For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves guiltless in the matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:11)
Paul speaks of guilt, or “godly grief,” as motivation to restore and mend relationships broken by bad behavior. Reconciliation is the theme of 2 Corinthians. The Christians in this community were eager to mend their relationship with Paul after a painful incident where his honor and reputation were publicly insulted. Paul forgives them, absolving them of guilt and reconciling their relationship.
Guilt often lingers long after confessions are made and forgiveness offered. When I think back to words I said that caused hurt or harm, or ways I’ve behaved that undercut the values I seek to live by, I feel a hot tweak in my chest, a biting constriction that reveals guilt’s powerful and long-lasting hold. Releasing ourselves from guilt’s grip is onerous. It’s almost easier to wallow, swimming in this painful place like a Labrador circling a pond for a sunken toy. Words recognizing our amends or apologies and gestures of forgiveness from others are welcome and reassuring. But freedom comes not just from accepting forgiveness from others, but also forgiving ourselves.
Examine: Sit with your guilt over past mistakes. Breathe. Notice thoughts and feelings that arise.
Imagine: Imagine you are carrying a number of large rocks, each representing a past mistake. Allow yourself to feel the weight of these rocks, how they slow you down and exhaust you. In the name of Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Visualize yourself setting each rock down as you repeat to yourself, “I am forgiven. I am forgiven. I am forgiven.” Feel your burden of guilt lighten and release.
Pray: Free me from pain, O God, so I can live with healing.