Thursday, June 6, 2013


How many times a day do you do something motivated by guilt? 

Guilt masked as love.
I have spent years trying to break myself of this painfully learned habit. Even if I wanted to pretend that I don't do this or haven't done this, there would be no way to escape the reality that this motivational system lives all around me. I see it in the adults I work with. I hear in the youth I work with. Everyone I am around day to day says to me at one point or another, "I would just feel so guilty if I didn't do it."

Lying in a hotel bed in Mobile, Alabama a new reality fell a million feet from heaven and struck me hard where I was resting. I picked up "Kindred Spirit" for the first time after having heard Joel's best bud talk about it for a while. He was raving about it and I finally had a moment alone on vacation to poke around skeptically. I flipped through the colored pages, rolling my eyes, judging the vegan inks. Then my gaze was drawn to a page that had a list of words I consider very negative which essentially caught my attention. Each word had a definition unlike ones I have ever encountered. I skimmed the page until I came to the word that pulled me at me the hardest- Guilt

The definition read: 

  • I have violated one of my own highest values.
  • I think that I am responsible for someone else. 
The second definition came to life and stood in front of me scowling. It had a face I knew well. It was the face of a friend, it was the face of a co-worker, it was the face of a student, my family, my grandparents, my boss, a youth...

Photo by Jacki Harp
In a moment, I realized how many relationships I fostered with people who I loved out of guilt. It was easy to recall hundreds of examples, gestures, service, words, cards, calls, hang-outs that I only did because I would feel guilty if I did not go through with one of them. 

I would feel guilty. 

The "I" in that phrase stood out to me most. Doing anything motivated by guilt is the most selfish thing I could possibly consider. When I do something out of guilt I am saying that I believe I can solve your problems. I have the power to make you feel a certain way. I know I am so important that if I don't do this things will fall apart; people will fall apart. What an insult! How is this love? 

It isn't. 

There was only one thing to do- I wept. I laid in that bed and I mourned all the time I wasted. I wept for all the people I could not empower, that I cheated from experiencing real love. I cried for myself and for all the well intended, guilty gestures that I agonized over. I cried for all the times that I did not love myself because I chose guilt.

After a good period of mourning, I buried that behavior and laid it to rest. With that step my life changed over night. I experienced a holistic purging of guilty relationships. Several friends parted ways with me, sometimes with understanding, sometimes with deep pain. My work life changed. My marriage changed. My health changed. I began to grow again. I felt the breath of life climb into my lungs as grief lifted from my chest. I knew I was healing.

I am not responsible for any one's feelings. You are not responsible for mine. There is nothing I can do to make you feel a certain way. I am free of that burden and the guilt that comes with the immediate failure to love. There is no love in guilt; you and I both are compromised when that behavior is given a chance to live on. I know this now and I live it without any regrets. I feel free. I am free.

How would you live differently if you chose stop being motivated by guilt?