When I foundered in the grip of guilt over an unkind retort I had hurled in a moment of frustration, I tried to lessen my anguish by justifying the comment in some way. But attempts at self-justification did nothing to placate the anguish that was robbing me of my peace of mind.
The acute mental pain made me feel like a hypocrite. Every good deed I had ever done, every kind word I had ever spoken seemed a mockery. I was convinced that no apology could erase the damage my thoughtless words had inflicted, and indeed my apology, as heartfelt as it was, did little to assuage my conscience.
I learned through this experience that to remain a prisoner of guilt serves no useful purpose. It simply deepens the ruts of remorse. This verse in a poem by Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, gave me a measure of hope that had eluded me in the self-recrimination shadowing my days. It reads:
If thou the bending reed wouldst break
By thought or word unkind,
Pray that his spirit you partake,
Who loved and healed mankind:
Seek holy thoughts and heavenly strain,
That make men one in love remain.
(“Poems," p. 6).
These words helped me see that the desire to feel worthy, once again, of God’s great love, does not go unrewarded. If guilt and remorse attempt to engulf you in darkness, however justified they may seem, you can refuse them entrance. Whatever emotions may be aroused through acceptance of oneself as a sinner can be expelled. And if there are in fact wrongs to be addressed, you can trust God’s love to guide you in whatever repentance, correction, and reformation are needed.
If guilt persists, and you feel you deserve its punishing effect, you can take comfort in knowing that God’s forgiveness sweeps away self-condemnation. The Psalmist encourages us all to “sing unto the Lord a new song” (Psalms 96:1 for one example).
The freeing effect of accepting unconditionally the pure state with which God has endowed each of us erases guilt, self-recrimination, and their accompanying downward-pulling tendencies, and opens the door wide to receive God’s abundant grace. No power can gain a foothold where grace is present to wash away whatever mars the concept of the man or woman God created us to be.
Anyone can find release from the imprisoning hold of remorse through persistently reasoning out from his or her spiritual perfection as a child of God, whether the remorse feels deserved or not. This spiritual reasoning is a form of prayer. It encourages putting on “the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
Accepting the “new man” eliminates any false concept of who we are in God’s eyes, assuring us of our place in His loving, forgiving arms. We regain lost footing, knowing that goodness and purity constitute the very foundation of our being. Receiving this gift of forgiveness, forgiving ourselves for thinking that we are less than what God has created us to be, His beloved children, frees us from any taint of evil.
Guilt doesn’t slip away easily, but as we persistently “seek holy thoughts and heavenly strain,” its hold gradually lessens. Facing the light and welcoming “new views of divine goodness and love” (Mary Baker Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 66) bring release from the bondage of guilt and lead to productive, life-enhancing activity.
My hard-won freedom from guilt brought me closer to God, the loving, forgiving parent of us all. The good that finds expression in our lives supersedes and ultimately blots out transgressions. The clouds of remorse scatter, and God’s love shines through, adjusting the balance on the side of good.