Choosing Grace Over Guilt: A Brave Lesson on the Effects of Shame

By Julie Lefebure

God's Brave Women - Julie's Story


The weight on my chest made it hard to breathe. I guess it had resided there for so long, it just became a part of me. Until the day it was too much to bear and I found myself in the hospital with a racing heart rate that would not slip back into its normal rhythm.


This weight was not any old weight, though. Its name was scribbled on it in big, bold letters. GUILT.


Lying there in the hospital, I was scared. Why is this happening? I’m too young for heart problems. It wasn’t until later I learned the negative effects of lingering guilt on our bodies. Guilt can wreak havoc on our nervous systems, it affects our digestive systems, it can increase blood pressure, and its effects on the cardiovascular system can be life-threatening.


No matter how much I tried to hide it or pretend it wasn’t there, guilt consumed my life. Here, my heart was displaying the effects of guilt’s stress placed upon my body. My cardiologist called it tachycardia. God called it a wake-up call.


"No matter how much I tried to hide it or pretend it wasn’t there, guilt consumed my life. Here, my heart was displaying the effects of guilt’s stress placed upon my body. My cardiologist called it tachycardia. God called it a wake-up call."


It was time to be brave and face my guilt.


Dictionary.com defines guilt as “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.” We can experience guilt over many things. Do I call my parents enough? I yelled at my kids today. I should have made a different decision. Not to mention the guilt we feel for our past mistakes and sins.

Guilt can be healthy or unhealthy. The healthy kind corrects. The unhealthy kind condemns.


"Guilt can be healthy or unhealthy. The healthy kind corrects. The unhealthy kind condemns."


Healthy guilt can be useful and productive. Feeling bad after a mistake or committing a sin can actually be a good thing. No, it may not feel good, but being brave and facing our guilt can lead to change, such as an apology or a decision to make different future choices. Like when my words hurt someone close to me and I felt awful about it later. An apology restored our relationship.


This kind of guilt corrects. It says I’m still a good person even though I did something bad.


The other kind of guilt, however, the unhealthy kind, says I’m a bad person because I did something bad. Do you see the difference? One says “I did something wrong.” The other says “I am wrong.”


Whereas God uses the good kind of guilt for our good and growth, the enemy of our souls uses this unhealthy kind against us. His desire is to prevent us from being the person God created us to be. If our enemy can accuse us with guilt, he can make us ineffective in life.


"Whereas God uses the good kind of guilt for our good and growth, the enemy of our souls uses this unhealthy kind against us. His desire is to prevent us from being the person God created us to be. If our enemy can accuse us with guilt, he can make us ineffective in life."


When that happens, we lose our purpose and our sense of worth. We become trapped in a dark prison of guilt and shame. And some spend the rest of life there.


How do I know? Because I’ve been there.


I believe a few life-changing situations attributed to my heart-racing hospital visit that day. One had to do with a wrong decision I made on the December morning in 2006 when my mom passed away in the hospital. I wasn’t there. Her doctor called me that morning to say Mom’s time was short. I chose to finish a task at home before driving to the hospital. Mom passed as I was in route. The guilt of being absent when she died weighed heavy upon me for years. Oh, how I wish I could have held her hand as she exited this life and as Jesus took her other hand into the next.


I’ll never get the chance to do that moment over. Unhealthy guilt often lingers and weighs heavy in situations we can’t do anything about now. We can’t change it, so our enemy wants us to feel terrible about it. Maybe that’s why he whispers reminders of how that morning played out and how I should have done things differently. He doesn’t just whisper “you messed up.” He also whispers, “You’re a mess-up.”


Unhealthy guilt based on sin (another situation I believe landed me in the hospital) can be just as damaging. I know how it feels to be locked in a dark prison of guilt and shame. Sometimes it’s hard to forgive ourselves. I understand how one can slide into a very dark place, even after confessing sin to God and receiving His grace and forgiveness.


"Sometimes it’s hard to forgive ourselves. I understand how one can slide into a very dark place, even after confessing sin to God and receiving His grace and forgiveness."

Sometimes we can’t crawl out of that darkness on our own. We might need help. Friend, if this is you today, I encourage you to bravely seek the Lord for healing and wholeness from lingering guilt. I also encourage you, if needed, to bravely welcome the assistance of a trained Christian counselor or therapist. I took that step two years ago, and I thank God for the healing I’ve experienced. God wants to lift us out of the muck of life and set us free on solid ground, and sometimes He uses professionals to do that.

“He reached down and drew me from the deep, dark hole where I was stranded, mired in the muck and clay. With a gentle hand, He pulled me out to set me down safely o