilt sender is failing to openly admit their anger at you for what you are doing.

3. Guilt messages hide sadness and hurt instead of expressing and owning their true feelings.

4. If guilt works on you, recognize that this is your problem and not theirs. If you continue to blame other people for “making” you feel guilty, they still have power over you.

5. Do not explain or justify. Only guilty children do that. We do not owe guilt senders an explanation for our actions.

6. Be assertive and interpret their message as being about their feelings. For example, “It sounds like you are angry that I chose to …”

The main principle is this: Empathize with what distressed people are feeling, but make it clear that it is their distress. Remember, love and limits are the only clear boundaries. If you react, you have lost ownership of your boundaries.

Why do people cut themselves? And how to help them stop

[The Counseling Moment editor’s note:  Although this article is written to those who minister to others with this issue, the article contains insights useful to all.]

SOURCE:  

Self-harm behaviors can be a foreign concept to many of us adults, but they are on the rise among adolescents and young adults. The National Institutes of Health indicate rates anywhere from 7 to 24 percent in teenagers, but as high as 38 percent in college-age women.1 However, these self-harm behaviors are oftentimes misunderstood by those who seek to minister to them. Given such high incidence rates, though, pastors and ministers must not only understand the motivations behind self-harm but also know how to minister to those engaging in such activities.2

Understanding self-harm

Self-injurious behaviors most frequently present themselves in the form of cutting various parts of the body, like one’s arms or legs, but may also be seen in burning oneself, picking at scabs, punching or hitting oneself, pulling one’s hair, or a host of other behaviors that cause wounds or bruises. Most often, the effects of the self-harm are well concealed behind long-sleeved shirts or long pants, but other times the wounds cannot be covered and are visible to others.

Self-harm behaviors are almost always done to cope with difficult emotions such as sadness, worry, or fear.

But engaging in self-harm does not equal suicidal. One of the most common misconceptions about self-harm is that it is always linked to suicidal thoughts or intentions. However, this simply isn’t the case. While suicidal thoughts do often accompany self-injurious behaviors, the injury to oneself is not always intended to lead to suicide. In fact, some teenagers report engaging in self-harm to avoid getting to the point where they feel suicidal.

A word of warning here, though: sometimes self-harm behaviors either intentionally or unintentionally do become suicide attempts. While we cannot assume that self-harm is always connected with or intended to bring about one’s own death, we should understand the reality that either intentions change quickly or what is meant to bring only injury accidentally leads to even greater, perhaps unintended, harm or even death.

If you suspect that someone is suicidal, or that the person has means and has stated intent, take immediate action. That may mean calling law enforcement, engaging an experienced counselor, or taking the young person to the hospital.

So what are the motivations? Most often, self-harm behaviors are engaged in to cope with difficult, and many times overwhelming, emotional struggles. For instance, a teenager may be experiencing deep sadness, and for the first time in her life, this emotion seems overwhelming. Given her lack of life experience with such strong emotions, she engages in causing physical pain to cope with the emotional pain.

Alternatively, some young people express that they feel a lack of any emotion at all, so they engage in self-harm to be able to feel something, even if what they feel is negative. Paired with this, some report feelings of emptiness, guilt, or tension, and self-harm behaviors provide an outlet for those feelings.

Dealing with emotional struggles isn’t the only motivation for self-harm, though, so we cannot assume such. I have personally heard of teenagers being “bored” and having nothing else to do, who then engage in cutting themselves. I’ve also seen a trend of self-harm leading to attention from one’s peers, both positive and negative, but attention nonetheless. While we certainly cannot assume that self-harm is merely for attention, the social and cultural reality of young people also cannot be overlooked.

Ministering to those who engage in self-harm

So how can we best minister to those who engage in these behaviors? In particular, how can we love and care for these young people well when their struggle is one we have difficulty understanding?

Seek to understand. First and foremost, try to understand. The first time I sat with a counselee who engaged in cutting, I simply asked her to help me understand where she was coming from, as I had no personal frame of reference for her actions. I genuinely wanted to understand the emotions and thoughts driving her behaviors, and she was willing to share.

As ministers, we first must listen well to understand. Oftentimes, those who are struggling in this area are dealing with strong emotions that they have difficulty understanding, or they have experienced difficulties in life that we cannot imagine. We must be willing to enter their world and hear their struggles before we can speak truth into their lives.

