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As Guilty As It Gets - Part 1

Updated on December 26, 2009
"Taking Life," mixed media on canvas by Rebecca Soriano
"Taking Life," mixed media on canvas by Rebecca Soriano

Developing Functional Guilt Over “Who We Are” As Persons

Johnny Cash once did an album entitled American Recordings. Featured on the album cover is a photo of Johnny standing between two dogs. One dog is black with a white stripe. The other dog is white with a black stripe. The two dogs are meant to say something about the singer. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Cash explains what the two dogs mean: “Their names are Sin and Redemption. Sin is the black one with the white stripe; Redemption is the white one with the black stripe. That’s kind of the theme of that album, and for me, too. When I was really bad, I was not all bad. When I was trying to be good, I could never be all good. There would be that black streak going through.” No one is all bad. No one is all good. We are all imperfect sinners. Some are unredeemed sinners with a streak of good while others are redeemed sinners with a streak of guilt. That’s as guilty as it gets.

When Guilt Is A Good Motivator To Better Oneself

For those sinners who have been redeemed, have you ever noticed what a good motivator guilt is? I’ve often wondered how much Christian service and activity would remain if the guilt that often fuels it were eliminated. How many people would sit in our sanctuary on Sunday—in fact, how many church programs would continue to function—if guilt, as a motivating factor, were no longer available?

Many men would love to lead the life of Sean Connery. Tall, handsome, and dashing, Connery played the glamorous role of James Bond in action films. Connery travels the world to shoot movies in places as exotic as equatorial Africa or the mysterious Orient. Yet when asked in an interview why, at age sixty-two, why he continues to act, Connery gave this surprising reply, “Because I get the opportunity to be somebody better and more interesting than I am.”

Many people feel like Connery. Their lives aren’t all that they could be. They aren’t as good as they should be. Something is missing that even glamorous acting roles cannot fulfill. People in general are found guilty because they aren’t as good as they should be. This is the kind of guilt that drives us to make up for what’s missing in our lives. Now this guilt we feel because of “who we are” is not simply the result of countless negative messages we receive from our world over the years. Rather, it is an essential tool in the sinful effort of men and women to make life work and overcome a poor self-image.

In spite of our desperate need, we do not seek God, and this affects the kind of image we begin to form of ourselves. We learn to reduce the pain that comes from wanting what other people aren’t offering by calling our longing, thirsty, passionate heart “the problem.” We begin to hate the fact that we want what others could provide because wanting it only makes its absence that much more painful. As a result, we develop what is called “functional guilt”—guilt over “who we are” as persons. Functional guilt is very different from true moral guilt, which is a result of our refusal to listen to God and go His way.

When Giving Who You Are Blows Up In Your Face

How does a poor self-image work for me? When I was around ten years old, the sixth grade promised to be an exciting challenge to me. I just graduated from the fifth grade and stepped into the world of middle school. I hoped to do well in all my subjects especially music. News traveled fast that the sixth grade music teacher was a strict and demanding teacher—a Russian disciplinarian of the first order. It was in her class that I was determined to make a good first impression. I remember carefully wrapping my music book the night before to satisfy her expectations. I covered by bases to get off on the right foot.

The first day of school was well on its way and Music Class was just around the corner. As we lined up outside the door, I peered through the window and caught a glimpse of ‘the dreaded disciplinarian.’ It was not a pleasant sight. Sitting behind a table sat a very disturbed woman. We walked passed her and she just sat there behind her piano like a predator ready to stalk the student prey. You could almost hear the theme song of the movie Jaws rumbling in the background. Can you hear it? Listen…Dum dum. Dum dum dum… Sporting heavy black plastic glasses with its corners pointing skyward, her head remained hidden beneath waves of song sheets. She didn’t seem the least bit interested in her first music class of the school year. Nevertheless, I gave her the benefit of the doubt saying to myself, “She can’t be as bad as her former students made her out to be.”

After a brief introduction, she gave us specific instructions as to how we were to conduct ourselves in her class. How we were to raise our hands before asking a question, how we were to address her courteously at all times, where we were to sit in her class according to our voice, how we were to stand before her piano when called to sing a solo, when we could go to the bathroom, how we should dress and comb our hair, how we were to properly hold up our music books, how many songs we would be memorizing by heart. I could go on. And for the moment it dawned on me, “I wasn’t a student, I was a slave, sentenced to do hard time in this Russian concentration camp of a classroom!”

Our music teacher spared us no time to think about her lengthy list rules and regulations. Like clockwork, she immediately calls out the page number of our first song. As dyslexic as I was, I panicked. I just thumbed through my music book as fast as I could hoping that she wouldn’t hear me shuffling back and forth without a clue as to what page I should be in. Then I stopped thumbing through my pages because I realized that everyone around me didn’t move a muscle. I looked up. To my horror, there aimed straight at me, was a Russian Scud Missile ready to blast off. In the heat of the moment, this loose cannon grabbed my carefully wrapped music book, cracked it open to the page, and then tossed it back on my lap!

Meanwhile, the entire class was trembling on the sidelines. Badly shaken, I held up my music book as best as I knew how, but dropped it. My classmates held their breath and braced themselves for lift off. Help! We have a problem! The Russian Scud Missile, like a bat out of hell, ignited and exploded all over me. From behind her piano, she hurled her scathing insults. Screaming at the top of her lungs, “You bumbling idiot! What do you think your doing? Didn’t you listen to my instructions? You can’t do anything right!” She grabbed me out of my chair and stood me in front of the class. I was made an unwilling guinea pig—a lab rat lesson in how a music student should turn the pages and hold up his or her book. Thumbs in front to hold down the pages, four fingers in back to support the book. By the way, student harassment was unheard of in those days. We had no rights. I can still see the shock scribbled on the faces of my classmates. They were probably thinking, “When will our turn come to be publicly humiliated by this tyrant?” I was sick to my stomach—a spectacle of shame for all to see. Thank God the school bell saved me from this horrific ordeal.

