They are sick and I am not.
I can leave the house. They cannot.
I can eat anything I want. They must not.
Guilt is an emotion that it is easy to struggle with after a diagnosis of chronic illness. When we as Watchers see how the illness is impacting our Loved One’s lives, and envision how it will continue to impact their lives,… the guilt creeps in.
Why do we feel guilty?
When we are out partying or simply enjoying a day at the beach we feel guilty because our Loved One can’t be there with us. Or perhaps they can – but they are exhausted and have to sit down and miss out on the fun. Maybe they have a health problem they need to worry about, and the experience, enjoyable for us, is isolating for them.
We receive what they do not – and so we feel guilty. Days out become a guilty pleasure. It seems wrong to arrive home to our Loved One or visit them, and recount the fun we had with our healthy body and mind.
Yet guilt is not just about imbalance. For instance, if instead of being painful, lonely and debilitating, chronic illness was like winning the lottery, I don’t think we would feel guilty.
I think we’d feel jealous.
Instead, chronic illness is awful, and so we feel guilty. Their life has been ruined. It is restrictive, it is pain filled. They will climb mountains and descend into valleys which we will never tread.
Likewise, we will enjoy delights that they never will.
Our close relationship with our Loved One means we can’t forget or ignore these imbalances. After all there are thousands of people in slavery across the world and on the whole we do not spend our hours feeling guilty about our own freedom.
As Watchers, we fail a lot of the time. Perhaps we fail to love our Loved Ones. We get annoyed at them or we willfully choose not to do what’s best for them (speak softly, plan our day better etc.) because we are just so tired of it. Or perhaps we fail them accidentally; we just don’t think.
We can also feel guilty because we fail to live up to other people’s expectations of what Watchers should be. When someone says to us, ‘Oh I’m sure you’re such a big help to him’, it can make us feel terrible. Or when they get even more specific and exclaim, ‘You must cook dinner every night, how do you manage it with work?’ It is painful.
Sometimes the worst type of guilt is when we do not live up to our own expectations. We feel we ought to be around more, help them more, love them more. We feel awful when we are at a party and realise we have not thought of our Loved One (who wasn’t well enough to come) once. Or perhaps someone asks us how our Loved One is – and we have to admit that we don’t actually know. Then again, maybe we do know, but fail to paint an accurate description of it… and we leave feeling like we have failed, once again.
Why don’t we like guilt?
It’s pretty self-explanatory, but I think it’s worth stating: Guilt makes us feel bad.
Guilt is a negative emotion, and to some extent it is a selfish one. I think it’s worth asking ourselves why we hate the feeling of guilt.
Is it because we are genuinely sorry that our Loved One’s life is not as objectively good as ours? Because we failed them yet again?
Or is it because guilt means we can’t enjoy our lives? Guilt means we cannot be carefree, guilt forces us to think of someone other than ourselves.
This is a valuable question.
When guilt is right
I think, sometimes guilt is helpful. Our culture tells us guilt is always wrong because it makes us uncomfortable, it stops us from accepting ourselves and our actions as they are.
Yet guilt can lead us to God.
There are actions and emotions that are genuinely wrong. The Bible tells us this. Common sense tells us this. And if we do them and feel guilty, that is good.
It means our conscience is working. It’s wrong to shout at our Loved One because we are sick of hearing that their head hurts. It is evil to refuse to go into much detail about our day because we can’t be bothered to explain our life to our bedbound friend.
Guilt leads to remorse. Remorse leads to repentance. True repentance leads to God and growth in holiness.
At the very least, guilt can make us kinder, humbler people and Watchers.
When guilt is wrong
I think guilt can be wrong when…
We use the wrong standard
Guilt can be wrong or misplaced when we are looking at the wrong standard. Sometimes we set ourselves up as the hero in our Loved One’s life, as the one who is called to Save – and feel guilty when we don’t succeed. My friends, we were never made to be the hero. Feeling guilty and annoyed that we cannot be perfect (rather than at a specific act of wrong going) will never help us.
It leads to sin
Guilt followed to the wrong conclusion is also wrong. When we genuinely fail and guilt stabs us in the back, we have a choice.
We can repent in sadness or we can react in fury.
Too often I choose the latter (easier!) path. Guilt can be an opportunity to sin. It can make us bitter, angry, frustrated – at ourselves, at God who decrees what is right and wrong, at our Loved Ones who make it so difficult for us to feel good about ourselves.
It is the result of a lie
We said above that at times we feel guilty because we are healthy and they are not. And yet, we had no choice in the matter, it is through no fault of our own that they are suffering.
So why do we feel guilty?
I suspect it’s because we are forgetting the world does not revolve around us. We are fabricating a relationship between us, them and sickness that does not exist. We falsely believe that because they are sick, we are not.
To rephrase that: we believe that there must be X amount of sick people in the world. Our Loved One is one of them… and therefore we are not.
Oh my friends! We are so quick to forget the sovereignty of God. To forget that He has a plan for the entire world which involves each individual. He is not forced to follow any statistics. He could have easily made both you and your Loved One well… and yet He chose not to.
What to do about guilt?
This is all very well, but what if we still feel guilty? Perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly, but guilty none the less. What do we do?
Right guilt – seize the opportunity to turn to Jesus. To admit that I am not perfect; I am a sinful, selfish human and I need His blood to cover my sins before a righteous, judging God.
Wrong guilt – seize the opportunity to turn to Jesus. To acknowledge that He alone is Saviour and Planner of the whole world. To cling to the solid hope that He has my life, and my Loved One’s life all planned out. To realise that it is His standard, not mine or my neighbours, that matters.
Technically, we should always feel guilty. Because we are always failing to live up to God’s standard. That is why we need Jesus. He alone takes away our guilt and sets us free.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
Romans 8: 1-2
// Have you ever felt guilty? Would you agree that guilt can be helpful sometimes? How do you deal with guilt?