Look for the root of the problem. Self-harm behaviors almost always point to something deeper. Most often, it is an emotional struggle. Ask questions, and ask good questions: What is the self-harm in response to, or what is it satisfying? Self-injury is a way of dealing with life problems, so we cannot simply try to change that behavior without dealing with the underlying issue. To do so would be like trying to scoop trash out of a stream when it is continually being dumped in upstream. The trash will just keep coming until we deal with the source of the problem.

What does this look like, though? Perhaps in listening to a young person sharing his story, you realize that his self-harm is in response to a world that he feels is in chaos, and hitting himself is the only way he has of controlling his own life. But without listening, you’d only be trying to get him to stop hurting himself rather than realizing that he is in harm’s way on a daily basis and that hurting himself gives him some sense of consistency and control.

Consider good questions versus better questions. So how do we know what to ask? I mentioned above that we need to get to what the source of the issue is, rather than simply the issue itself. While good questions may elicit facts like what their behaviors are or how frequently they engage in them, better questions get at motivations and desires. Here are some examples:

Good questions: Better questions:
Why are you hurting yourself? What situations do you find yourself in just prior to hurting yourself?
What’s going on in your life? What are you most struggling with? What are you most afraid of or anxious about?
How do you feel when you cut yourself? Does your cutting satisfy a need? What is that need?
Do you want to stop? What obstacles are present that make this difficult to stop?

Provide practical safeguards. Even though we should be listening well for the root of the problem, an immediate strategy we can take is to implement practical safeguards, for instance, removing razor blades or knives from the home or ensuring there is always someone else nearby. While we can’t feasibly remove every means of self-injury, we can remove many.

We can also instruct those around the self-injurious person to be aware of times when temptations may be at their highest. While parents can’t keep a constant eye on their teenagers, they can ensure that the teenagers are actively engaged, and they can be watching for changes in the teens’ emotions. Parents can find time as well to intentionally listen to their teenagers, asking good questions and providing encouragement for daily difficulties.

Share biblically based hope and promises. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that we have a great high priest who can sympathize in our every weakness, and that includes the temptation to self-harm. People struggling in this area have a Savior who has walked where they walk, who has been tempted as they are, and who was without sin. And as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, they can confidently approach God to receive grace and mercy. Help those who self-harm grasp that Christ understands their struggle and that He is approachable in their moments of weakness, ready to dispense grace and mercy. This truth can be used to encourage them to pray when they’re tempted to cut themselves and to help them understand that Christ accepts them when they sin.

We are told as well in Scripture that we will never be forsaken by God, and because of that truth, we do not have to be afraid. While this promise shows up over and over in the Bible, in particular we are reminded in Deuteronomy 31:8, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (ESV). Those fears that lead people to self-harm are not unknown to our God who goes before them, and He is constantly walking with them now.

Finally, because of the death and resurrection of Christ, we are also no longer enslaved to our sinful flesh, but are slaves to righteousness (Rom. 6:17–18). That means that followers of Christ can overcome the temptation to self-harm, by the power of God’s Spirit, who lives and works in them. That brings great hope to those who find themselves in the cycle of these behaviors.

The gospel message, then, has much to say to those who are struggling with difficult emotions, overwhelming guilt, or feelings of emptiness and to those who deal with those struggles through self-injury.

Pastors and ministers, we cannot forget the hope of the gospel when ministering to these young people. Like all of us, they need it desperately. They need people to listen to them well, get at the heart of the issue, help establish safeguards, and give hope through Christ. In doing so, we are able to walk with them, bear their burdens with them, and watch the Lord bring them out of these cycles of self-harm.

What Do I Do With My Regrets?

SOURCE:  Jon Gauger/Family Life Today

Rather than letting go of our regrets, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging them.

I should be dead by now. Really.

Thankfully, as a boy of 15, I underwent surgery for scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. Had my parents not opted for such a treatment, statistics say I wouldn’t be alive today because of the crushing my internal organs would have received from the twisting of my own spine. If not dead, my torso would resemble something like the fictional Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The surgery was no minor deal. First, an incision was made from my waist to the top of my shoulders (about two feet long). After straightening the spine and fastening two metal rods (each rod about a foot long) into the vertebrae, the surgeon chipped tiny fragments off my hip and then carefully placed them along the vertebrae to create a bone fusion.

