Feeling Guilty?


Dear Ones of the Un-Blog World,

LeAnn asked a question I haven’t thought about much. Please give us your opinion.

John, I have a question for you. I have always associated conscience with the feelings of guilt or approbation i experience, but I find that I occasionally feel guilty when I am doing the RIGHT thing, like when I joined the church. I recognize that my feelings were out of concern for my parents’ and spouse’s feelings, but it is difficult to discern and follow one’s conscience when it seems so conflicted.

I also read Paul’s discussion of conscience in 1Corinthians, where he talks about the weaker consciences of newer members perhaps being offended by seeing him eating food offered to idols, which is not actually wrong in and of itself, and it causing them to slip. If something is not wrong, why can it make us feel guilty?

I am trying to understand better my conscience and discern the different voices and pulls that I feel. Am I assigning feelings of guilt and anxiety to my conscience when they are actually from another source? Can conscience be subjective (which could be read into the “see that ye do not judge wrongfully, for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged” statement)?

Thanks for all your unblogs. They are a great blessing to me and have led me to see and understand things I had not before, and have given me courage to follow the Lord more perfectly.

LeAnn

 

  • Dear LeAnn,
    I’m not sure about guilt. It seems that both the Holy Spirit and your own mind can generate guilt. I know my wife feels guilt about everything from not going to every wedding within the solar system to kids starving in Africa. I don’t experience guilt unless I do something which injures someone. Perhaps it is a matter of training yourself to only respond to feelings which are directing us to do right, and to serve God. The starving kids in Africa may not be within our reach.

    Sorry I don’t have a better answer.

    Let’s see what the Un-Blog family thinks.

    John

About John Pontius

I am a lover of truth.
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23 Responses to Feeling Guilty?

  1. Victoria says:

    LeAnn–

    I think many of us have had this same question, but I really believe that “feeling guilty” tends to be more of a woman thing. In D&C 93:39 it says that the “wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and =because of the tradition of their fathers.= ” This would have been like the guilt you experienced over your parents’ and spouse’s feeling when you joined the church. You were going against what they had taught or expected from you, yet as you said, it was still the right thing.

    I also think though, that one of these “traditions of our fathers” is the guilt we might feel despite the right and good we are doing as we’re on the path, because of all the things we’re NOT doing! There’s an endless list of expectations and things we should or could be doing, and we’re just not doing enough of them. I see so many women burdened by that feeling that they’re simply not good enough despite all their goodness. I think it comes down to weighing the tradition of all these (good) expectations that we should be and do against how the Lord feels about us right now.

    I know what you’re talking about when you say you’re trying to hear your conscience and figure out what is the Lord’s voice and what comes from elsewhere. It’s not all that easy, is it? =o) I do know though, that the closer I draw to Him and the more time I spend in prayer where I actually (what I call) connect, the easier it gets. The more I feel Him in my life, the simpler it all becomes.

    As I diligently try to follow Him, He lets me know that He is pleased with me even though at this moment, I’m not accomplishing all ten zillion things we’re asked to do. What is most important is that I WANT to do His will and He knows that. I am WILLING. That’s what’s really important. As long as I know I’m doing the best I can to hear His voice and sort it all out, and He knows that my heart is His and that I always want to do what He would want of me, then that’s what really matters.

    Does that make sense?

    Hang in there!

    Victoria

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    • John Pontius says:

      Great comment Victoria! Hope all is well.

      JMP

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      • Clarice says:

        Ditto John. Great comments Victoria. The fact is we will never be good enough-period. And that is okay. Our Savior is good enough. He makes up the difference. He will lead us back to Him one step at a time. And we will always have need of His grace to make us more than we can be otherwise.

        One of the biggest obstacles we have got to learn to overcome is ourselves. We hold ourselves back more than anything, and Satan takes full advantage of that. We have to let go of everything and just hold on to the Lord and go where He leads. We have to become as a little child. Most “little” children believe anything is possible. They believe in magic. They trust, they are not weighed down by self doubt.

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  2. Amy Weston says:

    I wonder if I may share an experience I had that may adequately illustrate where guilt and fear come from..hope it’s not too long. 🙂

    About last September my husband and I were going through a difficult trial in our lives, thinking back it was a wonderful time in our spiritual growth because we were learning obedience to the voice of the spirit. We lived across the street from a middle aged couple who seemed to be going through a hard time too.

