W Publishing Group
Finding Relief in the Midst of the Madness
At work, you think of the children
you’ve left at home. At home, you think
of the work you’ve left unfinished.
The intercom at the Dallas/FortWorth airport blared, “Flight 599, Flight 599, this is the final boarding announcement for Flight 599, departing for Orlando.” Ella pushed her swollen feet back into her new black pumps, recently removed to help her make it through the new homeland security restraints. She grabbed her carry-on bag, minus the confiscated pointy tweezers, and hustled to make her flight.
She bumped and scooted her way through the warm, stale-smelling cabin to her cramped seat by the window. She put her carry-on bag in the overhead bin and settled herself. Whew! I made it. Thank God, I made it. There was not much Ella could do now, seeing as she was sequestered for the two-and-a-half-hour flight.
Sequestered. That sounded good: no e-mail, no phones, no laundry, and no guilt, right? Wrong. The ghost of guilt buckled up right next to her. In her feeble attempt to push the guilt aside, Ella mentally checked off her “keep-the-home-firesburning” to-do list:
Kissed husband and daughter good-bye—check.
Picked up clothes from the cleaners—check.
Planned kid transportation—check.
Now it was time to relax and enjoy the ride, right? Wrong again! Now it was time to focus on the presentation she was responsible for when the plane landed.
Ella was dealing with the difficulty of knowing that her seven-year-old daughter did not want her to leave—and neither did Ella. But she had no real choice. Ella was committed to an important opportunity, and she had to make the presentation. On the first evening of her business trip, Ella called home to say good night and could hear her daughter’s tears begin to flow. “Mommy, please come home. I need you,” Sarah pleaded.
This was tough. Fighting back her own tears, Ella promised to be home soon. After hanging up, she did what any respectable mother would do: she made a beeline for the vending machine down the hall. When the guilt begins taunting, sometimes chocolate softens the blow, but it won’t soothe the inner struggle.
Are you packed for the infamous guilt trip? Of course you are. As a working mom, you’re no doubt loaded down with plenty of excess baggage for the journey. Guilt baggage comes standard with motherhood in a wide assortment of shades and sizes. Balancing work + marriage + financial needs + family + church + extracurricular activities = guilt. Add your own variables to fit your personal equation. Ultimately life’s demands take an overwhelming toll on us, leaving us exhausted, overwhelmed, and burdened with a load of guilt.
What is the toll that guilt takes on our lives? Author Harriet Lerner explains in her book The Mother Dance, “Guilt keeps mothers narrowly focused on the question, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ and prevents us from becoming effective agents of personal and social change.”1 Needless to say, we could all fly a little higher if we weren’t weighed down by the heaviness of guilt.
So what do we do about it? Let’s take a brief trip down the road of understanding and relief to help us come to a practical place of peace in our hearts. We will examine three Ds along the way: discover, determine, and decide. We will discover the source of guilt, determine if the guilt is valid, and decide to respond instead of react. Ultimately, at the end of the road, each of us must be able to know in our hearts that we are in the place God wants us to be, for in that place we find peace and confidence.
In any battle, it is important to know who the enemy is and who it is not. The enemy is not our family, and the enemy is not our work. The enemy is the feeling of guilt, and it tends to play out through circumstances and people.
What presses your guilt button? Could it be when your child says, “Why do you always have to work late?” Or perhaps it’s one of those questions from your boss, like, “Your kid is sick again? Wasn’t he sick last week?” The guilt button may be pushed when your son says, “You never have time to help me with my homework.” The tough reality is you know he’s right, but there’s little you can do about it when you’re struggling just to finish your own workload.
Guilt can hit us from all sides. Even our pets can make us feel guilty for not giving them the attention they deserve! Guilt chips away at our consciences as we attempt to do the best we can at work and at home. With our natural bent to nurture others, women are especially gifted in the guilt game.
Whether our guilt is self-imposed or genuine, we must handle it in a healthy way. We can either demolish it or deal with it; but if we pretend it isn’t there and stuff it deep down inside, our guilt will eventually erupt like a volcano, spewing out anger, resentment, and frustration at everyone in our path. Been there? Most of us have at one time or another. It’s time to take our guilt and boldly face it head-on.
More than likely with your busy schedule, you have rarely taken time for introspection, and we’re guessing that one of the last things you want to do is speculate about your own guilt. So we’ve made the following guilt self-check as simple and pain-free as possible. Don’t belabor your responses; just take a few minutes to jot down the thoughts that immediately come to mind from the following questions.
What circumstances in my life tend to make me feel guilty?
If I’m going to be completely honest, the root of the guilt comes from
I bring most of my guilt upon myself: Yes or No.
Certain people make me feel guilty: Yes or No.
If you circled “Yes,” then jot down why these people make you feel guilty:
After answering these questions, what can you say about your guilt? Does your guilt seem unfounded, or does it seem to be based on a solid problem or challenge? Did you identify certain people who make you feel guilty?
Take Rebecca, for instance. Her husband is the minister of a small church, and she works part-time as a nurse at the local hospital to help pay the bills. Several of the ladies in her husband’s congregation make occasional stinging comments about how Rebecca never seems to be at home or that it’s such a shame that her kids have to be in day care.
After several guilt-ridden years, Rebecca finally began to recognize that her guilt stemmed from the ladies’ perceptions and assumptions. The truth is, Rebecca knew she was doing what was right for their family. She carried guilt that was heaped on her by other people.
Sometimes our guilt is not based on reality but rather on how people react to us. It is important to discover what makes us have those nagging feelings, because our first step toward fighting the enemy is recognizing it. As you answered the questions above, we hope you began to identify some of the sources of your guilt. Now let’s determine what to do with it.
Are your thoughts self-defeating, or are they self-assuring? Are you beating a dead horse or mounting a mighty stallion in your thought processes? What we allow to roll around in our brains can lead us in a positive direction, but if we are laden with guilt, we can become discouraged and defeated. So how do we hold on to reality and dump out the negative garbage?
As you discovered your own personal guilt hot spots in the self-examination above, you took the first step toward fighting the battle of guilt. Often the root of guilt comes down to the more telling question: should I be working outside the home as a mother? In other words, am I in the right place and doing what I should be doing? Take a moment right now to honestly write out the reasons you are working. It is important to get it out of your head and onto paper. Search your heart and be honest in your response.
After writing out your reasons for working, answer the following questions:
Am I firm in my resolve that I am doing what I need to be doing?
Yes or No.
When I think about coming before God with my reasons for working, I know I am doing what He wants me to be doing. Yes or No or Not Quite Sure.
Is there something I could be doing differently (working part-time or in another place or profession) that would give me more flexibility to juggle the responsibilities of home? Yes or No. If you circled “Yes,” write out several alternatives that come to mind.