Recovery was slow. Every four hours I was rotated from my back to my stomach on a circular bed frame resembling equipment from a circus acrobatic act. After nearly two weeks of rotating bed confinement, I was informed that the next day would be “casting day,” when I would get a plaster cast covering most of my upper body, allowing for near normal mobility. I distinctly recall the nurse warning me the night before. “Your incision is healing, and you’ll likely feel an itching sensation tonight. Whatever you do, don’t scratch your scar.”

But what I felt that night was more than an itching sensation. It was an itching assault. An itching warfare. I scratched (bad decision). And the scars itched more. I scratched more. And the scars itched still more. At the height of this agony (I do not overstate the moment), it was all I could do to force myself to clench the tubular steel of the circular frame bed and quote every Bible verse I’d ever learned over and over. It remains the most awful night of my life.

Who knew a scar could cause so much pain?

Regrets are scars of the soul.

We carry them around with us, and every now and then they itch. So we scratch them. We replay that thoughtless deed, that hurtful conversation. But instead of relief, we sense only a greater discomfort. Rather than let these memories go, we often escalate the trauma by further indulging our regrets.

What should we do with our scars when they assault us at night or in moments of tired reflection?

Scars, medical experts tell us, require regular and proper care (mine still itch or get occasional scabs). But what kind of care is there for scars of the soul? It’s a question we put to our contributors. Just what should we do with our regrets?

Walter Wangerin

This is simple: Pray for forgiveness. Ask the Christ who fought the devil to come and speak to our regret. Invariably, the word the Lord brings us is, “Go and sin no more. I have forgiven you. Now go on. Get up. Go back to your life and be better than you were.”

George Verwer

I read a long time ago that regret is the most subtle form of self-love. The temptation to regret comes the same way as any other temptation. What we need to do is readily embrace the gift of God’s grace. A lot of people have had their lives filled with failure, yet they do really well at the end. We need to encourage one another with that. Regarding our specific regrets, God has forgiven us. He knows how to work things out for good, so we can’t dwell on regret. We have to somehow move forward because it’s a form of anxiety to dwell on our regrets, paying too much attention to ourselves. We need to claim God’s forgiveness and grace and press on.

Kay Arthur

What do we do with our regrets? Now that’s a question I can answer readily for two reasons. One, I messed up so much before I came to know genuine salvation at the age of 29, and it had great ramifications. Second, I am a perfectionist. I battle with, “I could have done it better, I should have, I wish I had, why didn’t I?” This is where I must run to the open arms of my Sovereign God and all His promises and bring them to bear on my regrets. Also, I would add that we need to remember Satan is the accuser of the children of God (Revelation 12:10-11), so I have to stay dressed in His armor, rejoicing that He will make me “stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

The first thing we have to do is thank God for grace. Go back to the cross. Preach the gospel to ourselves and realize, “I am not the Christ. I am a sinner who needs a Savior—and thank God I have a Savior.” I thank God He has not dealt with me according to my sins or as I deserve. The sum total of my life will not be about how well I performed, how well I lived up to my goals, or how successfully I overcame my bad habits or sinful patterns. When it’s said and done, the sum total will be Christ my righteousness. He took my sin—He who had no sin—on Himself. He clothed me in His righteousness, and that is the only basis on which I will ever be able to stand before God and not be ashamed. Every day I have to preach that gospel back to myself and live in the constant conscious awareness that Christ is my life. He is my righteousness. He is my only hope in life and in death.

James MacDonald

Romans 8:1 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” I believe all of our sins—past, present, and future—are under the blood of Christ, that we’re forgiven. I think we need to live as forgiven people. Second Corinthians 7:10 says, “The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” Genuine repentance is not thinking about what I should have done or what I could have done. It’s thinking about what Christ has done, and living in that. When your kids were little and they would act up, what you wanted was for them to forsake the bad behavior and go forward. That’s what I believe the Lord wants for us. Not to wallow in our failures, but to revel in His grace and to give it to others.

Joni Eareckson Tada

I love to read passages in Scripture that remind me that God has a poor memory when it comes to my sin. He remembers my sin no more (Isaiah 43:25). He separates me from my sin as far as the east is from the west, as high as the heavens are above the earth (Psalm 103:11-12). That is what makes the Good News so great! God will not remember our sins. You know what? We shouldn’t either.

