A few years ago, I was eating lunch the day before I had plans to go on a trip to speak at a conference. Our then-seven-year-old son, Christopher, asked in a matter of fact tone, “Why do you have to go on a trip without us?”
“Well,” I replied, “a friend asked me to speak at her conference.”
“Well,” he said in a stronger tone, “you could have said no!”
I could literally feel the guilt wash over me. I began to explain to Christopher that I would be gone only two days (two days! splash) and I would be helping people (and not my family! splash, splash).
Christopher was quiet and finished his meal.
That seemed to satisfy him. I thought: I explained! I did well! Yay me! He understands.
When my son got up, he looked me square in the eyes and said, “You still could have said no!” (Big tsunami wave splashing here.)
Especially as a mother, I really have to resist the temptation to feel guilty. (If you don’t watch it, motherhood can even make you feel guilty for feeling guilty!) It’s too easy to allow myself to take a long guilt trip: Why did I spend so much time studying today instead of more time with the girls? (Now we’re over the border.) Why did I let myself get so irritated with the kids today? (Now we’re across the globe!)
Any one of us can take a guilt trip for any number of reasons. If we aren’t careful, we will carry around guilt because of our weaknesses and shortcomings. We’ll compare ourselves to other people, feeling as if we will never measure up. Such guilt is self-imposed. You find fault in yourself or blame and shame. You practice self-reproach. You hang onto that bad feeling that says you did all the wrong things or that you are inherently bad—and that says it all because guilt doesn’t make anyone feel good. Rather it makes you feel insecure, less confident, inadequate, and unfit. It gnaws at you and steals your joy. It keeps you from enjoying today.
We can put the brakes on guilt trips, though. That day Christopher told me I could have said no, I knew I had a choice to make. Was I going to take the guilt or let it go?
That day, I chose to let it go. I wouldn’t have always done that, but I am learning that guilt steals from me. It sinks me in an ocean of bad feeling till I can do nothing but swim around in the frustration of my own making. That does nothing for anyone and only keeps me from enjoying my life.
Sometimes we have to choose to let go of guilt on a daily basis. That means, situation by situation, choice by choice, learning to say: I cannot please every person. I cannot help everyone. I cannot do everything people want me to do. I am not a superhero.
Excerpt from You Are Made For More!