We often feel bad about things we’re not responsible for. This is false guilt. And young kids don’t always understand the weight of their choices, and we rightly extend them grace in this time of naïve innocence. But part of maturity is accepting those things we are responsible for, and this requires a healthy or mature guilt.
To be sure, we’ve often fallen victim to the guilt trips of others. We don’t want to jeopardize our relationships or appear unloving, and so we take on more than what is ours to bear. And this can lead to self-blame and deep feelings of shame.
At the other extreme are those who still want to embrace the ignorance of childhood and deny all responsibility. The problems of life are always seen as someone else’s fault rather than a dance of mutual responsibility in which they too influence the outcome.
Mature guilt is not assuming responsibility for things that are not ours to own, nor is it pretending we’re free from all blame. Instead, it recognizes we’re responsible agents in life and that we have a duty to hold ourselves accountable for our actions. And when we miss the mark, guilt is the appropriate feeling in response.
For instance, it’s a mistake to assume we bear the full weight for the state of our marriage. We’re not to be blamed for everything that goes wrong in our relationship. At the same time, we can’t pretend we’re completely innocent and don’t also have a part to play. Mature guilt allows our wife to be responsible for her side of the street, while still taking ownership for ours.
False guilt and faux innocence keeps us stuck as it robs us of the strength God has given us to make a difference.
In the end, true guilt simply demonstrates a mature responsibility in life – neither blaming others or assuming more than what’s yours to own.