Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Word About Guilt

I've been thinking about writing this post for about 2 years now.  I just never got around to it.  But let me start with two of my favorite scriptures:

2 Corinthians 7:10
"For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death."

2 Timothy 1:7
"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."

Of all Holy Writ, these two are at the top for how much they have impacted my life.  I bet you're not surprised I am going to tell you why.

Hand in hand with the self-loathing I explained in yesterday's post, I had a tandem habit of feeling guilty.  Every time I caught myself doing something wrong or stupid, I would feel guilty about it.  I figured, hey, it's part of the repentance process.  If we don't feel sorrow for the "sin," we can't repent of it, right?  So I'd give myself a hefty lecture about all the things I should have done better or differently or whatever that day.  I'd set goals.  I'd make charts to track my progress.  I'd tell other people so they could "hold me accountable."  Dang it, by SURE willpower, I was going to change!

But I wouldn't.  I'd slip.  I'd fall.  I'd do it again.

And I felt so sorry about it, my mistake was all I could focus on.  I focused on it so much, in fact, it usually got bigger or I would repeat it more frequently--because (as every mother of a whining child knows), we get more of what we focus on.  So, to combat my increased mistakes, I'd just give myself more lectures...and then, predictably, feel miserable.  But, "Hey," I'd say to myself, "Wickedness never was happiness, so I probably deserve the misery."

Enter Stage Right:
2 Cor 7:10.  WHAT?  Two kinds of sorrow?  I wasn't sure what "godly sorrow" was.  But you can bet your life that the kind of sorrow I had was "worketh-ing" death not only to my happiness but also to my will to keep trying.  What did this mean?  How could I have one kind of sorrow but not the other?  What was "godly sorrow?" 

Enter Stage Left:
2 Tim 1:7.  My kind of self-imposed guilt felt very real--so real that I usually felt terrified of all the consequences that would surely come from my actions--rejection, failure, 10 extra minutes to clean the stupid spilled milk ... and *gasp* maybe even hell if I wasn't really careful.  After all, it was Christ who said, "Be ye therefore PERFECT," and no one knew better than I how far I was from that mark.  But here is Paul, telling the Corinthians about what kind of Spirit brought what kinds of feelings and all I knew was that I was staring straight down the belly of fear.

Then, suddenly it hit me.  I reviewed my past, the times I'd been able to make permanent changes for the better, and noticed a trend.  The change was always accompanied by a gigantic epiphany of some sort.  With the epiphany, I could see with utmost clarity the incorrect belief that was causing the action.  Then I felt both convicted and sorry at the same time--but not the guilty kind of sorry I imposed on myself.  It was a liberating kind of sorry.  A FREEING kind of sorry.  Because I knew precisely what I needed to do better and I knew how much the Lord who loved me had provided a way to make up for all the time I had spent in the dark.  Consequently, I wanted to do better so much that I would suddenly lose all desire to keep re-committing the same self-defeating action or thought.  And you know what?  The habits disappeared.  Sometimes slowly, sometimes instantaneously.  But I never felt miserable and I never had to give myself lectures.

When I finally put these two scriptures together, and linked it with my experiences in life up to that point, I realized the best way to determine the difference between "godly sorrow" and "sorrow of the world" was to ask myself how the thought made me feel.  Did I feel fear?  Depression?  Loss of hope?

Or did I feel full of power, love, and a sound mind?

My self-guilt always caused the first set of feelings.  This was a HUGE epiphany.  I was letting Satan into my life with my little lectures!  I had no idea!  I genuinely thought I was doing a good thing that would help me change for the better!  And then, I felt godly sorrow about all that guilt.  I felt full of love--for myself and even for my mistakes--and then I changed. 

No more "sorrow of the world" for me.  EVER.  Well, sometimes a thought will creep in, and sometimes I'll listen to it for a day or so.  But all in all, it doesn't get much stage presence.

So why am I saying this now?  Today?  This post?

I got a lot of letters in the past couple days.  Some private emails, some comments, you get the picture.  I had the audacity to say public schools are horrible and home schooling is awesome.  Just like cookies are unhealthy and whole wheat bread is awesome.  Just like having a premature baby is tough and having a healthy term baby is awesome.  Just like having a deaf child is challenging and having a hearing child is awesome.  Just like divorce stinks and marriage is awesome.  Just like being a working mom means a lot less time with your kids and staying home is awesome.  Just like wool-lined boots in the summer start to reek and wool-lined boots in the winter are awesome.

Comparisons are everywhere.  Some comparisons are of sins and righteous actions.  Some are just a matter of preference or values.  Some comparisons will remain true no matter what.  Some change based on the situation.  Some comparisons are within our power to control.  Some aren't.  But no matter what, we all find ourselves on the other side of "awesome" in at least SOME situation nearly every day.  For example, I just ate a cookie today--okay, actually two.  And who knows?  Maybe something unexpected will happen in my own life and I'll have to put my own kids in public school. 

If you choose to send your children to public school, do you need to feel guilty? 

