The Two-Step Dance Called “Choosing Grace”

100_8650-2Too much work and not enough play–that was my mother’s diagnosis, one day, when I felt tired, crabby, and depressed. As a adolescent and teenager, I tended to take life very seriously. Whether it was doing school work, helping my dad in the grocery store, or helping my mom in the house, I worked hard at everything. I still struggle to understand the rhythm of work and play–responsibility and rest. 

In an amazing way, God designed his relationship with us to include both of these aspects of life. I talk more about this topic in my book , Emotional Freedom: The Choices We Must Make.  It includes a chapter titled “A Dynamic Dance with the Gardener.”

This dance, describing the relationship between our choices and God’s 100_8645grace, I call “Choosing Grace” and explain it in the following way:

The dance of “Choosing Grace” has two basic steps—grace and responsibility. Grace is God’s step of love toward me. Responsibility is my step of love toward God. Jesus said, “If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love” (John 15:10 MSG).[i]

In Emotional Freedom, I focused on the “dance step” of our responsibility—the choices we must make to receive God’s grace. The emphasis of my present book is more on the “dance step” of God’s reliability—what he does—how he works within us so that we can achieve emotional and spiritual maturity. Both are important, and we need a balance.

If our focus is too much on what we are doing or not doing, we can get into living under laws, instead of living in relationship with Jesus. What is the question we usually ask someone in our culture when we meet them?” How are you?”  Or, “what are you doing?”  

One day, when realizing that I might be placing an overemphasis my responsibility, I wrote the following lines:

Doing . . . doing. . .  doing . . .
I am so busy doing.
What is my doing, doing?

Do I think about my doing
Or am I simply doing?
Is my doing a re-doing?

Could my doing be undoing?
If I stopped my doing
What would I be doing?

Could I let my doing rest?
Which sounds best—
Doing more or doing less?

How do I feel about my doing?
Am I doing in my heart
What I’m doing in my head?

Whose doing am I doing?
Is my doing helping
Or getting in the way?

If I stopped my doing, would
God have anything to say?
Do I know what He is doing?

Doing . . . doing . . . doing . . .
I am so busy doing.
What is my doing, doing?

If our focus is more on our relationship with God, and the grace that he is giving to us, we are relaxed, and instead of doing, doing, doing all time, we are resting, resting,  resting— and listening to his voice. When we hear from him that it’s time to do something, we do it, and when we have done it, we know it’s enough.

Although it’s not written in the english I speak, today, I love the way Jean Pigott, writer of the hymn, “Jesus, I am Resting, Resting” expresses the joy of resting in—trusting in the reliability of God’s grace found in Jesus.

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
Thou hast bid me gaze upon Thee,
And Thy beauty fills my soul,
For by Thy transforming power,
Thou hast made me whole.


Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.

Simply trusting Thee, Lord Jesus,
I behold Thee as Thou art,
And Thy love, so pure, so changeless,
Satisfies my heart;
Satisfies its deepest longings,
Meets, supplies its every need,
Compasseth me round with blessings:
Thine is love indeed![ii]

I’m learning more about finding my balance in this dance of grace and responsibility. It’s exciting! In my heart, roots of faith, love, and hope are growing deeper. Relevant experiences related to this topic will be included in my present book.

 Thoughts for your reflection:

  • Which do you tend to focus on more—God’s grace or your responsibility?
  • Which do you need to do more of—work or rest?
  • What change can you make so that you will be able to have time for what you most need—(rest or work)?

[i] (Emotional Freedom pp. 48-49)


Two Ways to Identify and Extinguish False Guilt

As noted in last week’s post, Good Guilt, Bad Guilt, and No Guilt, some people think they’re doing wrong even when they are not.  Consequently, they feel guilty most of the time.  I call this “false” guilt. If you are one of those people, or if you have a friend who feels trapped in cage of guilt, this post is for you.

(I’m trying not to feel guilty about this photo! My husband set the chipmunk free.) chipmunk-in-trap

 Freedom from false guilt comes when we understand the difference between sin and temptation.

A friend of mine, addicted to nicotine for decades, had gone almost a month without smoking, yet she felt guilty because she still wanted to smoke. I tried to help her understand that withdrawal symptoms are normal and that experiencing the desire to smoke did not mean she had done something wrong. There’s a difference between temptation and sin.

Temptation occurs when we are attracted to something that’s detrimental to us or to someone , as well as dishonoring to God.  Experiencing that desire does not mean that we’ve done something wrong; it’s not something to feel guilty about.  It’s when we give in to that destructive and dishonoring desire that we become guilty.

