Kick Guilt in the Butt

Today I wanted to talk about guilt. The kind of guilt that you might have when you read of tragedies in the news and wonder how it is that you have a roof over head and a meal to eat. The kind of guilt that depresses you and puts a sick feeling in your gut.

I felt this kind of guilt, big time, after Hurricane Sandy in NYC. I felt guilt that we had the warmth and comfort of our home. Guilt that we had a refrigerator and stove that worked, lights and warm meals, and all chips and salsa and crocks of homemade chili that we wanted. People literally across the street from my living room were displaced from their homes and in a rescue facility sleeping on cots.

But I was smacked in the face by how debilitating that guilt was. At times, it literally paralyzed me motionless on the couch because it was such a depressing feeling.

And so – duh…what did I know I needed to do? I needed to pursue a virtue, instead. And I mean- pursue with all my heart -because there was work to be done and the guilt was getting me exactly no where. I know darn well by now that pursuing a virtue can literally uproot your unfavorable state! It’s quite insanely impressive, actually. We’re talking one big good-bye to guilt. Pursuing a virtue is hands down the-most-healing-action I know of!

In this case, it was clear to me that the virtue I needed to pursue and embody was Gratitude- gratitude that someone out there with a destroyed home could have me show up to rip out their soaked walls and perhaps relieve just a speck of their hopelessness, gratitude that I had resources and food to offer people, gratitude that I had health and auto-gas and the ability to get out to the hard-hit areas, gratitude that even a warm bowl of chili at home could fuel me to go out and do more. I knew that gratitude needed to dominate my soul. Yep, I needed a complete takeover. You see, gratitude brings positive energy and a positive vibration; it’s capable of moving you forward into compassionate action – with your work boots on – instead of being depressed on the couch. Gratitude gives you the positive energy you need to be a good influence. Gratitude fills your heart with love. Guilt, on the other hand? It only makes you a slug…heavy, weighed-down, useless, conflicted and preoccupied in your heart and mind, unable to propel forward or to be of service.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

With LOVE,


P.S. I think transforming guilt to gratitude also works for other kinds of guilt. The kind of guilt related to something crappy that you did. That guilt can ONLY weigh you down. So, focus on gratitude. Gratitude that you can move on. Gratitude that you had a crappy experience that you learned from. Gratitude for this imperfect life and our imperfect actions – because they TEACH US WHAT WE NEED TO LEARN. Gratitude that you can now have compassion for others like you – others who also feel imperfect. It is often our imperfections and pain that unites us together.

(photos by the amazing Melissa Hope, fellow moldy wall ripper outer.)

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  1. Sharlee March 19, 2015 at 4:29 pm - Reply

    There's just so much I appreciate about this post. I struggle with guilt and it makes me often feel unworthy to be blessed further. My mom is constantly guilt ridden and a year or so ago, I decided to free myself of guilt because it's unproductive and, just like you said, debilitating. I wasn't sure how to rid myself of guilt exactly, though. I read 7 by Jen Hatmarke in January and she talked about her nice home and having first world luxuries. She stated that while she feels the need to care for those without, she won't be getting rid of the things like her home and car and she won't feel guilty about it…because God has a plan for her. She doesn't know why she's been blessed but she knows she is in the situation she she's in for a purpose. Her best bet is to USE her blessings to bless others rather than feel guilty for having them. Though that little thought wasn't the basis of the book, it really stuck with me and has helped me trackle guilt. I think I want to create a print that says "Persue a virtue" in my home. What a great reminder. Thank you for this post.

    • mara March 20, 2015 at 1:01 am - Reply

      Sharlee – Hi ! Loved hearing your thoughts. I love what you said about using your blessings to bless others. That would be such a beautiful plan for a life. Ultimately every single one of us living, breathing normally, and reading these words on a computer with electricity is so dang blessed. And even people without a computer or internet can feel pretty darn blessed in life, too – and use whatever they have to bless others. I've seen this level of generosity and compassion at literally every level of poverty and wealth. I really think it's not what we have, but what we try to do with it. I certainly want to always consider if what I'm doing to serve humanity is enough. As we try to grow this little business, I've been thinking of ways we could give back in more diverse ways. I have some ideas and hope to really bring them to fruition. Anyway, thanks for chiming in with your note. It's always so nice to connect.