Michael W. Smith

You use regrets for good. That’s one reason I started Rocketown, a club for kids in Nashville. I love speaking to youth. I’m able to say, “Hey, guys, let me tell you my story.” Based on my own experiences, I have a little bit of credibility talking to some kid who is smoking dope every day and getting high, struggling with drugs. I say, “I’ve been there.” He might respond, “Yeah, whatever.” Then I tell him my story, and all of a sudden he’s listening because I have been there. I get to say, “Guys, it’s a dead-end street. It’ll take you down. This is not what your destiny is.” Regret gives me an opportunity to speak into kids’ lives because of the fact that I’ve been there.

True Guilt and False Guilt — What’s the Difference?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

What’s The Difference Between True Guilt and False Guilt?

Question: How do I discern true guilt from false guilt? I want to please God and serve others for Him, but I don’t want to give in to manipulators, either in my family or my friends.

Answer:   If a manipulator can make you feel guilty for saying no, he or she is much more likely to be successful in getting you to back down. Their strategy is to make you feel as if you are doing something wrong or you are being selfish when you won’t do what he or she wants. A manipulator’s thinking is simple. He believes, “If you love me, then you’ll always do what I want.” Therefore, if you say no, then you must not love me or you are selfish.

A two-year-old uses this tactic on his mother to get her to buy them something while standing in line at the grocery store. Most mothers are wise enough not to be manipulated by these tantrums. We know that a firm “no” to our child is the most loving thing we can do. The same is true for other relationships. Saying no to manipulation is actually taking a stand against someone else’s sin. This is a good thing.

However, when the manipulator is not our child, but our mother or husband or adult child, it’s much harder not to get sucked into his or her drama. It doesn’t help that they often accuse us of being unloving and selfish because we are not giving into their demands, and consequently, we’re tempted to feel guilty.

So what’s the way out? Let’s first look at Jesus. He never sinned, never was selfish yet he did say, “no.” He didn’t always do what people expected or wanted him to do. Jesus took time out for friendship, rest, relaxation, and prayer (Mark 6:30-31,46). When you feel guilty because you’ve said no to someone, take a moment to read Mark 1:29-39.

In this passage, we learn that Jesus went to Simon Peter’s house for a relaxing dinner, but people brought the sick to Jesus and the whole town gathered at the door. Can you imagine the pressure Jesus felt with everyone pressing in on him to do something? That evening he healed many people, but he eventually said no more and went to sleep. Those who were left behind unhealed must have felt disappointed.

While it was still dark, Jesus woke up and went off by himself to pray. Peter eventually came looking for him. “Jesus, where have you been? Everyone back home is waiting for you.” Jesus answered Peter saying, “I’m not going back to your house. Let’s go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”

Jesus knew he could not do everything everyone wanted him to do and still do what God wanted him to do. During that quiet time of prayer, Jesus asked the Father to help him discern between the good things and the best things. Just like we do, Jesus had to make some hard choices – to please God or to please others. He chose pleasing God. This priority regularly cost him the disapproval and disappointment of others, including his disciples, religious leaders, and his own family (see Matthew 26:8; Mark 3:21-22).

To break free from the guilt trip, we must all learn to distinguish between true guilt and false guilt. True guilt is a God-given warning signal that we are violating God’s moral law. False guilt arises when we or another human being judges our actions, ideas, or feelings as wrong, even if there is nothing sinful about them.

So next time you’re struggling with guilt, do these three things.

  1. Go to God’s word for clarity. Am I breaking God’s moral law or is it some other human being’s law such as “Thou shall never say no to me”?
  2. Invite the Holy Spirit to search you and see if there is any wicked way in you (Psalm 139:23-24). You may find you have more guilt over feeling angry and resentful that you said “yes” when you wanted to say “no” than you would have if you had just said “no” in the first place.
  3. Ask yourself this question. If I say “yes,” am I saying, “yes” because I want to or because God asks me to? Or do I feel I pressured to say “yes” because I’m afraid to say “no”?

Remember, you are a finite, limited human being. When you say “yes” to something, you also always say “no” to something else.

When you repeatedly say “yes” to a manipulator, keep in mind that you are also saying “no” to your own needs, to perhaps your children’s needs, or to the greater good of what God wants for you. When you accept that you can’t always make everyone happy with you, (Jesus couldn’t either) then the false guilt will dissipate.

Overcoming Thoughts of Spiritual Betrayal (by God)

SOURCE: Dr. Gregory Jantz/AACC

If you have faith in God, depression can be similar to a betrayal by him.

