Let Go of Guilt
Freedom from Eating Disorders, LLC
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Christian Eating Disorder Recovery Course
Let Go of Guilt
By the time you’ve completed this lesson, you’ll have insights to discern between true and false guilt and principles to help you break free of the bondage of all guilt.
I used to feel buried in guilt over the eating disorder. Now I’m amazed at God’s grace and forgiveness. May you cling to the truth of God’s forgiveness and break free of the weight of guilt as you take hold of the Scriptures in this lesson.
Do you ever feel weighed down by guilt? Does it seem you can’t shake it off? Perhaps you feel remorseful about practicing eating disorder behaviors such as restricting food intake, bingeing, or purging. You may even feel guilty for having an eating disorder. Or your guilt may not be limited to eating disorder related matters. It may be rooted in deeper issues such as relationships, school, parenting, or decisions you regret. The list could go on. Whatever your source of guilt, you may feel you’ll never get out from under it. It’s important to address and let go of guilt, but knowing that and actually doing it are two different things. Read on for some helpful insights about guilt, including both true guilt and false guilt.
Insights about True Guilt
- Guilt has its place, but that doesn’t mean you have to live buried under it for the rest of your days. Guilt can propel you toward freedom if you handle it in the way God intended, or it can drive you deeper into the eating disorder if you remain in its grasp.
- Guilt brings awareness of sin. When you feel remorseful about something like lying to someone, disobeying God, taking something that doesn’t belong to you, or any number of other things, that guilt can actually be a stepping stone. Once you see the sin for what it is, you can agree with God about it, confess it and repent to turn away from it. Then, you can accept God’s forgiveness and cleansing. See his promise in 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
- If you think you deserve to feel bad for what you’ve done, that may be true to a certain extent. If you’ve sinned, guilt is a natural consequence, so you’re going to feel remorseful. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty and shamed after you’ve confessed and repented. God understands what you feel deep down; he knows you feel sorry, and he knows you’re sincere in your desire to turn away from that sin.
- Sometimes there are natural consequences for sin. That doesn’t have to mean those consequences are punishment. They can be reminders to keep you on track and endeavoring to trust God instead of committing the same sin again. Think of it as an opportunity to grow, to become more Christ-like, and to experience God’s power in your life.
- There’s no scriptural support for punishing yourself for your sin. It’s one thing to feel regret over what you’ve done, but it’s another to continuously hold it against yourself. This doesn’t make you a better Christian, and it doesn’t bring you closer to God. In fact, it keeps the focus on you instead of on the Lord. He’s ready to free you of that guilt through his forgiveness if you’ll just accept it.
- Guilt is closely related to shame. For example, you may feel remorseful about hurting someone, and then ashamed of yourself for being the kind of person who would do such a thing. At any rate, both can stall your recovery. The emotional turmoil can fuel the eating disorder, and guilt and shame can prevent you from reaching out for either human or divine help. It’s important to learn to let go of both so you can move forward in your recovery and your life. You can find out more in the Let Go of Shame lesson.
- You may “feel” unforgivable, but that doesn’t mean you “are” unforgivable. To say God can’t forgive you would be like saying that God doesn’t keep his promises. Also, when you think of someone willingly dying on a cross to atone, or make amends, for your sin, what kind of sin could you commit that can’t be covered by that? What could you possibly have done that’s too big for the God of the universe to forgive? There’s no need to ruminate on your sin. God doesn’t ask that of you, so you don’t need to expect it of yourself. Instead of looking at your sin, look at the cross.
- If you’re concerned about forgiving yourself, you can breathe a sigh of relief. You don’t have to forgive yourself! There’s no scriptural support for this. To say that God has forgiven you but that you can’t forgive yourself is like saying Christ’s work on the cross wasn’t enough, that you have to do more in addition to what Christ did in order to be forgiven. This isn’t true. So, instead of trying to muster up some forgiveness for yourself, realize it’s something you don’t need to do. Focus on the cross instead of on your sin, accept the forgiveness that has been yours for the taking all along, and move forward.
True guilt is real. It’s a signal to you that you’ve sinned. Confession, repentance, and accepting God’s forgiveness are key; continuously holding the guilt against yourself is not. Focus your eyes on Jesus instead of on your sin.
But what about guilt that isn’t a result of sin?
Insights about False Guilt
If you feel guilty over things that aren’t sin, you’re experiencing false guilt. There may be many things you feel guilty about, but they aren’t things you actually did wrong. But if sin doesn’t cause false guilt, what does? Maybe you have an extra sensitive conscience or perfectionistic expectations of yourself. You may have a strong desire to please others and a deep concern about what others think of you. Perhaps others have unrealistic expectations of you. When you miss the mark in any of these scenarios, you feel guilty over it. These are just a few examples. Honestly explore the matter for yourself to discover the roots of your false guilt. Consult with your counselor and get help to address and resolve these causes.
