Guilt is a totally useless form of discipline for adults and has only limited effect on children. For example, in the case of children, making them do a short time-out can be effective. If the time-out is too long the child will forget why they’ve been given a time-out and begin to resent it. The lesson we thought we were giving is lost. Time-outs need to be short, very short.
When it comes to adults, trying to make me feel guilty usually bring on resentment. If on the other hand, I am guilty, I already feel it and don’t need anyone’s help to feel badly. So, it simply doesn’t help for adults to try and make one another feel guilty.
Knowing that guilt has limited power for good and yet seemingly endless power for creating resentment and negativity the events we remember during Holy Week are particularly powerful. Even though I wasn’t there, and I neither sang “Hosanna”, nor yelled, “crucify him,” I feel guilty. I feel guilty because of all the times I feel like I failed Jesus, every time I fell short of his expectations.
It is so easy to get mired in my guilt and the accompanying sense of uselessness it creates. I could easily give up trying. Then Jesus, dying on the cross, says, “forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” It’s as if he’s speaking about me. It’s as if all of this happens so that Jesus can forgive me and release me from my self-imposed time out giving me a chance to try again, refreshed and freed from my past failings.
And ringing in my ears is the Lord’s Prayer, “As we forgive those that trespass against us.” Can we do this? Can we forgive others? Can we forgive ourselves? Can we help Christ free the world of a guilt that inhibits our ability to love ourselves and others?