So often we heap blame on our own shoulders for a failure we did not intend and could not have prevented. If you’ve ever forgotten to pick up your child from school, given a less-than-stellar business presentation or executed a pratfall instead of a grand entrance, then you know what I mean. We fail (again and again) to live up to anyone’s standard of perfection, especially our own. When humanity fell in the Garden of Eden, we became broken creatures prone to failure, but how we view that failure determines how we will handle it. So let’s take a look at several different kinds of human imperfection.
Limited. Being limited is part of being human. Even in Heaven, we probably won’t be able to transcend time, know others’ thoughts or interact with millions of people at once. One person can only know, do and care a limited amount, and there is nothing bad about that. God called us “very good” (Gen. 1:31) even with our limitations. When you have to say “no” to ministry because you are already taking care of your family, when you didn’t realize your boyfriend wanted you to be at his soccer practice and when you tried all day but couldn’t reach your mother on her birthday, you are experiencing your own limitations. Any guilt you might feel about that is not coming from God.
Fallible. We make mistakes. Our brains, hands and hearts don’t work as well as God originally created them to. With the best of intentions, we still fall short. We use the wrong name, forget the anniversary, lose our cell phone. Brennan Manning said (I wish I could quote this) he wanted to learn to be open and amused about his own mistakes, seeing them as good reminders of the human condition and his constant need for God’s grace. Our world would be a much better place if we could all give that kind of grace to ourselves and others. Our mistakes are not outside God’s ability to use them, and they are not sinful. You probably wouldn’t feel too guilty about getting a math problem wrong. You’d acknowledge your condition (just not that good at math) and go find a calculator! That’s what we need to do with all our mistakes: acknowledge that we are just not that good at life (NO ONE is), and ask for the help we need.
Sinful. We tend to put everything in this category which is why we feel so guilty about so much. We should feel guilty about sin – that’s what guilt is for! Sin occurs when we know what we should do before God, and we do something else (see James 4:17, Rom. 14:23 and 1 John 3:4-6, for example). Sin is, in its essence, rebellion against God. Fortunately, there is a remedy for sin and its guilt. We can take them to the cross and drop them there, running free because we know Christ already paid our debt. While guilt can be one indicator of sin, it’s not foolproof. So the next time you feel guilty, ask yourself this question: “Did I sin?” Whenever you can say, “Yes,” run – do not walk – to the cross with your repentance. Afterward, any guilt you continue to feel is not coming from God. And if you answer, “No,” then you should really be thinking about one of the other categories above.