The other day I had a panic attack. It suddenly hit me that I was totally screwing up this whole parenting thing. I wasn’t spending enough quality time with my kids, I wasn’t disciplining well enough, I didn’t hug them enough, I wasn’t teaching them enough responsibility with chores, I wasn’t keeping on top of what they were learning in school… In short, I was generally failing at pretty much every aspect of my motherly duties, and I was pretty sure my kids would be completely messed up for life. Bad parent? Guilty as charged.

Ah, guilt. It can be a powerful force indeed. I’m sure most parents can identify with the feelings I illustrated above. Raising up children to be mature, responsible adults is no small task, and not one to be taken lightly. And kids don’t come with an instruction manual. Most parents, if they’re being honest, would have to admit that at some point they’ve wondered if they were failing their kids. But guilt certainly isn’t limited to parents. Do you feel guilty about not listening to your spouse well enough? Not spending enough time with aging parents, perhaps? Or do you feel guilty about not performing to full capacity at work? Not keeping a clean enough house? Not sticking to a certain diet? Not exercising enough? Oh, the list can go on and on, but you get the gist. You know what makes you feel guilty. But is guilt good or bad? Actually, both.

Guilt Can Be Good

Most of the time, there’s a valid reason underlying your feelings of guilt. Sometimes your conscience pricks you because subconsciously you know you could be doing better. Maybe you really do spend too much time on your iPhone and not enough time with your family. Maybe you really do need to eat better. Maybe you really do need to be exercising. Maybe you really should be calling or visiting your grandmother in the nursing home more often. Maybe you could do better at work if you stopped checking personal e-mails or your Facebook page. Examine your feelings of guilt and see what the underlying issue is. Chances are, if you have feelings of guilt, there’s a reason why, and you need to address that reason.

But Hang On

There’s a fine line between a valid conscience prick and obsession. The devil loves to exploit your weaknesses, and what starts as a sincere quest to do better can easily lapse into feelings of inadequacy that constantly haunt you. My opening example is a good illustration for this. Okay, true, I could be spending more time with my kids. I probably do check my iPhone too much when I could be focusing instead on them. But the devil knows my family is my weak spot, so he loves to rub it in every chance he gets that I’m failing them miserably. All the time. And he does it so well that I usually believe him. So while a certain amount of guilt can motivate me to put down Netflix and pick up a book to read out loud to my kids, excessive guilt can overwhelm me that I’ll never measure up no matter what.

When Guilt is Bad

Speaking of never measuring up, let’s just be blunt here, shall we? You won’t ever measure up. You can’t. You’re a sinful human being. No matter how hard you try, you will still fail. You will still sin. If spending too much time on my iPhone was the worst thing I ever did, I could maybe convince myself that I’m still a pretty good person. But I know I sin daily (hourly!) in thought, word, and deed. But I also know that Jesus did measure up for me. He took the guilt that should have been mine and nailed it to the cross. He washed away my sins so I am as “white as snow.” As I mention in a former post, Guilty Consciences, hanging onto old guilt is unnecessary. You don’t need to torture yourself over past sins. Jesus has forgiven them. Maybe you still have to live with earthly consequences, but thanks to Jesus, you will never have to pay for them eternally. Let go of old guilt and trust that Jesus paid the debt for you. Completely.

So when your conscience pricks you, take a moment to examine why. If you need to make some changes in your life, go for it. If indeed you have sinned, confess your sin to your forgiving Heavenly Father. Just don’t let feelings of guilt or inadequacy overwhelm you. God has forgiven you and He gives you strength to do the tasks given you to do. Chances are, I’m not completely messing up this whole parenting thing after all. By God’s grace, my kids will turn into responsible adults one day, without deep scars from their childhoods. But just to be safe, I think I’ll get off the computer now and go spend some time with them.

Photo is Guilt by Hartwig HKD