    • Rik March 20, 2015 at 11:04 am - Reply

      I loved both of these comments. I cry every time I sing or hear the hymn "Because I have been given much". This post was perfect. Persuing a virtue – gratitude – and putting your work boots on – service – is really what life is about. Love 🙂 I had a baby almost 4 months ago and a couple friends from my ward brought meals. One of those was a good friend who is about my mom's age, and lives in government housing, takes care of her disabled husband and son-in-law all day, and does so with the most beautiful attitude and grace. The meal she brought was very very simple – made of inexpensive ingredients. But it was so delicious. I couldn't help crying through dinner. Of all people, she didn't have anything to give. But she opened a can of beans and a bag of egg noodles from her cupboards and made a beautiful meal for my family. I will never forget that service for as long as I live.

      Thank you for this post. It was perfect and a great reminder for me.

  2. Anonymous March 20, 2015 at 12:38 am - Reply

    This is such a great topic to bring up. I have really been thinking/"struggling" maybe ? with this a lot lately because I feel as though the Mormon church in general is very guilt driven. Maybe it's cultural; I don't know. But most of my friends suffer from this and I have had to pull myself out and look with a different perspective (even though I do still go to church, etc), I have chosen to not let guilt control me and to follow truth and have peace. It's been transformational!

    • mara March 20, 2015 at 1:17 am - Reply

      Yes! It CAN be so guilt driven (especially culturally) and I think many are not spiritually trained enough to resist those pressures and to see that this is not at all a healthy way to live or to view yourself! It makes me sick to see so many suffer because of it! Guilt only creates distance between God and others- it only leads to shame – it only leads to needless suffering. I've seen it just destroy people's lives. It only leads to holding back instead of serving and sharing and connecting in beautiful ways with the world. I say ALL of us make mistakes- every single one – and who cares! We must recognize it and then just move on and pursue better things! And we must all love ourselves and others during the process. I'm sooo happy to hear that you have been able to not let guilt control you. That's really flipping awesome. Love it.

    • Anonymous March 20, 2015 at 2:52 am - Reply

      To be honest, i really think it's time to pull myself out of the Mormon church all together. It's hard with the pressures, entire families that bring on the "guilt," etc. But, there is something so freeing about not being in that environment. I have actually never voiced this to anyone before, but I do not believe that this is the way that Christ taught or the freedom He wants me to find in Him and living fully FREE. It's kinda nice to be able to finally 'say it out loud.' It's also hard because I am married to someone that wants to continue with the Mormon path which I still love him for it. Do you have any advice for couples who love each other deeply and would never leave each other, yet at the same time have different spiritual views? Thanks! Love this blog and community. 🙂

    • danny March 20, 2015 at 4:12 am - Reply

      I really would like to respond to that better some day, because I think it is such an important question. I agree with you that "this is [not] the way that Christ taught or the freedom He wants me to find in Him". There are actually a few really great LDS authors who do a good job of explaining the gospel in a way you would agree with given your current frustrations, they would show exactly what is beautiful and why it is beautiful.

      But, sometimes when all the other stuff you mentioned gets in the way, it becomes a little harder to identify with something, even when it is really good. That's why I'd like to recommend another author/book to you, to help you in this path you're on, and to help you understand and experience the freedom Jesus taught. His name is Dave Brisbin, and the book is "The Fifth Way". He's a non-denominational pastor, and I happen to think his book is one of the best I've ever read on the Gospel and on a life well lived. Seriously, buy it. It is absolutely in my top 5 favorite all-time books, I'm reading it my second time now, and having a hard time not highlighting everything.

      Reading something that doesn't come with all the baggage of what is frustrating you right now could be really good for you, and for your husband. It might help you take a step back and understand some common foundational principles you both want to build on. That might help you focus on what you currently share, when it can be so easy to focus on what you don't.

      There is a lot more I could say, but I think it is better left to another day, and perhaps a post. Starting with the above can be a great first step.