2011Res: To Matt: You call in the afternoon almost every day to see how I'm doing.  I'm glad we're a part of your life even when you're off at work. To Heidi: I savored your little kitten-like tendency to "knead" me while you nurse.  I savored it especially because I cut your sharp little nails today. Dear Mr H: today I made enchiladas because you were craving them.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Natalie I needed a reminder!

My Three Sons said...

Maybe I misunderstood, but why would anyone feel guilty about sending their child(ren) to public school?

Natalie said...

@ My Three Sons: HA! My sentiments exactly. All I know is I got a lot of comments that my praise of home school was making them feel guilty.

My Three Sons said...

Oh, about that. It's pretty important to communicate effectively. If you state your stance on a controversy, and it makes other's feel like they are wrong and should repent, you haven't been effective. If you can state your stance and others can (without offense) concede some points, still disagree with other points, and walk away knowing why you have chosen that stance, then you have effectively communicated it. I also have to wonder if knocking something down, just to build up your own point, is effective. You wouldn't ever want to criticize someone else just to make yourself feel better, or appear to others to be better, right? Maybe the focus should solely be on the benefits of home schooling, regardless of your thoughts on public school. Would you argue the gospel is true while pointing out what you think is wrong with other religions? What is wrong with other religions' beliefs should have no bearing on whether the gospel you believe in is true or not. I also think that the Waiting for Superman film points out something rather important: when there is a problem, what can we do to resolve those problems? Public education is here to stay, good or bad. Individually, home schooling may be your solution, though it offers no solution for the whole. Would you say that home schooling should be everyone's solution, even though it really is an impossible task for many? And know that when I say impossible, if you have negligent parents, uneducated parents, parents without resources, group homes, etc., that is what I mean by impossible. To say home schooling is the solution, would be continuing to limit those whose circumstances in life are below our own. I do not think it was your praise of home school that made them feel guilty, but maybe the criticism of public schools. Are you not essentially telling them how horrible the schools their children go to are? How would that not translate to guilt over their decision to continue to let them attend public school?

Anonymous said...

Well Natalie, I'm glad you have felt peace with this decision and that now you can sleep at night. On the other hand, I know people who can't because you are making them feel like horrible mothers. I don't agree with most things you have been writing about home schooling, which doesn't matter because it is after all your blog. I made so many bad choices as a youth, and I have never attributed it to going to public school. In fact, I knew I was making wrong choices on my own without any influence from others. I chose those things, and I learned from them. I grew up in a home with almost no parents, and I turned out just fine. In fact, I had the best teacher…..life. Everyone goes through hard things. I went through some of the very same experiences that you did, because of some of the same reasons, and public school had nothing to do with them. You dealt with them differently than I did because we’re different people. In fact, those experiences I cherish every day of my life because they made me who I am. I learned so much about what to do next time my teacher told me to wear the sweater that made my chest look big......I learned to stand up for myself more......In fact, most of my life has been spent learning what to do next time, and now I have stories to back up why I am or am not this way or that way. These experiences shaped me in every way, and I really finally now love who I am.....and it's all because of these………..

Natalie said...

nasty experiences, because Lord knows, I can't draw from many good ones. There are people I look back on and "hate them", but at the same time "love them", because without them, (and I'm thinking of some particular people right now)I wouldn't have the traits people love about me. These were really sad yet shaping experiences for me and I have actually thanked God for each and every one of them. I send 3 of my girls to school everyday, and around the dinner table we talk all about life, lessons learned in academics and “nasty experiences”. We have long talks about “feelings”, thoughts, ideas, concerns, gospel, etc. We talk in the car, before bed, before school, on weekends and somehow, things get solved and my girls are shaped forever, good or bad. I can go on and on about having an alcoholic father, violence in the home, working mother, almost being raped twice, close to being killed by a boyfriend, and on and on……..we all have the same story, just different plots and characters. I put myself into many of these experiences by making bad choices. We are all in fact, still living the plan of salvation. Should Heavenly Father have kept us home to live with him for fear that his children might be wrongly influenced by all the “bad children” there on earth? Surely Heavenly Father would be the best influence on us and would be able to teach us all that we should do and shelter and protect us from all the evil influences that would live outside his home. Should we have gone with Lucifer’s plan and just be compelled to make good choices so that we could all get back home unscathed, yet inexperienced? He sent us here, despite all these things. “And these things shall be for your good……” I guess we should all keep our children home from primary because after all, the prophet has said that the gospel should be taught at home and some of those “public school kids” go to primary. I feel for you and your experiences. I am unconvinced that your “experimenting” had anything to do with public school. I am convinced that you like everyone else were insecure, trying to find yourself (which none of us do until we’re adults and even then question ourselves constantly). Lastly, there are many horror stories of children who were home schooled, and they too must find themselves somehow. I know some of these people. The only reason there aren’t more is because not many homeschool. The problem is, these children have to learn as adults other than children and that is a much harsher, judgmental environment in many ways and the consequences are more severe. Even home schooled children can be exploited, used, insecure, jealous and mean. After all some of your examples were from your own “home environment”.

Natalie said...

@ Anonymous: Thank you, sincerely. Duly Noted.