A Roman Catholic priest was well-known in my neighborhood for his “shopping bag sermons.” He would leave the sanctuary and stand before the congregation holding a shopping bag. The congregation, especially those in the front pews, would anxiously wait for him to open his bag and begin his sermon, dipping into his bag for his props.
A Heavy Load to Lift
Many years later, I borrowed the idea and used it during my ministries at nursing homes and in life coaching sessions to demonstrate the effects of guilt and how to address them. I would load a shopping bag with canned fruit, canned vegetables, sloppy joe mix in cans, tuna in cans, and whatever else I could find in my kitchen. My only requirement was weight. The shopping bag had to test my arm strength when I lifted it.
During my ministry or life coaching sessions, I would drop the bag in front of my audience or client with a thud. I unloaded the bag one can at a time, calling each an unresolved feeling of guilt until the bag was empty. I then waved the empty bag in the air like a magician who just made his beautiful assistant disappear.
Unresolved Guilt Is a Heavy Burden
Guilt is an indication of emotional distress. It can be a valuable emotion if dealt with in a timely manner. It can bring a person to make amends with someone he or she offended, and even to do something good as a result. But unresolved guilt is a heavy burden that weighs us down, and unlike canned food items, it is far from being healthy for us if held for long and not addressed appropriately.
Guilt becomes inappropriate and damaging when the person who committed the offense internalizes that he or she did something wrong and begins to identify themselves by the behavior. The person with “bad behavior” is transformed into a “bad person.”
Also a Destructive Burden
Guilt becomes a destructive burden when it negatively affects your behavior. If you perceive yourself as a “bad person,” you begin to question what you do and the decisions you make, and you’re more prone to misinterpret events as your responsibility. You may also feel guilty about doing things that you enjoy and may be healthy for you.
How to Empty the Shopping Bag
First, you can begin emptying that shopping bag of guilt by accepting guilt as a good emotion and be thankful that you were reminded of what to do and not to do. But then move on to resolve your guilt.
Next, apologize to someone if necessary and forgive yourself, acknowledging that you are a good person who just did something wrong, and that God has already forgiven you. Begin by putting positive things in your bag, prayer, positive affirmations, and the Lord’s peace.
Finally, turn to God throughout your process of healing, especially if you disobey one of his commands through sin. As when seeking the forgiveness of a friend you wronged, confess your wrongdoing to God, repent, and be thankful for his mercy and grace. Be ready to forgive others as he forgave you.
Listen to God's Words
Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:7)
My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. (Psalm 38:4)
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)
Also read: Micah 7:18-19, Psalm 30:5, 1 John 1:9
In the Words of Others
“Guilt is the source of sorrows, the avenger fiend that follows us behind with whips and stings.” Nicholas Rowe
“The difference between shame and guilt is the difference between ‘I am bad’ and ‘I did something bad.’” Dr. Brene Brown
“Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.” Coco Chanel
Think About It
Recall a time when you did something bad or behaved in a way that hurt someone. How quickly did you address the guilt?
Do you still feel guilty for something? If yes, how has this guilt affected your life? How you relate to the person you wronged?
Did you at any time feel that what you did made you a bad person? If yes, describe the feelings and why.
Do you believe God has ever played a role in how you handled your guilt about offending others? Elaborate on how, if yes.