  3. March 20, 2015 at 2:09 am - Reply

    This post was so timely for a couple of reasons.

    First, I've been trying to lose weight for the past year. I am almost to my goal and I'm finally at a "healthy" weight, yet I can't help but feel critical of myself. I often feel guilty when I eat something that is not perfectly good for me. Then, the guilt compounds and only causes me to continue eating poorly. It is THE WORST feeling. That is one cycle I am trying to free myself of.

    The other reason this post was timely is that I just began a new job at a church. My position is considered "support staff" and my interview and introduction to the job were devoid of any hint of staff participation in religious activities. However, my boss told me to "grab my bible" on the way to our staff meeting yesterday. We would be starting our meeting with a bible study. I immediately felt panicky. I grew up in the same type of church that I work in, but my own faith has been virtually non-existent in my adult life. "I can make it through this," I told myself.

    When the senior pastor instructed us to turn to 1 Corinthians, again I thought: "I can do this. It's 1 Corinthians. Love. Mushy stuff." But, he went right for the big guns. What marriage is and what it isn't. What's "OK" when it comes to divorce and being in a relationship with a "non-believer". I felt suddenly nauseous and hot and guilty that I had some how done it all wrong.

    I am wrestling with how to reconcile these feelings in my mind. I know guilt is the wrong emotion to feel, but at the time I had an overwhelming desire to get out and escape the triggers of these feelings. Meanwhile, I'm trying to find the middle ground.

    Thanks for your post,


  4. Miggy March 20, 2015 at 2:38 am - Reply

    I just came over to share a link I think you guys would love (especially you Mara) and I don't want to thread jack/ignore this post…so please forgive me, but you should really check this out:

    But really, I do think this is a great post. Carry on!

  5. Justin March 20, 2015 at 3:02 am - Reply

    I think we need to clarify that any guilt within the LDS Church is cultural. It doesn't make it right, but there in my opinion is nothing about the church itself which is guilt driven. There is nothing in the teachings and doctrine of the church, its senior leaders, or from the Savior Himself that condones using guilt as a means to action or change. You said it in your post…guilt leads to inaction. Guilt is a tool of the Adversary, right along with doubt, envy, greed, etc. I am sure that the last thing that the scriptures or modern leaders want to do with their words is stir up guilt; their words are meant to inspire hope and desire to improve and be more like Christ. Just like the choice is ours to take offense, we choose to be motivated by guilt or hope. Unfortunately there is a culture of guilt in the church but I think it comes from the members – including to some degree our lay leaders – because we're imperfect people learning to put off the natural man. All that to say that faith and religion should be vehicles for hope and inspiration, not guilt. They are at times, and that's why pursuing virtues so effectively overcomes guilt; because in that process we become more like Christ.

    • Anonymous March 20, 2015 at 3:50 am - Reply

      Justin, I do agree with everything that you have stated here. Well spoken. It is definitely a cultural mindset. I think it may stem from this idea that Mormons are striving to be perfect. And, that's not a bad thing. But, it can be taken too far. We are still human and we will never be perfect. That's where grace comes in and I am so thankful for it! I know I will never be perfect and so I don't put that pressure on myself. But, other people I think try and put that pressure on others. We want to model and be like Christ, but Christ also wanted to extend his grace into our lives and show us that we could live with freedom. From guilt, and any other thing holding us back from living the life He designed for us. The Mormon church does teach that there are certain things we must "do" in order to reach the Celestial Kingdom. And if we don't, well then we will not be there. I think this is where some of the guilt comes into play. Because some of us may mess up in those areas and then think we can never get there. It's a lot of "work" and "striving" and this is where I don't believe it is what Christ meant. Thanks again for your insight.

    • danny March 20, 2015 at 4:22 am - Reply

      Justin, I both agree and disagree with you. I think the LDS faith has experienced a little bit of a shift over the last 30 years that has taken us a little further away from the institutional condoning of guilt and a little more towards the grace that is the Gospel.

