It stalks us, confuses us, winds its tendrils around our throats and suffocates us. And mothers seem to have captured the dubious honor of cornering the market on guilt. We receive it in the condemnations of friends and strangers alike, those who question and criticize our every parenting decision as if making sure we realize our complete ineptitude at motherhood is their primary mission in life. We dish it out upon ourselves, many of us so addicted to guilt, so helplessly driven by it, that we must provide the judgmental voices in our heads whenever those around us are mercifully silent. And worst of all, as mothers, we pile guilt upon each other in a frightened attempt to console ourselves that we have less with which to reproach ourselves than our fellow moms may have.
Sometimes it is over things that are superficial. Silly.
Do we use a pacifier for our babies, or do we let them suck their thumbs? Should I let my children have sugar? Am I going to keep this baby weight forever? Why can’t my five-year-old read yet??
Then it gets heavier. Harder.
Homebirths or hospitals? Attached parenting? Letting them ‘cry it out’? Breast feeding or bottle? Immunizations or no? Co-sleeping? Spanking? Homeschool, public school, private school??
And it slides deeper, darker.
When I miscarried last fall, I was consumed by an unexpected flood of guilt. Your body failed, it told me. What kind of a mother does that, lets go of her baby? It chewed away at my heart, all this guilt. Guilt over my body’s betrayal in not holding on tightly enough to that precious baby, guilt over feeling such tremendous sorrow over the loss of one while I was still so blessed to hold the three we already had. Guilt over not “getting over it” more quickly while the world moved on around me, guilt over getting over it TOO quickly. It sounds so strange, but I think that the guilt was more overpowering than the grief itself.
But now for a moment of truth. These feelings of guilt are bestowed upon us by society, by other moms, even by ourselves…but they are not God-given. God does not sit in the corner of our house critically analyzing the lack of perfection in everything we do, or making snide comments to cut us down, or casting us into spasms of guilt over every sin or mistake — past or present, real or imagined. What does He do instead? Jesus said, in John 14:27,
“Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Peace is the gift God is offering us, and peace is the opposite of guilt. Peace is a heart at rest, a heart that is not troubled, as Jesus said. Peace is the result of God’s mercy and love, which have washed away our very real guilt through Jesus’ blood. His voice is gentle and compassionate, calling us to accept His gift.