After all, you have trusted him to care for you, yet you are still depressed.  You may have heard from your childhood that, as a Christian, you were to experience and exhibit joy, peace, patience—all the fruit of the Spirit spoken of in Galatians 5:22-23.  This sense of betrayal may haunt your sleepless nights and invade your despairing thoughts.  Feeling forgotten by God, you may even be angry at him.

This anger at God can contribute to your depression by provoking feelings of guilt.  You don’t think you should be angry at God, or you don’t think you have the right to be angry at God, so you feel guilty when you pray, the more you are convinced that he could fix it, but he won’t .  You doubt his love.  But you’ve also memorized John 3:16, which begins, “For God so loved the world…” so you’ve been told he does love you.  Looking at all of this, you conclude he’s got a lousy way of showing his live, at least to you.

Or you may think, Perhaps I don’t deserve his love.  Maybe he doesn’t change my situation because I don’t deserve joy and peace in my life.  Possibly the things I’ve done are so bad that he wants to love me but can’t because of who I am.  And if God can’t love me, then I’m not really worthy to be loved by anyone.  And if my life is to be empty of love, hope is impossible.  If you look at it this way, depression is completely understandable.

Or is it?

Have you picked up the stream of thoughts in this line of reasoning?

It takes snippets of truth—God loves you, and Christians are to live lives of joy—and twists those around into something meant to injure you, not give you comfort.  This line of reasoning is not from God; it is from the Deceiver.  Rage is a deceiver.  False guilt is a deceiver.  Abject despair is a deceiver.  Depression is a deceiver.  That is why when you are in the midst of depression, you must replace your own negative self-talk with God-talk, which is based upon truth.  This God-talk will support your positive self-talk by agreeing with affirming statements, such as these:

  • I deserve love. (“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16)
  • I deserve joy. (“Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” –Isaiah 51:11)
  • I am strong enough to learn and grow each day. (“It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect” – 2 Samuel 22:33)
  • I can experience contentment in my life. (“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” – Philippians 4:12)
  • I am able to respond to my circumstances, instead of react. (“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” – Romans 12:2)
  • I can look forward to tomorrow. (“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” –Lamentations 3:22-23)

How do you fill your life and your mind with God-talk?

The Bible is full of life-affirming messages.  It is, at its heart, a love story.  It is a story of a loving God, who created you to love you and to be loved by you.

Like every great story, there is a separation, which must be overcome by terrible sacrifice.  Through God’s sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, you are able to confidently say, “I can live happily ever after.”

———————————————————————————————————————————————————-

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE  and author of 35 books.

You Don’t Have to Live with Guilt

SOURCE:  Rick Warren

“A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance.”(Proverbs 28:13 TLB)

God is always ready to give you another chance. That’s a bedrock piece of Christianity. We’ve all been irresponsible. We’ve all screwed up. The Bible tells us,“Not a single person on earth is always good and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NLT, second edition).

God doesn’t want you living with a heavy guilt trip about all the irresponsibility in your life. Guilt destroys your confidence, damages your relationships, keeps you stuck in the past, and even hurts your health. I read a report a few years back that said 70 percent of people in the hospital could leave if they knew how to resolve their guilt.

God wants far better for your life than that. You don’t want to live with guilt. And here’s an important truth to always hang on to: You don’t have to.

God wants you to live with a sense of promise and hope. God can even bring good out of the stupid decisions that you’ve made in your life if you’ll give those failures to him.

How do you do that?

Admit to God you’ve made a mistake. It doesn’t surprise him. And it won’t change his perception of you. I hope you’ll take this step today. When you do, here’s what you can expect from God:

  1. God forgives instantly. The very moment you admit your sin to God, he forgives you.
  2. God forgives freely. You don’t need to earn it, and you’ll never deserve it.
  3. God forgives completely. He wipes your sin absolutely clean.

If you’re mired in guilt and shame, you’ll likely perpetuate whatever problem you have. You’ll tell yourself that you blew it, so you’re bad. Since you’re bad, you believe you’ll blow it again. It’s a nasty cycle from which we often can’t seem to escape — at least not on our own.

You need a power beyond yourself. You need a Savior. You need Jesus.

God Doesn’t Want You to Always Feel So Guilty

SOURCE:  relevantmagazine.com/Jason Jones

After my son, Jacob, died in an accident while I was asleep in the house, I struggled with debilitating guilt.

Guilt can be powerful.

