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How to Break Up with Guilt

  • Janna Wright Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • Updated May 29, 2019
How to Break Up with Guilt

I lost a friend once and was convinced it was all my fault. The two of us had met at a Bible study. We went to coffee a few times, swapped God stories, and really hit it off. I was so excited to get to know this godly lady better!

Soon God prompted me to seek out a mentoring group with some close friends, and He brought this woman to mind. So I proposed a monthly gathering. But the first go ‘round was itchy and uncomfortable, and I accidentally offended my new friend—who promptly quit the group without a word.

I tried reaching out and apologizing several different ways, but things never quite healed up. And, ultimately, I lost a friend.

The loss haunted me for months.

I felt so guilty and kept apologizing to God about how the relationship dissolved. Different scenarios would play over and over in my mind: If only I’d done more to pursue her… Maybe if I’d said it this way… If I’d just handled things like this… Guilt played the scenario over and over in my mind.

Until one Sunday morning during church when I was rehashing the scene yet again, and God interrupted my thoughts with a gentle reminder: We’ve taken care of that, Janna. It’s over. You’re already forgiven. It’s time to let it go.

He reminded me I’d already confessed and apologized and that was enough. I was so relieved! It was okay to let it all go. It was okay to stop apologizing for the situation. And it was more than okay to break up with the guilt!

Some guilt is genuine. Some is counterfeit.

Not every instance of guilt is bad. As believers the Holy Spirit nudges our hearts when we sin and leads us to confess and ask for forgiveness. Then the guilt is over, the situation finished.

But often the guilt that creeps in is a counterfeit guilt—the kind of guilt that tries to control good behavior. This type of guilt is not from God, but a result of external (or internal) pressure to live up to society’s rules, people’s expectations, or God’s supposed standards. Under this kind of guilt, you must always “do things right” and juggle your roles and responsibilities to perfection. And, sadly, you never quite measure up.

This kind of guilt creeps into our homes and relationships as we juggle roles of spouse, parent, daughter, friend. It creeps into our jobs, demanding better performance, more effort, greater perfection. And scariest of all, it can even creep into our churches, hounding us to behave better and live up to standards Jesus never even set.

Counterfeit guilt pesters you with anxious thoughts of how you haven’t done enough, how you missed this, misjudged that, dropped a ball, or let someone down. It taunts you with ongoing worry that you need to perform better for your kids, your spouse, your parents, your boss.

Counterfeit guilt judges your best efforts—and finds you lacking every single time.

And life becomes one loooong guilt trip God never intended for His children to take.

When Jesus spoke of the Christian life, He spoke of “life more abundantly “(John 10:10) and “easy burdens and rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). He certainly didn’t pay the ultimate sacrifice so you’d be weighted down with guilt trips the rest of your life. Jesus came to free you from the tyranny of sin and from the guilt of not measuring up to a holy standard.

Jesus offered Himself in your place so you would have unfettered access to the Father, complete with Jesus’s own righteousness to recommend you!

So how do you break up with guilt? Here are three practical steps:

1. Recognize the voice of counterfeit guilt and listen for God instead.

To break up with guilt, you must first recognize its voice. Ask God to show you if you’ve done something wrong, and if you’ve sinned, confess it. Claim the truth of 1 John 1:9. No repeat confessions necessary. No dredging up the matter over and over. According to His Word, you’re forgiven!

So when counterfeit guilt comes knocking and reminds you of how you don’t measure up, call it by name. “Hey, false guilt, I know it’s you!” Notice when this counterfeit voice tries to tell you how to perform better or behave differently. Then refuse to listen to the enemy anymore.

You have a higher Voice to listen to that says you are forgiven, beloved, and righteous before God.

Once you begin to recognize the guilt voice, the grip of counterfeit guilt will begin to lose its hold.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness — 1 John 1:9

2. Realize that as a believer you have a sacred new identity.

Not only are you beloved and redeemed, but you have been given an entirely new nature! (2 Corinthians 5:17) Gone is the old you, the one who deserves to feel guilty. You are made brand new in Christ, and Christ now dwells in you.

With Christ you can do anything (Philippians 4:13), including break up with false guilt. Guilt and shame have no power over Jesus, and since you are in Him, they have no real power over you either! So stand bravely in your true identity. Trust the power of Christ, and watch as He strengthens your heart in the war against false guilt.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. — Galatians 2:20

3. Stay rooted in love.

Have you ever noticed that the people who truly love you are the ones who accept you for who you are? God the Father loves you more than life itself, and He longs for you to stay rooted in His love. God longs for you to be so settled in His love that nothing moves you. Not circumstances or others’ disappointment, or even guilt.

You become rooted in God’s love by growing in relationship with Him, learning more about who He is, and owning who you are to Him. And by learning how to let Him love you. As you nestle deeply into God’s love, you will find He adores and accepts you.

And His love is the very best antidote to counterfeit guilt.

Because when you’re soaking in God’s love you don’t have any room left for false expectations or negative judgments on your behavior. Your eyes are too busy focusing on the beauty of Christ and His unchanging love for you. And counterfeit guilt fades away.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:16-18

So whether friends come or go, whether life brings joy or pain, whether you surf the waves of change or sit quietly in the waiting…God longs for you to live in freedom, free of false guilt and resting in His unchanging love and grace.

Janna Wright told her first story—something about kittens and lost mittens—at age two. As an author and speaker she still loves stories, sharing them in her “biz-nistry,” Grace Thread, and her book, Grace Changes Everything. Janna adores deep talks, the CO mountain air outside her back door, and most of all, helping Christians abandon the guilt and play in the wide open spaces of God’s grace!

Photo Credit: ©Thinkstock/mavoimages