      I don't know that I could say that the leaders don't condone the guilt mindset. The fact that when I served a mission "The Miracle of Forgiveness" was still one of the core books you read while serving says that in the not too distant past we had much more of this attitude from the top down. It is oft repeated that Pres. Kimball regretted the stern tone he took in the book. I think his regret about that speaks to your notion that it certainly wasn't his intent to be guilt driven, I don't believe anyone really wants to be that way…but it was his way of recognizing that he was, and he was sorry about it.

      I believe we have improved greatly in our rhetoric, from the top down, when it comes to guilt….but it is still there sometimes, among the highest levels of the church, and it causes a lot of pain.

      I agree that this is much more prevalent on the local/cultural level, and with some local leaders. Such is life.

      I also agree that at the core message of the Gospel, such guilt driven ideas don't and need not exist…but it is difficult for many to shed enough of the cultural baggage to see the message for what it is.

      Here's to hoping we can all do a little bit better with that.

  6. Alissa March 20, 2015 at 4:15 am - Reply

    Have you read "The Crucible of Doubt" by Terryl and Fiona Givens? The first chapter has a wonderful discussion on love and gratitude. "My grateful mental state lets in a different view of reality than is otherwise possible…And when I am thus conscious of my life and the world as a gift, I am less preoccupied with self. My attention focuses elsewhere. I am more alert to other people's needs and virtues…" (Givens quoting Philip Barlow)

    • danny March 20, 2015 at 4:28 am - Reply

      I haven't, but I loved the interview they did on Mormon Stories on the book, and it definitely peaked my interest in purchasing the book (but it will have to wait while I finish the other 6 books I'm reading simultaneously). They gave quick highlights of what each chapter was about, and I kept on saying to myself "that's what I keep saying!". I really identify a lot with their overall approach. Thanks for sharing that great quote, it has been my experience as well.

      I think that is one of the great challenges, and one of the greatest places for real transformation, when we decide to be grateful for even the most difficult moments of life. It was that way for me during my divorce, and during our failed infertility treatments.

      Gratitude really does seem to be the "mother of all virtues", from it springs so much other goodness in life and in the development of the human experience and soul.

  7. Anonymous March 20, 2015 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I'm 99% on board with this, especially to the extent that DOING SOMETHING is so much better than just feeling bad and living in one's head. The only small place I depart is that I think sometimes the guilt is really our inner selves revealing that something is wrong and that we should make bigger personal changes. An example is when I feel guilt over my lifestyle when I travel in a poor country. The guilt doesn't mean that I need to instantly start living at the level of a poor person in a poor country. But, I think the guilt is also "deserved" in the sense that my normal American lifestyle is opulent, not sustainable at a global level if we actually want to reveres environmental disasters, and not something that I should be entitled to. Just a little example, but I often think guilt is speaking to us about something off kilter in our lives that we want to push from our conscience.

    • danny March 21, 2015 at 12:16 am - Reply

      I think what you've shared is a good insight. I agree that guilt, like anger, can speak to you of something that needs to be addressed or changed. It can tell you where action needs to exist in your life to address something. I'd kind of lean to the idea, like I did in the anger post last week, that besides being a warning sign that something needs to be addressed or changed, the guilt is not that useful…because stewing in it just causes inaction. It can suck you dry. I agree that it can serve as a very powerful reminder that action is needed.

      Mara and I were also talking about your comment, and we realized that it can also be really hard to truly define a word. For example, in this post, related to this circumstance, the word guilt was used…in part because of the obvious disparity between us in our safe and undisturbed condo and those who had been displaced in the YMCA across the street, and for that reason we used the word guilt.

      But that wasn't the only thing weighing us down in that moment. It was a helplessness. What can one or two little people do, against a wave of suffering and an incredible need for help.

      We both remember sitting in our apartment kind of dumbfounded, overwhelmed at just how much help was needed, and how incapable we felt.

      It got to a point where we'd had enough of that helplessness, and decided to go into action, even thought we didn't really know what to do yet. We just needed to get to work and do what could be done right then, no matter how small.

      So, we gathered all the spare toiletries in the house, and every spare can of food we had, and we loaded it up into boxes and sturdy bags, and walked to area closest to us that we knew had been affected. We couldn't drive anywhere, because trees were downed in the roads, so I remember walking about 2 miles with way too many pounds of groceries to deliver our meager offering to Redhook, and then serving in a soup kitchen the rest of the day.