For the first few years after the accident, it felt like an all-consuming force that I couldn’t let go of but one that I wanted desperately to run away from. I hated myself so much for all the things I could have done differently that day.

I felt so ashamed, angry, stupid and unworthy. I felt like a failure as a dad and a husband. The weight of carrying the guilt was something my therapist and I worked on for quite some time. Session after session, we would talk through it. There were a lot of tears and painful discussions.

Eventually, my therapist was able to help me realize some truths that slowly started to sink in over time. None of it was overnight. And none of it was like a light bulb moment to point to that instantly made me feel better.

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on.

Therapy is like a farmer tending to his garden. You keep watering and picking weeds, and one day you show up and something starts sprouting out of the dirt. You just have to keep showing up to do the work. During that time, I learned some really important realities while working on my guilt:

We Aren’t Defined By Our Mistakes

Early on, I beat the heck out of myself over what happened. I felt like I had failed my family. Most of all, I felt like I had failed Jacob.

The shame was permeating my entire identity. This caused unhealthy behavior, added stress and was a strain on my marriage and my ability to be a father to my daughters.

Through therapy, though, I was able to realize that one accident or mistake doesn’t define who I am. I’m still a good person, husband and father.

Healing Can Start When You Accept Responsibility

This step was incredibly difficult and took a very long time for me to work through. Although I definitely felt it, I was scared to death to say that I had any responsibility in Jacob’s accident. I fought as hard as I could and as long as I could to not accept it.

I was terrified to think what it meant about me that my decisions may have led my son’s death. What does it say about me as a father? Does it mean I am a bad person? Am I a terrible father? Did I fail my family? Am I worthy of being loved?

While I refused to talk openly about these fears, the guilt started feeding shame, and shame fed more guilt, and on and on. This put me on a hamster wheel of personal torture that I couldn’t figure out how to get off of.

Thankfully, with hours upon hours of working with my therapist, I was able to get to a place where I could bear the guilt without it continuing to rule my life. Bearing the guilt meant I had taken and accepted responsibility for what I could have done to prevent this accident. There were things I could have done differently. I accept that. I bear that guilt, but it doesn’t control me anymore.

Giving Up Is Not an Option, No Matter How Bad It Gets

There were times when I wanted to die because I felt like such a failure in my guilt and shame. I thought about how I wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore and I would be with Jacob.

But, then I would quickly realize the amount of pain I would leave the rest of my family in. What a wreck I would leave behind. My therapist would tell me, “All you have to do is think about getting through each minute, each hour, then each day. Get out of bed and put your feet on the ground. Take a step, then another step. One foot in front of the other and keep breathing.”

It felt like torture at times, to keep going, but I knew inside that I could not give up. I couldn’t give up on my wife and my daughters. And I couldn’t give up on myself. No matter how hard it gets—you can’t give up.

This summer, I stumbled upon a song from a band called Colony House that really resonated with me.

Two of the members of Colony House, Will and Caleb Chapman, are sons of Steven Curtis Chapman and Mary Beth Chapman. Back in 2008, one of Mary Beth and Steven Chapman’s daughters was killed when she accidentally ran out in front of Will’s car when he was driving up the driveway at their home. It was a total accident and terrible tragedy. From interviews I’ve seen, Will struggled with a deep sense of guilt after the accident.

In the song “Won’t Give Up,” Colony House sings about those feelings. The song starts:

I wear the guilt upon my chest
Cause I feel like I’ve earned it
And keep the bloodstains on my hands
To show that I’ve done this

Oh how I wish I could escape that day
Take back time and make everything OK
But I can’t

Oh, the pictures in my head
They roll like the movies
I shut my eyes to cut the thread
But my memory shows no mercy

It was like someone climbed into my head and pulled out how I felt and then wrote a song about it.

It ends like this:

Too many dreams I didn’t want to dream
Too many nights alone where I can’t sleep
I’ve got the devil on my back
Trying to take home from me
But I see Jesus out in front
He’s reaching back for the lonely
Reaching back cause He loves me
I take His hand because she loved me

No I won’t give up now

Sometimes our guilt feels like it’s taking a hold of us and dragging us into hell. It’s like our past mistakes are yelling at us through a megaphone, constantly reminding us of what we’ve done.

But I can tell you it is possible to find freedom from what can seem overwhelming and paralyzing.

Healing can begin when we accept that we are human and we all make mistakes. And the transformative healing takes place when we accept that our mistakes don’t define who we are as a person.

Tag Cloud