    Our Branch had just got a new missionary from New Zealand transferred to our area. He and his companion came to visit my husband and me in our home one day. The visit went great, this new missionary was awesome, he was different from any I had ever met. As they were just about to leave and walk out the door this new missionary stopped and asked, “Do you know anyone who needs help?”

    My first thought was about my neighbors across the street, I knew the wife was sick and they didn’t know why, and the husband had just lost his job, they needed help. My second though was one of guilt and fear, I thought, “How can you think to send them missionaries to bother them at a time like this. You are going to make your neighbors mad at you if you do this.” My third thought was, “What do I do?”

    At that moment, by the grace of God, I had an epiphany, “Fear and guilt come from the adversary, so just do the opposite of what fear and guilt tell you to.” So I did and about a month later the husband was baptized and his wife in her condition couldn’t be, but she would have had she been able. Our Branch President conducted her funeral and the missionaries dedicated her grave. Before she died she was greatful for those visits she had from members of our Branch and the missionaries.

    I don’t want to think of what might have happened had the prompting been ignored due to feelings of guilt and fear. But now I know when we are obedient to the promptings of the Holy Spirit good even great things happen although it may not be apparent at the time. My dear neighbors were an instrument of God that day in teaching me a great lesson. I am reminded of this scripture in Moroni 7:15-17, “15. For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
    16. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I SHOW UNTO YOU THE WAY TO JUDGE; for every thing which invitheth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
    17. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.”

    I hope this helps. God bless.

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  3. LeAnn says:

    Wow. Thank you all for your responses. Your time, experience, insight and obvious love are very valuable to me. I had not yet checked for responses today and imagine my surprise when I found all this!

    You have given me much to ponder. I have also begun a scripture study about conscience and guilt and find myself also prompted to study doubt. I do not think I doubt the Lord or the Gospel, but only my own ability to discern correctly, but I think there is something of value for me in this study.

    Thank you again for all your help.

    Like

  4. CCM says:

    One night I was flooded with memories of all the horrible things I had done in my life. All my greivious sins played over and over in my mind. I questioned if I had truly repented or not. I knew I was not the person now I was then. I had no desire to return to those choices. But I wondered if I was being chastened for an incomplete repentance. I did the only thing I could think of. I remembered that stupid joke, and I sang a hymn. My mind cleared and I was finally able to sleep. I think in that case, my feelings of guilt were stirred up by the adversary in an attempt to keep me from making and moving forward on important decisions.

    I know it sounds silly but when you feel guilt, try singing a hymn and see what feelings remain.

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  5. Krisene says:

    LeAnn,

    I too have these feelings when doing the right things but it is usually because of fear of what others may perceive of me rather than whether I feel I am doing the right thing.

    For example, I have been going to a preparedness group and we have been talking about spiritual insights, food storage tips, etc. I love the group and know that it is a blessing to me in my life. But yet I am afraid to talk to people freely about the group because even among members, if you are actively preparing, even though it is a commandment, you are seen as a end-of-the-world dooms day person. I feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment but only because someone else may not share my personal convictions.

    I think this is a human weakness that I need to ask the Lord for help in strengthening. We are going to be asked in the future to choose sides and being embarrassed, feeling guilty or shamed for doing and choosing the right need to be overcome now or it will be a major problem then. I do not want to be like Peter that denied knowing the Savior or those people in Nephi’s dream of the tree of life that go forward and partake of the fruit only to start looking around and being ashamed because the people in the large and spacious building are mocking them. I want to partake and have the confidence and inner-strength to know that I am doing what the Lord commands and that is good enough for me.

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  6. Donald says:

    LeAnn… I think my previous thoughts are more from my analytical self…. it’s bothered me a little this evening…. so I wanted to say more:

    I can’t say I know how it works… but my heart tells me that through the atonement our Savior Christ has taken upon himself all our burdens…. including our guilt…. as we receive Him into our lives that guilt is taken away. As I said, I don’t fully know how it works…. I do know it is a wonderful gift and miracle from Him…. and brings joy into our lives.

