Guiltitude vs Gratitude | How's your heart bearing up after the Christmas excesses?


So how did you do? Did you manage to survive Christmas without slicing open an artery while carving the turkey? Or more likely, lose an entire limb while trying to get a Barbie out of its box? Come on now, there are only 6 pieces of tape, 18 plastic ties and (incomprehensibly) 3 screws holding her in place! And please tell me you didn’t fall foul of those three little words that strike fear into the heart of any parent on Christmas Morn: batteries not included.

But as you look around your house at the piles of freshly opened pressies, the mounds of leftovers and the boxes of chocolates which are siren-calling you from breakfast time onwards, are you rubbing your hands with glee or wringing them with woe? I trust that we are feeling grateful for all we’ve enjoyed giving and receiving. But I suspect many of us are showing symptoms of guiltitude.

Guiltitude is the opposite of gratitude and, yes, before you dash to, I totally made up the word. Guiltitude is an attitude of guilt that arises from your awareness that you have an excessive amount of stuff compared to the vast majority of the rest of the world.

"I have started to feel guilty for my first world status."

I started noticing symptoms of my own guilitude before Christmas when I pressed the final order button on my internet shopping for the girls’ presents. I had an inner twitch. I looked around the house at the plastic crates full of toys they already had. Twitch. Twitch. Then I noticed that they weren’t even playing with the toys but were riding around on a broom pretending it was a unicorn and wrapping things in tea-towels. Twitch, shudder, twitch, twitch, break out in a cold sweat. And the guiltitude was spreading. Several days later I lost my appetite for receiving presents. I feverishly repeated comments like "I don’t really want anything for Christmas" and “Who needs more stuff?"

Just to put this in context, it’s not like I am rolling in iPads, iPhones and Tiffany boxes. I’m not exactly suffering from shopaholicism. I have, however, started to feel guilty for my first world status. When a huge proportion of the world is starving, at war, living in a refugee camp, and illiterate, it does indeed seem a bit pathetic to complain. About anything. And especially for those of us who have kids, we do end up with a lot of stuff that we don’t need cluttering up the house.

First World Problems

I’ve noticed that there is a new phrase doing the rounds: ‘first world problems’. There are jokes about it like, “Petrol is so expensive I can hardly afford to fill up my Maserati”. In this age of first world economic recession, we seem to be more aware than ever that we are still massively better off than most people in most countries. This is a good thing. Collective empathy and awareness is important. Especially if we are moved to give to those in need. But collective guilt? I’m not so sure this is a good thing.

What is God’s attitude towards guilt? It’s mentioned in the Old Testament quite a lot but there isn’t actually a specific Hebrew word that means guilt. It is a more general term meaning sin. Guilt is only mentioned twice in the New Testament and it is not the emotional response that is how we experience the feeling of guilt. To me, guilt is akin to condemnation. That icky feeling of being wrong or having done things wrong that we can’t quite put our finger on. It is a black cloud above our heads that blocks out the enjoyment of life. And the Bible is quite definitive about the subject of condemnation: it doesn’t exist. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).

There is a biblical attitude that we are called to have: and that is gratitude. A grateful heart pleases God. In fact, giving thanks is so pleasing and powerful that it opens the way to his presence (Psalm 100:4). The Psalms are packed full of gratitude. And we are called to give thanks in all circumstances – that includes the good times.

Shame has been deeply rooted in the human psyche since it was the first result of The Fall. We have to be aware of the ways in which we still function out of shame and its nasty sidekicks guilt and condemnation. I’m not talking about specific guilt for a specific act (e.g. kicking the cat) which leads us to repentance - that is a good thing because it is the Holy Spirit leading us towards God and forgiveness. But shame and condemnation lead us away from God into a spiral of fear and failure. Plus it helps absolutely no-one.

"Let's bury our first world guilt, and resurrect our first world gratefulness."

Imagine if were able today, to pluck a family out of a refugee camp in Darfur and bring them to, say, California, and give them their own home. Imagine we were able to lavish gifts on them and their children. Not just enough, but more than enough. Imagine if we filled their fridge and freezer and cupboards with overflowing amounts of food. Imagine then if they looked crestfallen, unable to enjoy what they had been given because they felt guilty for all the thousands that had been left behind in the camp. Is that what we would wish for them? No! We would want them to fully enjoy and receive the gifts we had lavished on them. And this is my thought: perhaps we do better justice to those who have so much less than us by truly being thankful for what we have, than by being struck down by guiltitude.

Our Father is a lavish gift-giver who gives us more than we can even imagine as our day-to-day spiritual inheritance.When we're released from the chains of shame and guilt we put on, Jesus’ life is revealed in us through our grateful hearts and generosity. So let us bury our first world guilt, and resurrect our first world gratefulness.

Here’s an idea: why not ask Father God what he wants you to do about this in 2012? Perhaps it will be to start a Gratitude Diary or Blog and write in it daily things you are grateful for – to practise the art of being grateful. Maybe he’ll inspire you to put some old toys on ebay and use the proceeds to buy a cow for the Fulani, or sponsor a child in the Congo.

But – and I’m talking to myself here – let’slive out of gladness not out of guilt. Because God loves a cheerful giver, not one suffering from guiltitude.

Now tell me, have you ever experienced symptoms of guiltitude?