Coming Home from Your Guilt Trip
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Day in and day out Christians beat themselves up over sins that their heavenly Father has long since forgiven and forgotten. But for whatever reason many people continue to hold hard and fast to their guilt. Some beat themselves up, others obsess over opportunities long since lost, and a few never seem to be able to move forward in their lives.
In his book Let It Go (Standard Publishing) , author Mark Atteberry shares valuable insight on how to let go of inferiority and perfectionism and how to grab onto God’s abundance and grace.
CBN.com Program Director Chris Carpenter recently sat down with Mark to discuss why many Christians don’t allow themselves to experience God’s grace, why Christians are more susceptible to guilt than non-Christians, and whether it is acceptable to question God.
I was surprised to see in this book that feeling inferior is something you have battled with in the past. Tell me about this.
Mostly my struggle was with what I call “perfectionism,” and I don’t know where it came from, and I don’t know that anybody can ever diagnose where that comes from in a person. I think more it’s just the way you’re wired and it’s more a personality trait than anything. If you’re wired that way it is just going to be a life-long battle you’re going to fight. But I know I have fought it, because I have a tendency to never be satisfied with anything I do. I always feel it could have been better if I had just worked on it a little longer or a little harder I could have done a better job. I have written eight books now and I can pick up any of my books at any time and thumb through it and find things I wish I had written differently or changed.
Why do people not allow themselves to experience God’s grace?
There are two voices basically in your life: your accuser, and your Redeemer. And you’re going to listen to one of them more than the other. I think most people listen more to their accuser than they do their Redeemer. The Bible is full of wonderful, grace-filled, affirming, reassuring Scriptures, just full of them! God loves you; He’s not here to condemn you. He’s here to save you. God understands that you are made of dust. He gets it that you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to fail. His grace is much greater than your sin. He is always willing to forgive. The Bible is full of that stuff. But instead of being in the Word, and reading the Word, studying the Word, hiding the Word in our hearts, we tend to mostly listen to our accuser, the little voice in our head that says, “You know, you could’ve done better with that.” “You know so and so, look at him; he’s doing a great job with his ministry, what’s the matter with yours? His church is growing, why isn’t yours? You must not be doing something right. He must be a better leader than you are.” And I just think it’s these two voices, one in one ear and one in the other. You’ve got to choose which one you’re going to listen to. It’s that simple: God’s voice, or Satan’s voice. The Bible calls Satan the accuser. That’s what he does. And for somebody who’s wired for inferiority or perfectionism or any of those things, Satan has a field day with those people, because they’re vulnerable. They’re especially susceptible to that voice.
Are Christians more susceptible to having a guilt trip than a non-Christian?
I think so, because we have higher expectations of ourselves. You know, we want to live righteous, holy, godly lives; and there is a standard that the Bible sets. The Bible says certain things are right, certain things are wrong; and we want to live up to that. And when we fail, I think there is a bigger disappointment factor than somebody who doesn’t have that type of goal to shoot for. But also, and I devote an entire chapter of the book to what I call “poison in the pulpit.” And that is the type of preaching and teaching that is more trying to use guilt as a motivator. Everybody knows if you heap enough guilt on somebody, you can make them do anything. And preachers have figured that out. There are preachers out there in pulpits, in churches across the country that are trying to motivate their congregations through guilt. And they pound the pulpit, and they harangue, and they yell and scream, and you can literally walk out of church feeling like you’ve just been beaten to a pulp. Anybody who attends that type of a church or listens to that type of preaching and teaching on a regular basis, they’re very susceptible to feeling bad about themselves, and feeling guilty, and feeling like God must be disappointed in them. And so yes, absolutely, Christian people are much more susceptible to these struggles.
You write in your book that joy is a choice. A lot of people believe that joy is something that you’re born with or you are not born with. It’s almost like it’s genetic or hereditary. Is joy a choice?