Instead of feeling guilty and condemning herself, when she resists the urge to pick up a cigarette, I hope my friend will learn to be happy for the progress she’s made and focus on the grace that God is giving her. I know that she calls on him for help to overcome her addiction.

Here’s another example that illustrates the difference between sin and temptation. One day, when I felt resentful, envious, and hurt, I was tempted to make a phone call or send an email that included a sarcastic remark. Feeling resentful, envious, and hurt did not make me guilty. But, if I’d followed through with the sarcastic phone call or email, I would have been guilty.

Jesus is able to help us overcome any temptation.

However, I did not follow through with either of those choices. Instead, I told the Lord about the temptation I was struggling with and asked for his help. Almost immediately, I knew what to do. I thanked God for the person who’d hurt me and asked God to bless her. Then, the temptation to do something mean disappeared. I felt happy and contented.

Because Jesus was tempted in all the ways we are, he understands are vulnerability and weaknesses. Because he never did anything wrong, he offers us the strength to resist every temptation.

The author of Hebrew writes: “We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16 NASB).

 Freedom from false guilt comes when we understand the difference between guilt and guilt feelings.

Guilt and guilt feelings are not the same. We might feel guilty without being guilty; we might be guilty without feeling guilty, or we might both feel and be guilty.

Feeling guilty is unpleasant, and we may tend to pay more attention to how we feel than to what we believe.  But feelings happen because of what we believe. The self-judging part of us called conscience (if it’s turned on) makes us feel guilty when we break one of its laws.

The problem is: Sometimes the laws written on our consciences are not statements of truth; they don’t reflect the heart and purposes of God. If our consciences have been programmed either by us or by others who lack knowledge of God’s truth and grace, we may feel guilty but not be guilty.

Asking the Holy Spirit to show us the answers to the following questions can help us discern whether or not we are truly guilty.

  • What law am I breaking? (write it down)
  • Who made this law? (God, myself, or someone else)
  • Does this law reflect the truth and principles of Scripture?

For further reflection

Recall a time when Jesus helped you overcome temptation; write out a prayer of gratitude.



Good Guilt, Bad Guilt, and No Guilt

The topic of my current book is how to develop healthy roots of faith, love, and hope. These are the character strengths that we need to overcome guilt, fear, and shame–three huge obstacles to emotional and spiritual maturity.

I’ve been sharing the content of my book, as I write it, with a small group of people. I’ve decided that I will also share part of it in my blog posts for the next few months. I would appreciate comments and questions, as I want my writing to be clear and helpful to everyone.

Today, I am posting the introduction to chapter four–Good Guilt, Bad Guilt, and No Guilt.

My phone rings. I answer it. A trembling voice asks, “Can you help me? Did I do something wrong? Am I guilty for . . . ?”

I ask a question or two, listen to the answers, and say, “No! You are not guilty. You did not do anything wrong. God loves you, and I love you, too.”

“Okay, then. I’m sorry I bothered you.”

“You didn’t bother me. You can call any time.”

“Thank you. Goodbye.”

I hang up the phone, sigh, and offer up a prayer for my caller, who frequently phones with a problem like this. I feel sad because this friend, who loves God and other people and is very conscientious about doing what is right, feels guilty most of the time. It’s almost an addiction.


Like a dark cloud hanging over our hearts, a preoccupation with guilt blocks out joy and destroys our sense of self-worth.  It can be a major cause of depression.

 Guilt in our society

In the culture where I live, there seems to be two extremes: Some people (like my friend) feel guilty all the time and others (the majority of us) never feel guilty.

Guilt is not a popular topic of conversation. Most of us don’t talk about guilty feelings (if we have them) or think of ourselves as being guilty of anything. We think of ourselves as good people who do good things. When someone accuses us of wrongdoing, we quickly try to find something, or someone, to blame.

Like a child, who with mouth and hands covered with chocolate, denies he got into the cookie jar, many of us claim innocence in the face of convicting evidence. If we are truly good people, will we not have the integrity to admit to our wrongdoing and consequential guilt?

 Guilt may not be comfortable, but is it always a bad thing?

  • It’s bad when we misunderstand it, use it to manipulate others, cover it up, and get stuck in it.
  • It’s good when we understand it, admit to it, and make changes.

What is guilt and who is guilty? 