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  7. James says:

    I once had a member friend teach me a valuable lesson about guilt during a time of the greatest trial of my life. In the midst of tragedy I was stricken with almost paralyzing guilt, shame and hopelessness. I was convinced that this sudden turn of events was my fault, that my sins my inadequacy etc. had caused souls to depart and the Spirit to condemn. What he told me was this. Emotions have energy associated with them, fear and guilt being of the lowest energy, love and joy being of the highest. The Spirit teaches us by shaping our spirits by means of sublime emotional experiences like none other source can create, those emotions being of high energy, love peace joy, sometimes what can feel like 50k volts of it. Guilt and fear are not tools of the Holy Spirit. They are low energy and invoke hopelessness. Even when God chastises us it is with love and there is always hope. We supply the guilt by inviting the evil one to appeal to our fears and weaknesses, opposing the faith God would have us develop. I do believe guilt is appropriate when we willfully sin, however I tend to believe it to be a result of a withdrawing of the spirit rather than being inspired of it. I later learned with certainty that the guilt I felt was misplaced and amazingly enough the events at hand were not a punishment nor dictated by my petty weaknesses but by greater purposes not needed to be fully understood at present. So it is my opinion that guilt is not of God but is an impediment used against us to hinder faith and repentance, that repentance being either to have faith to change and obey or to endure by submitting to whatsoever the Father seeth fit to inflict upon you. The evidence is that when you begin to do either your guilt is swept
    away.

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    • Kim says:

      James your comments inspired me!

      I wish we could measure the energy of emotion, that would give us more tangible proof of what we already know to be spiritually true, and would make it easier for us to see with our own eyes why we shouldn’t indulge so much in the negativity that our emotions can generate.

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    • John Pontius says:

      James, I loved your comment, especially this inescapable logic – “The evidence is that when you begin to do either, your guilt is swept away.”

      Thank you,

      JMP

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  8. darrell brashear says:

    Dear LeAnn, I have a very different way of looking at guilt. I do not feel that guilt of any kind is from the Holy Spirit. I do not feel that any negative feeling comes from God, including guilt.

    There is a scripture in Moroni that says, “For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water…” and in another place, “Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God…” (Moroni 7:11-12) If all things which come of God are good and a good fountain cannot bring forth bitter water, then to me it doesn’t seem possible that something like guilt which is very bitter could come from God.

    Every time the scriptures mention guilt, they never associate it with the Holy Spirit. They always mention guilt as personal possessive. In Mosiah 2:38 it says that a person who dies in thier sins and remains an enemy to God will be awakened to”…a lively sense of HIS OWN GUILT, which doth CAUSE HIM TO SHRINK FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD…”

    In Mosiah 3:25 it says, “And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view OF THEIR OWN GUILT and abominations, which doth CAUSE THEM TO SHRINK FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD…” In Alma it also says, ” Or otherwise, can ye imagine yourselves brought before the tribunal of God with your souls filled with guilt and remorse, having a remembrance OF ALL YOUR GUILT….” It goes on and on, but again and again the scriptures refer to guilt as our own.

    To me, there is a difference between guilt and godly sorrow. Godly sorrow draws one closer to God and others and is a gift from the Spirit while guilt leads a person further from God. Guilt causes one to hide from God, or as the scriptures put it, to ” shrink from His presence”.

    In my own life I have noticed that guilt and godly sorrow are very different from each other. One of the major differences is that godly sorrow is mixed with desire: a desire to give up our sins to know Him (Alma 22:18), a desire to make things right at all costs, a desire to stop hurting people; whereas guilt has no desire connected with it. Guilt leads one to compliance: I have many times in my life complied because I was tired of feeling guilt but it had nothing to do with my desire to draw closer to the Lord. I have also felt godly sorrow and have noticed that it is an entirely selfless pain.

    Many times in my life guilt has led to grudging participation and yet the seventh chapter of Moroni says that if a person offers a grudging gift they are counted evil before God (Moroni 7:8).

    The seventh chapter of Moroni tells us how to identify the voice of the Lord. These are the keys that I have noticed:
    1. His voice is inviting and enticing
    2. His voice causes us to love God
    3. His voice causes us to believe in Christ and His power in our lives
    4. His voice is empowering
    5. His voice is a gift (Moroni 7: 13-16)

    As far as I can see, guilt doesn’t fit in with any of those keys just mentioned. A lot of people are raised with a lot of guilt. If they don’t comply they are made to feel guilty. As a result, they grow up feeling a lot of guilt and it can get in the way of thier spiritual growth (I know it did with me).

    Please pardon my preachiness. This is just a matter I am very passionate about. I hope it helps.
    Brother D.

