The Catholic Letter

Tips and Tricks to Living a Christian Life

What To Do About Guilt

I want to paint a picture for you. John Doe comes home from work and confesses to his wife that he’s done something so terrible, so damaging to their relationship, that he’s afraid she’ll never forgive him. And then he tells her what it is.

Jane Doe (the wife) is angry. She storms out of the room uttering all sorts of words I couldn’t possibly use in this article. John is left sitting at the kitchen table…wondering what his next move should be. It’s not that he’s afraid of Jane’s wrath. It’s not that he wonders whether or not she’ll forgive him. These are problems…but they’re not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that he doesn’t feel that he’s worthy of her forgiveness. He’s feeling guilt.

Well maybe that isn’t a problem…but it could be, depending on how he handles it. Suppose he’s afraid to approach her. He lives through the worst kind of silence man knows…the silence of a not-talking wife. It goes on for weeks, yet he won’t approach her. Finally, they split up, and he blames it on his original mistake. But he’ll never really know what split them apart, because he never bothered to ask for her mercy. This isn’t guilt anymore…it’s despair.

John’s biggest problem would be that he never let Jane decide whether or not she would forgive him. He shut himself out because he thought he wasn’t worthy…which points to an even larger problem. The fact that he, at one time, thought he was worthy. The key to keeping a marriage fresh is always trying to better ourselves for our spouse. Never ceasing our heroic attempts to win their hearts. Battling our inaptness in hopes that they’ll at least give us credit for our effort.

When we see justification, the magic of heroism dies. When we think we deserve the love of another, we breed familiarity…which breeds contempt. And when we’re suddenly cornered in the ugly gloom of guilt, where is the hope?

And if John decides to ask for Jane’s forgiveness, he might stand a chance. And then he can begin to turn this guilt into a force…one that never stops nagging him to do better. Not because of the right or wrong, but because she deserves better.

Then again maybe she won’t forgive him. Because maybe she’s human and can’t accept betrayal. When it comes time to prove her love, she might crack…and she’s human.

But there is one human who will always forgive. There is someone who has already proven His love. He won’t crack. He hasn’t cracked. And we won’t ever be worthy of His mercy, but it’s there all the same. All we have to do is approach Him.