A couple of weeks ago, I was driving to my third appointment of the day when I suddenly realized that I had not prayed that morning. It wasn’t that I had thought about it and found my schedule too tight to do it but rather in my busy-ness, I had forgotten about praying altogether. You might even say that I had forgotten about God. I felt an intense pang of guilt. This was the first such occurrence in quite some time. Understand, it was not because I am so good, as God knows well. Rather, I believe that for some time I have emotionally left guilt out of the picture.
Though often used interchangeably, shame and guilt are not the same. With guilt, we feel badly that we hurt another. With shame, we feel badly that we are the kind of people who would hurt another. Guilt focuses on the other person, shame focuses on ourselves. Both guilt and shame are somewhat out of favor in our culture these days. Yet, they can each be a positive force in our lives.* Like two sides of the same coin, guilt and shame tend to travel together and for good reason: Guilt can push us to make things right with the one we have harmed. Shame can push us to change ourselves. Those emotions were signals that something was wrong in my relationship with God. Once I could name the emotions, I could reconcile with God through Christ, at which point the emotions simply went away when they were no longer needed. Persistently ignoring our emotions can not only harm us emotionally but also can harm our relationships, even our relationship with God.*(When related to the actions of others toward us, as in abuse or rape, victims can feel guilt or shame over what someone else has wrongly done to them. This sort of misplaced guilt and shame can be destructive, as victims take on themselves the guilt and shame that rightfully belongs to the abuser. If you experience this type of guilt or shame, please seek help to resolve it through counseling.)