Continued on Part 2

Copyright 2009, Gicky Soriano. All rights reserved.

Recommended Reading:

Don't Put a Period Where God Put a Comma: Self-Esteem for Christians (Behind the Pages)
Don't Put a Period Where God Put a Comma: Self-Esteem for Christians (Behind the Pages)

Mohney offers biblical and practical help for developing a positive self-image and explains how healthy self-esteem is part of God's plan--essential for discipleship and faithful living. Each chapter deals with a topic crucial to the process of improving one's mental self-portrait, such as living with expectation, developing positive attitudes, and overcoming fear.



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    • Abrushing1968 profile image

      Aaron Rushing 8 years ago from USA- Florida

      I qualified that subheading of a statement using the adverb "when" as in "when guilt is a good motivator..."

      Oh I see.. I guess I would not have Call guilt a good motivator ever! But you point is well taken and I applaud you efforts to communicate the Love of God

      In Christ


    • Gicky Soriano profile image

      Gicky Soriano 8 years ago from California

      ABR I completely agree with you. The love of God, as a motivator over and against guilt, casts our all fear. I hope my hub wasn't misleading in suggesting that guilt is a good motivator to better oneself. I qualified that subheading of a statement using the adverb "when" as in "when guilt is a good motivator..." only to point out how flawed a strategy this can be: "it is an essential tool in the sinful effort of men and women to make life work and overcome a poor self-image."

      The driving force behind guilt was what moved me to please God when I was a young Christian. A phase in my life that I ended up writing about in a succeeding hub:

      Like you, I too, had much to think about. Thank you for your interaction with the subject of guilt and your keen insight regarding love as the divine countermeasure against guilt. I am encouraged brother. God bless you.

    • Abrushing1968 profile image

      Aaron Rushing 8 years ago from USA- Florida

      Gicky Soriano your writing skills are an inspiration to me. Your childhood memory was outstanding and fantastically written. I was there right beside you, feeling your pain, embarrassment, and fear! Your imagery was vivid! You made me laugh and duck all at the same time! Loved it! I am sooo going to read part 2.

      In regards to guilt being a good motivator. I prefer love over guilt. Guilt tends to be self centered. Guilt is also fleeting. Once you appease your conscience you have lost your motivation. Guilt is indeed brutal. As you pointed out through the personification of your teacher. It is a task master keeping count of every detail, accusing you and your faith when you fail!

      Love is definitely better. For it is other oriented, voluntary, and is long suffering! Love communicates respect rather then fear.

      This is why Jesus said "IF" you love me you will obey my commands.(JN 14:15) He understood that obedience motivated by love was voluntary, given freely.

      I realize you are not talking about obedience here per say, but rather, spiritual growth. I think the principle still stands

      I agree Guilt is a powerful motivator in my life. However I would rather be moved by my desire to please God.

      Fantastic Hub you made me think!

      In Christ


    • Gicky Soriano profile image

      Gicky Soriano 8 years ago from California

      Thank you for your response. It made me think through the subject of our struggle with sin and how we ought to deal with our sins as saints. My thoughts gave birth to another hub. You did help me to sort out the effects of sin and how we ought to see ourselves "in Christ" in the following hub:

    • thefount profile image

      thefount 8 years ago from North Central Louisiana

      I enjoyed this hub, and I believe I understand the context of it. When you say that we are all imperfect sinners however, the Bible refers to those of us who have been redeemed by the Blood of Jesus as saints, and not sinners.

      Saints while not perfect and do sin from time to time, saints have a heart and mind that seeks to please God, are striving for perfection in Christ and don't make sin a lifestyle. Simply put, saints are not sinless, but sin less...

      The biblical definition of a sinner is one who practices sin as a lifestyle. Sinners are not striving for perfection in Christ the way saints are because the I-god of SELF is on the throne of their lives. And unfortunately, Satan uses the I-god like a puppet on a string, thus perpetuating more reasons for guilt.

      I used to claim or admit being a sinner because it was simply an acknowledgement of my faults and my incompletion without Christ (which is what Christians usually mean when they say it).

      But as I grew in the Lord, I learned that according to the biblical principles of 'having what we say', 'the power of life and death is in the tongue', and 'as a man thinketh so is he' - I found out that confessing to be a sinner can perpetuate more sin and increase strongholds in one's life.

      With this relatively new understanding, I am very careful never to claim being a sinner, but I now see myself the way God sees me: I am cleansed by the blood of Jesus and because I am IN Christ, God doesn’t see me as a sinner, but He sees me and refers to me as one of His saints. I hope this helps.

      Continue To Be Blessed!

    • Gicky Soriano profile image

      Gicky Soriano 8 years ago from California

      Your response in regard to guilt was searching and moved me to write another hub. You might want to give it a read. I appreciate your input. Thank you.

    • Judah's Daughter profile image

      Judah's Daughter 8 years ago from Roseville, CA

      Yikes! What a nightmare! I know what you say about guilt. I've seen people try to "make up" for their wrong-doings by over-compensating in an unhealthy way. For instance, a drug addict who is saved may replace their previous addiction with the need to be needed: finding others who are dependent and over-caring for people to the point of martyrdom. Some churches teach that we "owe" God so much for what He did on the cross, or that because we put Him there, we need to be living sinless lives. It's oppressive to carry guilt that becomes destructive.

      Conviction is not really guilt, but rather struggling with a repentant heart and wanting to please God. To fight the conviction may cause guilt, but as we pray and have faith in the grace of God, even a thorn in the flesh can be dealt with. Looking forward to reading the next part of this :-)


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