I think it is. In that scripture from Habakkuk it says, “Though the fields lie empty, all the barrenness of the land, still I will rejoice in the Lord.” And throughout the Psalms, David challenges us to rejoice even in the midst of persecution and hardship. You know, the Bible says “Consider it all joy when you have various trials.” I think those verses make it clear that joy is a choice. It doesn’t mean it’s an easy choice. A lot of it is going to depend on who surrounds you. If you’re surrounded by upbeat, positive, joy-filled people it’s going to be a lot easier for you to be that way. If you’re surrounded by a lot of negative people, if you happen to be married to someone who’s a downer emotionally and spiritually, it’s just going to be really hard for you to have a lot of joy. I do think it’s possible, and I do think the Lord is stronger than all of these other forces. Again, you’re going to choose the voice you listen to, and I think it is possible to make joy a choice. Not necessarily an easy one, but I do think it’s possible.
We’ve all heard the phrase practice makes perfect. If you take time to think about that phrase you will soon realize that perfectionism is placed in a positive light. But it also can have quite a negative effect on people. Why is perfectionism wrong? Or is it wrong?
I think it’s wrong, but it’s one of those things that can look really good on the surface, because perfectionists are generally high achievers, they’re hard workers. They drive themselves. They pay attention to detail. They try to excel. And they naturally, because of those things, gravitate to the top of the corporation, a lot of times the CEO, the guy who’s making the six-figure income. Those guys have gotten there, because they’ve worked harder than everybody else, and the reason they’ve worked harder than everybody else is they might be a perfectionist. So there are material benefits to being a perfectionist. But there is spiritual damage that can happen. It throws your life out of whack. You become a workaholic. You don’t ever give yourself time to relax and breathe. You never see a headline in the paper that says, “Perfectionist arrested after high-speed chase.” You never see that, and so you don’t realize, you think perfectionism is going to bring all these blessings and material things in life, and it does, it can. But boy, it’s like a rat gnawing on your insides. It can eat away at you over time.
In your book you write about questioning God. Is it okay to do this? Many believe that this is the last thing you should do.
If you think about it in the context of God being our father, we are his children. I know I’m a father, and I have children; and I always love it when my daughter thinks enough of me to come and have a conversation that’s hard or difficult. Ask me a tough question, I never mind that. I always appreciate the fact that she cares enough and respects me enough to have that conversation. God is our father. I think He loves to dialogue with his children. I think He’s going to do a lot of things that we won’t understand, and I think He expects us to have questions. The Bible says, “Come let us reason together.” I think that’s part of that hard dialogue sometimes, let’s reason this out. And I think it’s great to question God, but I do think a lot of people feel like they can’t or they shouldn’t, and they feel guilty.
Faith is not blind acceptance of everything. I think faith actually grows out of that dialogue with God. Seeking His wisdom, His will through the painful exercise, the struggle that we can have sometimes with God. That’s where faith comes from. That’s where faith grows. So faith is not just blind acceptance of everything at face value. You have to investigate, you have to ask questions.
For someone who battles guilt what are some ways people can effectively process their way through that or get through criticism when people encounter that?
Criticism is a big thing that causes guilt in people’s lives. If you’re wired for inferiority, and you get criticized, it could just knock the props right out from under you. In my book I go through this thing about how to process criticism and there are several things. One is to remember that sometimes your critics are shooting blanks -- what they’re saying just has no validity. They can criticize you all day, but if what they’re saying isn’t true, you don’t need worry about it. It’s important to make that distinction. Another thing is some people who are shooting at you, aren’t shooting at your heart; they’re shooting at your feet. They’re not trying to hurt you; they’re just trying to control you.
After people read this book, what do you want them to take away from it, to apply in their lives?
I attempt to show in that last chapter how powerful the Word of God can be if it’s hidden away in a person’s heart. And I would hope that a person would walk away from this book being more into the Word, listening more to the Redeemer, and shutting out that other accusing voice. And if that can happen in a person’s life, I think it’ll make a difference for them.
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