Our definitions of both guilt and goodness vary, depending on our upbringing and the teaching and standards of our subculture. We generally evaluate people on the basis of their performance, labeling some as “good” (not having guilt) and others as “bad” (having guilt).

Biblical definitions of guilt and goodness (whether we agree with them or not) differ from ours. Paul states in the book of Romans that “the entire world is guilty before God,”[i] and Jesus said, “No one is good but One, that is, God.”[ii]  That is why we must not engage in name-calling.

Accepting his evaluation of things means we don’t base our goodness on either the lack or the presence of guilt feelings, because guilt is more than a feeling; it’s a fact. It’s the consequence of breaking a law.  When I drive twenty miles over the speed limit, I am guilty of breaking a law. I may not feel guilty and I might never be caught. I might feel rather smug about my ability to escape detection, but the fact remains, I am legally guilty of breaking a law.

God gave us laws. His laws are restrictions of love. They are boundaries, or limits that he places on us, so that we will not endanger ourselves and others. God’s laws define love, and he commands us to obey them. Jesus summarized them by these statements:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important:

‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Luke 10:27 NLT).

Which of us can say we have fulfilled both of these commandments? Doing the best we can does not free us from guilt in God’s sight, and sweeping guilt under the rug of our conscious minds does not make it go away. That’s as destructive as an undetected cancer.Undetected cancer destroys our physical bodies. Undetected guilt destroys our souls.



However difficult it may be to recognize and admit to out guilt, when we do so, God forgives us and gives us the power we need to make changes. He wants us to live in the sunshine of his smiling forgiveness, not under the smog-filled cloud of guilt. When, by faith, we accept Jesus’ sacrificial death as a sufficient payment for our failures to live up to God’s commandments of love, we are set free from guilt.

For your reflection

  • Are you living in the sunshine of God’s forgiving love, or under a smog-filled cloud of guilt?
  • Invite the Holy Spirit to show you any ways that you might be “sweeping guilt under the rug of your conscious mind.” Write down anything he shows you, admit it, receive forgiveness and the power to change.
  • Do you have difficulty internalizing God’s forgiveness? If so, meditate on these words from Psalm 103.

The Lord is compassionate and merciful,
    slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us,
    nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins;
    he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him
    is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us
    as the east is from the west.

[i] Romans 3:19 (NLT)

[ii] Matthew 19:17 (NKJV)

Why Faithfulness is More Important than Success

I’m in the process of writing another book; as I finish the draft of each chapter, I’ve been sharing it with a supportive and eager-to-learn group of students. They get up an hour early on Sunday morning in order to attend my class before going to the church service. For their faithful presence, their diligence in doing homework, and their wholehearted participation in our discussions, I am extremely grateful.

This week, my class is not meeting. I’m glad for the break because, as usual, the task that I set for myself (completing a chapter every week) is more difficult and will take longer than I expected. According to my class syllabus, I am scheduled to share the final chapter of my book on December 4th and celebrate that accomplishment on December 11th.

Will I successfully meet my deadline? As it stands now, because I’m taking a week off, the celebration date will be Dec. 18th. What will it take for me to be successful? And what will true success look like? Could there be something more important than meeting my report card imagedeadline?

  • What do I usually focus on? Success!
  • What does God focus on? Faithfulness!

Faithfulness is a process. Faithfulness is about small unnoticed things—day-by-day, reliability, attention to details, accuracy. It’s about the action that I take. It’s about consistency. It’s about following through.

Success is a result. Success is about big splashy things—parties, honor, rewards. It’s about commendation—receiving credit for completing something.

Faithfulness is more important than success, because if we do the process (follow the steps, carry out the strategies) we will find success. But if we do not give attention to the process, we will not find success.

When I am focusing on success, I often think that I need more information. Usually, I do not need more information. I just need more action. I need to do something with the information that I already have.

At the end of the day, I like to look at my accomplishments. But at the end of my earthly life (according to the parables which Jesus taught. See Matthew 25), God will look at my faithfulness and commend me for that. I want to hear him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

What will it take for that to happen? It will take a shift in my focus. I’ve been doing things, backwards. Instead of measuring my success, I need to check-out my faithfulness. If I am faithful, I will be successful. However, true success—accomplishing the things that God has called me to do—may not be what I initially imagined it to be.

Questions for you to prayerfully consider

  • Which do you tend to focus on—your faithfulness or your success?
  • Which do you need more of—information or action?
  • How could you best use the information that you already have to accomplish the things God has called you to do?