      The next day, when the roads were cleared, we joined with our church community in organizing a massive food and necessities drive, and used the SUV to haul goods to hard hit areas in Brooklyn and in Staten Island, and then continued to do that or work on houses for the next month+

      Had we continued in the "overwhelmed" stage, the action would have not been possible, and we would have likely felt even more helpless or more "guilty" as time went by not knowing what to do. It was a powerful thing to just address the helplessness with immediate action, even if we didn't really know what the next step was, we knew we needed to do something.

  8. M March 20, 2015 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    I have a suggestion. Pursuing virtues is such a foreign concept to me, I hate to admit. I know you have a LOT going one, but I think it would be extremely helpful if you did a series on pursuing virtues. I loved this post and found the idea of "instead of guilt pursue gratitude" so enlightening and inspiring. I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't ever considered that simple idea. I would love it if you wrote other posts just like it. "Instead of resentment pursue ____" (etc) just to give us some more ideas of what these virtues are and how they look in specific situations. Thank you for all you are teaching. I hang on your every word!

    • danny March 20, 2015 at 11:56 pm - Reply

      This is a really great suggestion. This is something we actually spend a lot of time on during the retreats and classes that we teach, because sometimes it is just easier to go into depth on something like this when you really have the time to address it, and the other supporting ideas to consider simultaneously that makes something like this that much easier.

      However, challenge accepted!

      You know, one way we've thought about doing this (and it will have to wait until we have the capacity to launch it and aren't focusing on 10 other projects), is to have a challenge series, kind of like you see everywhere "21 day Virtue Challenge", though my guess is we'd have to name it something else, cause people associate "virtue" often with sexual purity from a religious perspective. Anyway, it would involve small essays about different virtues, the scenarios they most often need to be applied, and then a community challenge to go about practicing them, and a way for participants to share struggles, successes, epiphanies, etc. I think it would be really cool to know that a bunch of people were trying to do the same thing, and knowing that you could bounce ideas and encouragement off each other.

  9. Katie Elizabeth Hawkes March 25, 2015 at 1:26 am - Reply

    The topic of guilt is VERY personal for me these days. Mostly because I think so little about it, when it used to be woven tightly into everrrryyyy facet of my life. About a year ago, I wrote a post on my blog about giving up guilt (sorry for the link spam, but it's relevant: That choice to simply STOP the pattern of guilt has been life-changing. I retrained myself to interrupt the instinctive guilty thoughts when they appeared, and eventually, they stopped appearing at all. I can honestly say I live guilt-free in mostly all areas of my life except the ones where I think it's good to feel guilt (though I think there is probably a better word for it), e.g. if I have hurt someone's feelings and need to fix a situation. Maybe that's more awareness/love than it is GUILT, and once I've remedied what I can, then I can move forward with no dwelling on it or lingering emotional paralysis. Guilt and perfectionism used to cripple me with anxiety — and yes, part of my personal journey to let go of that has involved stepping away from my religion (not too much of a limb to guess which one, since it's already been bounced around in the other comments). I think some people do really well with rules and structure and lists and set paths to worthiness, but I'm one of those people who it's more like a fire + gasoline situation for. I want to seek my own good on my own terms instead of trying to measure up to an exterior litmus test. I want to be good enough because I'm simply being, with good intentions, the end. Guilt is like a bad old relationship I just look back at now, and I love seeing how much it doesn't touch my life anymore. Free!! My emotional health is better than it's ever been in my entire life, and breaking up with guilt is easily identifiable as a huge facet of that, among other choices. Sure, life is more intimidating when I don't have it all laid out for me with right or wrong and black or white, but it's also so much more peaceful to me. Because now I'm allowed to make mistakes, if needed, and just keep moving along. Just sorting it out along the way, with no beating myself up about this or that if things don't go quite right. It's just living, now! Just life! And it's so good! Thanks for reminding me of this – it's been a whole year since I wrote that blog post and it's good to reflect.

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