Freedom from Guilt

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I tend to carry a load of guilt around with me wherever I go. My bed seems to be a favorite place to examine each piece of guilt. I meant to call so and so. I have a stack of manuscripts a mile high. Oh no, I didn’t get that form filled out. Did the taxes get filed? I fall asleep each night asking God to cover all my omissions.

Can any of you identify?

I know some of you can because I hear the same type of things from you. I may be feeling guilty that I haven’t touched base with a client for a long time. I pick up the phone to call, trying to assuage my guilt. Guess what I hear. “Oh, Wendy. I’m so embarrassed. I know I told you I’d have that proposal and finished chapters by the end of November but . . ..” Yep. Guilt to guilt communication.

Or I go to a writer’s conference filled with guilt because I know I’m going to see writers I still have not yet responded to– writers I’m interested in and just can’t take them on at the present for one reason or another. Invariably when I see them I hear something like, “I feel guilty every time we cross paths. I promised I would send an updated proposal and never got it done.”

Or, at the same writer’s conference I see someone I visited with at an earlier conference. Guess what? They feel awful because they never sent something I gave them leave to send.

One of my 2018 resolutions was to stop allowing guilt to intrude on my professional and personal relationships. The truth is I’m a hard worker and I accomplish what two or three agents would have accomplished a couple decades ago. Everything has sped up. As I said to an editor who apologized to me last week, “We can’t feel bad when something slips through the cracks because we are all working at warp speed in today’s publishing climate– fewer people doing more work.”

The same goes for you! You may be working full time, active in your community, raising a family and trying to launch a writing career at the same time. At our weekly agent meeting we talked about guilt and accountability and my brilliant colleague Rachelle said, “Accountability is good only if it motivates.”

So here are some points of freedom for you today:

  • Unless your agent has specified it is important for you to have your uncontracted manuscript done by a certain date, do not feel guilty if you miss the accountability deadline. That deadline was meant to motivate not convict.
  • If you see me at a writer’s conference, no guilt on either side. Let’s allow grace to replace guilt!
  • If I said you could send something, there is no expiration date. Who better than me to understand that work gets in the way of those things we want to do. And a little secret: Chances are I won’t remember I asked you to send something and I won’t remember that you didn’t send it. 🙂

Anyone want to join me in finding freedom from guilt?




54 Responses

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Can’t do it, Wendy. Guilt is the handmaiden of responsibility, the doppelganger of accountability, and the bodyguard of love.
    * Guilt is my ONLY motivator now; it’s my spur and my lash, my True North. I spend 15-18 hours in a foetal position trying to breathe past pain, and the only reason I get up to write is because people, THIS community, have encouraged me so much, I can’t let y’all down. I’d rather die than be the weak suck who wanders off into Netflix-land, and abandons what ministry and community he has left.
    * My early spiritual upbringing was handled by an Orthodox Jewish family from New York, so maybe guilt’s a natural. I have a mezzuzah at the door, and am always kippah, and kosher. But by God, when hope dies and dreams fade, it’s that hard and gnarled guilt that will make your appointments, and see you through to the bitter and bloody end.

    • Is it really guilt that motivates you, Andrew? From where I sit, it looks like passion to connect.

      • They’re obverse sides of the same coin, Shirlee. It’s guilt over past unkindness that is the strongest motivation for kindness at moments when I’m tired, hurting, and feeling less than kindly. The lamp of good intention fails, but that of shame is pitiless and leads on.

    • Angela Arndt says:

      Praying for you, Andrew. May God fill you with encouragement today.

    • Praying for you Andrew. And I’m always encouraged by your words.

    • Andrew, I think you show up because you care. And that’s why Jesus showed up too.
      Blessings to you and Barbara, dear brother.

    • Andrew, you are an inspiration to all of us, and have helped make this group a real community. How can you feel guilty about that. Here’s a cyber hug (((Andrew))) from me, and probably from all of us. And that kind of hug can’t hurt.

    • Mary R. P. Schutter says:

      ‘I’d rather die than be the weak suck who wanders off into Netflix-land, and abandons what ministry and community he has left.’
      Andrew, you are a tremendous blessing to all of us who have gotten to know you through this blog. You have carried such a heavy burden for so long. I want you to know that you are my personal inspiration to keep going through my physical pain and health issues, some of which literally take my breath away. Sometimes I have to mentally kick myself and think, if Andrew can do it, so can I. And then I do. Thank you for the reminders that I’m not done until God says I’m done.

    • Andrew, you are by means weak or abandon your ministry. They way you are handling what you are going through is a ministry to others. I agree, guilt can be a motivator, but it can also be a killer. Don’t let guilt overwhelm, and depress. We are a broken people, we will always have regrets and mistakes. Praying for you, Andrew.

  2. God has me at a similar spiritual intersection, Wendy. This is from my WIP: “I put my anger, my regrets, my fears and my worries into a neat package and put it in his [Christ’s] hands. Before I crawl between the sheets, he sorts through my collection.”
    * The box is noticeably lighter when he’s done. God isn’t the one stuffing my box.