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  9. cheyenne brashear says:

    I think a lot of times people confuse guilt with godly sorrow. It seems to me that guilt comes from the adversary, while godly sorrow comes from God. In the scriptures, Satan is called “the accuser of our brethren”(Rev.12:10). Jesus Christ is the judge of the world, and yet he says, “for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47).

    I feel that guilt is based on fear, and godly sorrow is based on love; guilt makes a person want to hide from God, while Godly sorrow makes a person want to approach God; guilt puts the focus on the problem(ourselves), and godly sorrow puts the focus on the cure(Jesus Christ).

    While it is important to feel guilt, because it is an indicator that the Spirit has left us, and therefore acts as a warning signal, it is important not to hold on to guilt. I feel whenever we feel guilt, we should go directly to our Father in Heaven and supplicate Him in prayer, and ask Him what he would have us do so that the guilt can be removed.

    Godly sorrow is a gift from the Spirit and comes through exposure to the Spirit. Godly sorrow manifests the goodness of God and His great love for us. It seems to me that the sorrow comes in because we feel great sadness when we sin and seperate ourselves from the goodness of God. After awhile we grow tired of anything that seperates us from everything that is good(our Father in Heaven, and His Son, Jeus Christ). In short, godly sorrow leads to repentance(Romans 2:4).

    To me, the seventh chapter of Moroni is the most important chapter in scripture because it teaches a person perfectly how to receive revelation. This chapter says that God INVITETH and ENTICETH to do good continually. If something is inviting and enticing, that means it is desireable. Somehow I used to think that the promptings of the Spirit were like pulling teeth, now I know that God “works in us both to will(desire) and to do(power to accomplish what He desires of us individually) according to His good pleasure”(Philippians 2:13)

    Satan commanded Cain to make an offering unto the Lord because he knew what would come of it. I feel he does the same thing today. I feel that Satan tries to get us to do “good” things all the time, but he tries to make us do it out of fear, guilt, obligation, or pride. When a prompting comes from the Lord, it not only sounds right to the mind, but it feels right in your heart also. When God speaks, it appeals to our spiritual nature within us. I feel Satan is completely content when we give gifts to God as long as it’s not our hearts.

    A great scripture comes to mind concerning this subject; it is 2 Timothy 1:7, it says: ” For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” God bless you sister. Brother C.

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  10. Kim says:

    OK. Here goes:

    Guilt is like a fork:
    Forks are for eating, of course, everyone knows that. A fork can’t be a bad thing unless you poke someone in the eye with it (that includes poking ourselves, too).

    I remember Brother John saying something once, to the effect that nobody can stand in the presence of Jesus Christ if they have lies inside of them…even if the lie is that we believe we are unlovable.
    Sometimes guilt can teach us, falsely, to believe we’re bad when we’re not.

    That struck me as very profound.Just food (minus the forks) for thought.

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  11. alicia says:

    Dear LeAnn,
    First of all, how brave and wonderful you are to open your heart up with such a profound question. I am impressed by your obvious love for the Lord and by your humility. With all of my heart, please allow me to share with you a few thoughts about your questions.
    As far as I understand, our Heavenly Father has a way for us to clearly recognize when we have sinned or made a mistake so that we can repent and come back to Him. This feeling is often referred to as “having a guilty conscious”. The interesting thing about that phrase, is that it is frightfully deceiving. There is a MAJOR difference between guilt and remorse. When we feel “guilty” for doing something, we may feel discouraged, fearful, confused, disappointed, or let down. It may be that we even have those feelings when we have done the RIGHT thing, as you said in your question. I do not believe that a loving Heavenly Father would ever allow one of his children to feel guilty for doing His will. Therefore, guilt is not from our Father in Heaven. Feelings of guilt almost always lead to discouragement and hopelessness, away from our Savior. Rather, our Heavenly Father allows us to feel REMORSE for our sins or errors. Feelings of remorse for sin always make us want to change and to find hope and redemption through our Savior. Once we see that the words guilt and remorse are not the same, we can understand that our Heavenly Father allows us to feel remorseful, while the adversary uses the tool of guilt to destroy our confidence with the Lord, and to turn us from Him. Whenever we experience a feeling or emotion that makes us feel unworthy or unloved by Father in Heaven, we can be sure that is NOT from Him.
    I know this with all that I am: Father in Heaven loves you, and He wants to bring you back to Him. It was for this reason that He sent His Beloved Son to this earth. It is truly our Father’s work and His glory to bring us back to live with Him. I have faith in you and in your ability to seek and find the Lord. Even when the adversary tries to blind your path, if you will humbly ask Heavenly Father for help, He will bless you. Remember, all that is GOOD and POSITIVE and LIGHT-FILLED is from our Savior and will bring you to Him. There is always light, even in remorse, because we know that Jesus Christ will do exactly what He came here to do: To save us.

