Guilt was my specialty. It's not that I'd committed a crime or done anything all that worthy of guilt. But for a long time, guilt was the drumbeat to which I marched - though unconsciously, I might add.
But someone was conscious of the guilt-constant: my boss. And one day, she called me on it. "I'll bet you even feel guilty when you wake up in the morning," she said. "You never let yourself measure up."
As a resident adviser for 20-some college students, I'd had ample opportunity to see how guilt creeps in in all sorts of subtle ways. Comparing myself with other RAs was one source. All the shoulds and coulds regarding what else I could be doing for my hallmates was another.
My boss, of course, was well aware of my frustrations with myself - frustrations that extended far beyond the RA realm. I had a novel-length list of shoulds and coulds. And, though they were legitimate in my mind, I could see how they probably did seem strange to an outsider, especially given my record of success.
Ironically, I'd been talking about how not to feel guilty when my boss made the observation about my proclivities toward guilt. In this interview we were having with a prospective RA, I was reflecting on what triggered guilt - and sharing a little about how I'd dealt with it. Successfully I thought. Until I heard my boss's comment.
Sometimes, if I'm feeling stuck in an area of my life, I find it helpful to ask myself questions about what's going on. I knew I needed to get off the should-could road to nowhere. So I asked myself two things: 1) What does guilt deny about God? and 2) What is it about the nature of God that allows me to deny guilt?
One answer that occurred to me is that God is Being itself. There's no action without Him, since He is omniaction. There is no existence apart from the divine existence since God is infinite Life. He is Creator, motivator, the source of who we are and what we do.
Guilt attempts to deny all these facts about God by claiming that we have the power to act - or in my case, not act - on our own. That we are independent agents. Adams and Eves. Guilt tries to assert that we have an existence apart from Life that includes a history of offenses - of instances when we somehow fell from the grace that is the very essence of that Being.
Guilt, in other words, is all about matter, because the material record begins with sin. And should and could, therefore, aren't genuine motivators, because they start from the wrong premise. They assume that we're matter-based beings who are never quite good enough. Prone to disobedience. And that, not surprisingly, sets us up for failure from the start.
So if matter is the poison, what's the antidote? A simple case of opposites. Spirit, of course. And that means knowing that we're spiritual - the creation of Spirit, or God.
"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," wrote Paul in his letter to the Philippians (4:13). Perhaps he glimpsed something of the basic need to see our Christliness - our divine sonship - in order to do anything of consequence in life. I know that's what I was beginning to see. Christ motivates us by revealing our innate link to God - the God who made us totally capable and completely responsive. The God whose power we reflect, and whose love and activity we express.
This God - infinite Being or "I AM" itself - may not be the source of "I should," but He is the source of "I can." And that, I've found, is the real antidote to the guilt that comes with should. I can because I AM is doing and being. I can because I'm motivated by Him, not by some unrealistic standard I've set for myself or by some condemning voice that claims I never quite measure up.
Today, I'm grateful to say that my shoulds are turning into "Wow, what an opportunity." And why not? Now that I know I AM, I also know I can.