  3. Angela Arndt says:

    Waving my whole arm here!
    I’ve shouldered so much guilt in my career and personal life, that it’s become quite the burden. So yes, definitely: I’d love to let grace completely replace guilt again.

    And I agree with Rachelle. You can’t see what you’re writing if guilt is your lamp.

  4. Yes, Wendy. I’m there. I’ve been in that place of carrying guilt for what I perceived as my failings. The truth is, life happens. I’m learning to give myself grace when the guilt of the undone comes knocking on the door of my thoughts and heart. God offers grace, and I’m learning to embrace that. Especially when I don’t meet my own expectations.
    *I like what Rachelle said about accountability being a motivator, not a guilt-producer. Thanks for this freeing post! I’m joining you in letting go of the guilt I still harbor. 🙂

  5. Lara Hosselton says:

    Guilty as charged! I haven’t touched my WIP in months and feel immense guilt for neglecting to finish the final edit of a story I know God called me to write.The past year has been a roller coaster: fractured ankle, a whole house remodel, open heart surgery for my mom, blah, blah, blah. Could I seriously not open my lap top and edit just one chapter?
    Anyhoo, there is a local SCBWI conference coming up and I’m considering attending in the guise of a “first timer” with wide-eyed naivety but, no scheduled appointments, elevator pitch or sweaty palms gripping a first page. I think I just need to reboot through the excitement of other writers.
    Thanks for this encouraging post, Wendy!

  6. Toni Wilbarger says:

    I like this, Wendy. However, my delayed actions caused me to lose an audience with an agent. She asked me to rewrite my novel, paring it down to a single viewpoint vs. multiple. She said she’d be happy to look at it when I finished. She said there was no deadline and to take my time. It took me three years. By the time I was ready to resend, she had left the agency to strike out on her own as a writer. I lost my opportunity.

    I do work full time as well, and I was also dealing with many personal issues then. I kind of wish she’d said, “Send it back to me within the year.” But even though I lost out, I have to acknowledge that the book now is so much better, due to her advice. And also that I did not abandon the book and DID finish it. Lessons learned.

  7. Thank you so much, Wendy. Yes, the guilt seems limitless. “Oh, no. My house is apocalyptic! Why did I write instead of clean. Horror of horrors, I’ve not worked on my story today! Why did I clean instead of write? or Why did I have tea with Grandma instead of doing anything?” I have to remember that God has called us to many things. Keeping a home, showing love to our family and strangers alike, and creative expression like Him. But not all at the same time. The goal for me is to do the thing I am doing with my Lord in mind and for Him and then move on to the next. Thank you for this reminder, Wendy.

  8. Renee Garrick says:

    Whew! Thanks, Wendy. I really needed this message today. God’s mercies are new every morning, and a whole lot of us need to learn to extend grace and mercy to ourselves the way we do for others. I’m standing alongside you, first in line for learning that lesson.

  9. An example…one which to this day hurts my heart, and is hard to write.
    * Years ago I went with a friend to a county animal shelter, to help her adopt a dog. As I was waiting I saw an elderly Golden Retriever, leaning up against the wire of his run, and he looked at me. In those eyes was a calm and gentle resignation, a hopelessness that didn’t blame, but quietly asked ‘Why?”
    * I was full of myself and my life in those years, and I didn’t need an old dog. Something inside me said, “Get him out!”, and my lifestyle won. I was going places.
    * I can’t know his fate, but I can guess. I went back the next day but he was gone; I had not the heart to ask. And every night thereafter, from that day to this, I looked into those eyes, into the love they still offered…and from that crucifixion of my younger heart came the only good and lasting thing I have ever done.
    * Dogs beyond counting have found a forever home here. I give them everything in my heart, and my last full measure of strength, because love is not a throwaway, even when it comes in a package bounded by a wet nose and wagging tail, and carried by four paws.

    • Awww, Andrew. Thank you for your transparency here. This story touched my heart. We all make regrettable decisions that haunt us. I so appreciate that you chose differently after that time, and that your love and passion for dogs has fueled you through so much of your battle.

    • Andrew, I think this is a story you shared with me once before. It so touched my heart and changed me. We share a deep love for dogs. Your passion and love replaced whatever former life you once led. When I think of you, I see the love of Christ, even though I’ve never met you in person and probably won’t here on this earth.
      I was once motivated by guilt, in my earlier years. Not now.
      Blessings my dear brother.

    • Look for him when you get to heaven, Andrew. I’ll bet he’s waiting for you at the gate, eager eyes, tail wagging.

    • Andrew, whew! There is nothing that pulls my heart strings more than children, dogs, cats … sheep, bunnies … When we found our cats, our mission was to find homes for them as soon as possible. Anyone, take them. Then … we fell in love. Like in a day. Like in an hour. Like 30 minutes. Okay, instantly. And I got very particular about whom we gave them to. It took me three days to call one lady back. I just couldn’t part. We did end up parting with that kitten to that family … he went to a very good home … but we cried our hearts out. Love at first sight does exist.