    Alicia

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  12. George Weston says:

    I know what we have been brought up to believe about guilt and also what the scriptures teach about it. What is also important in our journey forward on the path being led by the spirit is not to call good evil and evil good.

    With that said we find the first entrance of “guilt” with Adam and Eve in the garden just after they both partook of the fruit. they felt ashamed and imediately Satan told them to hide. Hide their nakedness, hide from the Father just plain hide. When we feel guilt it usually causes us to want to hide in some fashion or another when we should be coming to God or the person we wronged to ask forgiveness and repent or turn back to God. If this is the sort of feelings we are having then we can be sure it’s from Satan. God loves us and intices us to do “Good” or in other words his will.

    The other thing we attribute to guilt is sorrow or ,as we come closer to Christ, Godly sorrow. This sorrow humbles us and brings us to our knees in prayer to a loving God so eager and ready to forgive. Once on the path the spirit shows our weeknesses and leads us through the mind field so to speak of life even unto the very presence of Christ if we but listen and obey. God empowers us with love and peace and also patience. so when we do falter it fills us with such sorrow because we actually feel the emptiness left behind from the spirit departing. As one of my favorite hymns says “come quickly and abide or life is vain.”

    I hope this helps anyone in need.. I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ amen.

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  13. Steve says:

    Mormon talks about the sorrowing of the damned and sorrow unto repentance. Part of the solution is to think what your feelings of guilt are leading you to do. Repent? Feel sorry for yourself? Feel regretful about something you may have lost or seem to have lost? I wonder if a new member or repentant member of the Church can feel a sort of buyer’s remorse, as it were, for leaving the old life behind. The carnal man does not die easily and fights tooth and nail to hang on (Stephen E. Robinson thinks the carnal us-es give the active member of the active member of the Church a tendency to criticize the Church, Utah, BYU, any of the brethren, the Bishop, etc. and I thnk he’s right). If one thinks about what the feelings of guilt lead him or her to do, and the consequences of that action, whether they are of the Spirit or not, I think one can get an idea of where the feelings come from.

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  14. Donald says:

    LeAnn, I sometimes struggle with the same kind of “infantile guilt.” Sometimes I worry about losing the love and approval of others…. especially authority figures. I have to stop and ask myself why. I think it is a real struggle to separate this kind of guilt from the spirit guiding us at our core.

    I’ve wondered about the soldier who has had to kill in war with the command “thou shalt not kill” built in to their core spirit. I wish I could help you more. Just some thoughts.

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  15. Pearl says:

    I’m not sure if guilt, all by itself, is something that is totally reliable as far as discerning good/evil goes.

    Some people are raised with strict expectations when it comes to language. They let slip a swear word and feel like turning in their temple recommend. Others were raised with more colorful language and don’t think much of it.

    Some people were raised with strict spending habits and feel guilt when they drive the car up-town for only one reason. Others spend themselves into multiple bankruptcies and figure that’s just life.

    I guess I would see if anything (as far as spiritual instruction) lies behind the guilt. “Okay, You have my attention. Now what am I to do?”

    Good question. 🙂

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    • Marc says:

      I agree with you Pearl. God does not instill us with a sense of guilt over righteous acts. Often for me I need to quiet my mind and listen for the instruction that accompanies the feelings that I am having.

      Brother John mentioned in one of the firesides posted on his site, what I believe to be the second piece of this. That we often carry false beliefs of our own, or of our fathers, that work in opposition to the spirit in our lives. Identifying those beliefs that we hold and praying to overcome them is part of our repentance process. In essence it becomes a blessing, because we identify those things in our lives which need to be purified from us. How infinite his wisdom, no? 😉

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  16. Darrin says:

    I feel strongly that when dealing with concerns and questions that Nephi’s instruction is helpful (1Nephi 11:1). Too, we have the priesthood and leaders called who are allowed to receive revelation for us. Perhaps a blessing and visit with one who has stewardship for you can shed some insight. Personally, the temple is my place wherein I find the best answers at the appropriate time.

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