Is any kind of guilt good? This question confronted me recently as I interacted with my 12-year-old daughter. I walked into my study, and she was sitting at my desk using my laptop. When I entered the room, she quickly shut the laptop and made to get up and leave the room. She looked, well, guilty.
My thoughts immediately raced to the obvious. What was she doing? What website was she surfing? Why does she look so guilty? My stomach knotted in a certain amount of mother-anxiety. I decided to address it right away.
Rejecting subtlety I got straight to the point, “What were you doing?” I asked her. She answered as most 12-year-olds would with a quick, “Nothing!” I probed a little deeper. “What websites have you been looking at?” She sighed and responded, “Only the weather and americangirl.com.” Innocent enough. And I could tell she was telling the truth.
The next obvious question was, “Then why do you look so guilty?” She looked a little flustered as well as frustrated. “I don’t know,” she said, “I guess I just felt like I should have been doing something else.” After I asked, “Like what?” the truth emerged. She had not started her day off well. She skipped her devotion time and had not started her morning chores. Instead she was playing around on her favorite websites. Not necessarily a bad use of the internet, but a bad use of time.
Later we had a good conversation about guilt. Was she right to feel guilty? When I walked in the room that morning, she instantly realized that she wasn’t using her time well. That was a good guilt… a sweet and gentle prompt from the Holy Spirit that something wasn’t quite right. Why is this kind of guilt good? Because it demonstrates the kindness of the Lord, leading us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Without this “good guilt” we would be miserable, destroying our own lives and the lives of the people around us. But when God’s kindness leads us to repentance, we can turn from our sin, be forgiven, and start again.
That’s just what my sweet daughter did. She allowed the kindness of God to lead her to repentance and a fresh start. Rather than carrying around a persistent guilty conscience for the rest of the day, she confessed her sin, received forgiveness, and went back to her room to start over.
I’m so glad his mercies are new every morning, aren’t you?