    • Sam Hall says:

      Andrew, I’m sending a cc of your comments to my beloved & brilliant 33-yr-old son, who’s seen many trials, including the knowledge that if he’d not let down 5 seconds, his golden lab would not have had her back broken when struck by a car. He had her put down. Tho he has a new golden lab, he still grieves. Dogs bring that out in us.
      Thank you for your commitment to Christ, and to your fellow writers.

  10. I often think of myself as a perfectionist that is horrible at being perfect. So much internal guilt to let go! I’ve definitely gotten better in this area, but sometimes it would be so nice to put on my superhero cape (I do have one of those-it just doesn’t work 😉 ) and get everything done that I need to. And I feel you about the late nights. I’ve called work at 10pm (we close at 5, but ltc pharmacy, so…) to ask someone to take care of something I forgot! Oh the joy.

  11. Carol Ashby says:

    I distinguish between guilt and regret, Wendy. Feelings of guilt can trigger us to act to get free of them. Guilt is a positive thing when it does make us act. Confess and repent, and God will pardon and restore. The guilt can be gone, but regret that I didn’t do something different so I would never have had the guilt remains. But that’s a good thing if it keeps me from doing the same thing again. Simply deciding to not let myself feel guilty…that’s a mind game that doesn’t solve anything long term. I don’t want to play that game.

  12. Julia Roller says:

    Amen, Wendy!

  13. Kari Trumbo says:

    Well, you already know I used to carry such guilt. I’m one of the parties you spoke of, apologizing for not sending a manuscript as quickly as I’d hoped. But, what I’ve recently learned is this: If God wanted us to connect, He would make the opportunity. If it isn’t ordained to happen, it won’t.
    I will get a lot of work done today, and will go to bed with a lot of work yet to do. But, if I prayed at the outset, what was meant to be, will be. That frees me from that guilt.
    I promise, if I’m lucky enough to cross your path again, I’ll greet you with a smile and a hello. That’s what friends do.

  14. I definitely struggle with guilt–writing-related and otherwise. I so often feel I’ve failed or come up short in so many areas. But the Lord is slowly teaching me that it’s in my inadequacy that He often works most beautifully–and I can rest in His grace.

    Thanks for these reminders and a grace-filled post, Wendy–bless you! 🙂

  15. Thank you, dear Wendy, for encouraging us.
    Amen to Rachelle’s words: “Accountability is good only when it motivates.”
    Here’s a freshly penned poem for agents and writers:
    Guilt be gone
    You don’t belong
    Behind a writer’s quill
    For ink flows best
    When hearts are blessed
    With grace
    And not ill will.
    Grace blessing for all ~ Wendy Mac

  16. I’ve learned over the years that my “late” or someone else’s “late” is usually right on time. When I’m tempted to get upset at myself, God always shows me in one way or another that He’s right on time. And somehow I find myself saved. 🙂

  17. I will join you, Wendy! Last week, I spent hours crafting an apology that turned out to be completely unnecessary. But it prompted a helpful (and probably overdo) discussion about my hyper-active conscience, and ended with this kind person assuring me, “Even if you had crossed the line, we could talk about it, and it wouldn’t change how I treat you or feel about you.” This experience reminded me how often I am driven by false guilt.

    I feel guilty because I didn’t get any work done on my latest book idea, even though I spent hours on a family project that could not be put off.

    I feel guilty for not having my weekly blog post written yet, when I led a workshop at church last night and that took a lot of preparation.

    It goes on and on. If only we could see what we ARE doing instead of what we AREN’T doing.

    So count me in! Guilt is exhausting.

  18. Patricia Iacuzzi says:

    Thank you, Wendy!
    Romans 8:33-34
    33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
    When I mess up, and feel guilty about something, I immediately think that I’m nullifying His gift of grace for us. It means I’m allowing the enemy to mess with my head and heart, and slow me down from fulfilling my Purpose (even if its just crawling by just getting one paragraph down).
    He chose us to go down this particular path, and if we stumble and fall, its harder to get up if we’re weighed down by a burden of guilt, and its partner, procrastination.
    Always praying for you, brother Andrew.

  19. Tessa Afshar says:

    “Guilt to guilt communication.” That is going to be my favorite quote for the month.

  20. Nicholas says:

    It’s been a week or so since I last checked in on books & such, so there I was feeling guilty at not keeping in touch. I come on and ‘Bam’ it’s a post on guilt!
    Ok,ok, I get it. I’ll try not to feel guilty when don’t get in touch as often as I should.
    I suppose I always do have a tendency to feeling guilty about things, even when I have no reason to be. This last year has taught me that this is not always helpful and can, in some circumstances be quite damaging.
    If we lay our lives before God and make sure he is at the centre of everything we do, then we should have no reason for guilt. We can be strong in the Lord and at peace that we have only ever done what we can.