Thriver’s Guilt: Some Remedies (Part 1)

Thriver Remedy Gratitude shutterstock_729671911

In my previous blog, I presented the phenomenon I call “Thriver’s Guilt.” That’s the guilt we feel when we succeed and do well when others around us, especially those we care about, do not. What do we do with the guilt we feel when we thrive, but others around us struggle?

Thriver’s guilt triggered an unhealthy dynamic of self-consciousness by which I became embarrassed by any signs of “success” in my life. I felt I had to apologize and minimize when things were going well. I also became self-deprecating in my conversations and presentations. I was reluctant to share the blessings I was experiencing.

Thriver’s guilt falls under the broad category of false guilt. Genuine guilt is our healthy reaction to violating a law or standard, especially God’s standards. False guilt is the feeling we have done wrong when we have not, in fact, violated a law or standard.

The question is: have we truly done something wrong? Compare the warning lights on a car dashboard with the conscience. When a light comes on, we need to discern whether it is indicating a genuine problem, or whether there’s a short circuit in the warning light itself.

In our lives, it may not be a problem of faulty lights, however. It may be that we have many “extra” warning lights that continually flash, giving us false information.

False guilt is spiritually corrosive. It denies God’s truth and undermines our experience of grace. False guilt disrupts our relationships, draws our focus inward, and robs our joy.

The “remedies” for false guilt are found primarily in the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We correct the lies we are telling ourselves by learning the truth of God’s Word, applied by God’s Holy Spirit.

So what about thriver’s guilt? Because I want to respect the relative brevity of a blog post, I will share my remedies in two posts. In this post, I want to consider the most important remedy.

Remedy #1: Be Grateful

Be grateful and receive God’s blessings with humility.

Enjoying the good things God provides does not mean we are materialistic, nor that we are spiritually immature.

We are too easily seduced by the lie that “poverty is a virtue and success is a sin.”

We may have a tendency to believe poverty is the ideal condition for true spirituality based on Jesus’ exhortation to the “rich, young ruler” to sell all he has in order to follow Jesus (Mark 10:17-22). Here’s part of the encounter:

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

This one incident, however, was not meant to be a prototype for discipleship any more than being a literal fisherman was required to make us “fishers of men.”

Jesus was addressing this man’s idol. The Lord calls us to turn from anything we value more than the Lord. But that doesn’t always require literal all-or-nothing decisions.

For example, if a person struggles with ambition and success, Jesus would not counsel that person to fail. If a person struggles with beauty, Jesus would not counsel that person to become deliberately unattractive and unwashed. We must be careful not to move from specific situations to general principles too quickly.

God blesses his people. Think of the amazing beauty and delight of the Garden of Eden and the splendor of the New Jerusalem. We honor the Lord by appreciating these blessings and remembering their source. Deuteronomy 8:7-18, spoken as God’s people were preparing to enter the Promised Land, clearly presents this principle.

7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills… 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God,… 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant…

Blessings are expressions of God’s goodness. Gratitude reminds us that God is the giver.

If Sarah and I give wonderful gifts to our children, we want them to enjoy those gifts to the fullest, with due appreciation. To reject the gift would feel like a rejection of our love.

But there’s more to this subject. This remedy alone could be perceived as a “bless me” gospel that does foster worldliness and self-centeredness.  So please keep reading! In my next blog post, Thriver’s Guilt: Some Remedies (Part 2), I suggest how to manage our blessings faithfully and interact with others compassionately.