False guilt serves no useful purpose. It’s just another way to condemn yourself, and self-critical thoughts only stimulate the eating disorder. To help you understand and identify false guilt, here are some examples. You might feel guilty about things such as:
- Relaxing: but relaxing isn’t a sin.
- Canceling plans with a friend because something came up. However, you did nothing wrong; you had no control over the event that occurred.
- Not being more like one of your siblings, yet there’s nothing wrong with being you.
- Accidentally breaking something that belongs to someone else. But it’s something you would never do on purpose.
- Causing a parent’s struggles. In reality, though, you had nothing to do with those troubles.
- Struggling to work through underlying issues and change food-related behaviors. It isn’t a sin to feel vulnerable or overwhelmed.
These are just some examples of how false guilt might occur. They are offered in the hopes that you can learn to recognize it in yourself.
Tips to Let Go of Guilt
Whether it’s true guilt or false guilt, you’ll benefit from learning to let go of it.
- Attempt to make things right in areas of false guilt. There may be something you can do to try to repair the situation—like offering to replace a broken item or reschedule plans for another day. By all means, go ahead and do that. Then recognize that’s all you can do, that doing your best is all anyone can expect, and strive to be okay with that.
- Give your false guilt to the Lord. Picture yourself getting rid of it: pick it up and carry it to him, throw it off you, bury it, or talk back to it and tell it to take a hike: whichever is most effective for you. The main thing is to let it go so you can get out from under its effect on you. This false guilt may have been there for a long time and may have deep roots, so it might take several attempts to successfully release it. Let go as many times as it takes.
- Ask God for discernment regarding guilt. Remember that true guilt has a purpose, moving you to confession, repentance, and a greater reliance on the Lord. False guilt isn’t useful. With either type of guilt, it’s important to take it to the Lord. Whether you need forgiveness and cleansing or his assurance that you’ve done nothing wrong, he’s there to give you what you need.
- Understand that you don’t earn God’s forgiveness; he doesn’t require penance. Forgiveness is promised to you, so once you’ve confessed and repented, you can accept his forgiveness. At this point, it’s important to take your eyes off the sin and focus on Jesus. He’s the one who made this forgiveness so accessible to you. Celebrate that as you praise him.
- Recognize that Satan would love for you to feel unworthy of God’s forgiveness, constantly contemplate your sin, and neglect focusing on God’s character. Don’t let him win. If you genuinely look at God’s love, grace, and mercy, you’ll see that his forgiveness has nothing to do with whether you feel worthy. It has everything to do with who he is. He is a God of love, favor, compassion, and forbearance.
- Resist berating yourself over what you’ve done. Self-condemnation won’t rid you of guilt; putting it in God’s hands will.
- Practice letting go of true guilt. If this is new to you, it may take time to get used to it. If you’re used to condemning yourself, it’s going to take time to accept God’s merciful forgiveness. That’s okay. Ask God to help you let go of guilt. Then attempt to leave your guilt with him and walk away forgiven and cleansed. This may take several attempts, but keep on until you leave it with him. He would much rather you come to him repeatedly until you leave it with him than to give up and carry unnecessary remorse.
- Replace the lie that you’re unforgivable with the truth that Christ’s work on the cross accomplished all the forgiveness you need. If you think you’ve committed the same sin too many times, you’re unworthy of forgiveness because you knew better than to do what you did, or something similar, recognize these beliefs as lies. You’ll find more on replacing lies with the truth in the Change Your Thoughts lesson.
- Read Psalm 51 and drink in its meaning. Focus not only on the confession and repentance, but also the cleansing and restoration in this chapter. Say the entire Psalm as your own personal prayer. Let the power of this passage do its work in you. Then just think: you can move forward with a clean heart and grow in being diligent in your attempts to avoid sin as you lean on him for the strength and power to do so. In the end, you’ll have more of God, and he’ll have more of you.
- Find other Scriptures about God’s forgiveness and focus on them. Here are some to start your list.
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool'” (Isa. 1:18).
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Eph. 1:7).
- Pray, and think in practical terms about how you can refrain from this sin in the future. Examine what draws you into the behaviors that you regret. Outline some practical changes you can make in order to distance yourself from certain temptations. Perhaps you can do some specific Bible studies to help strengthen you where you are most susceptible. In other words, consider ways you can say no to the sin and yes to God.
- Let go of eating disorder related guilt. You didn’t choose to have an eating disorder. Even if you had a strong desire to lose weight or turn to food to fill emotional voids, you still didn’t plan for that to turn into an eating disorder. Remind yourself of that.
Learn to discern between true guilt and false guilt. Practice letting go of false guilt until it rolls right off you. With true guilt, confess, repent, accept God’s forgiveness, and let go of it. Once you’ve accepted God’s forgiveness and cleansing, guilt has done its job; it’s served its purpose. So you don’t need to continue carrying it. Take to heart David’s words in Psalm 103:12. “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us.”
Dear Heavenly Father,
I carry a burden of guilt, but I know you want to lift it from me. I know you don’t want me to live with unconfessed sin. I, therefore, confess that I have __________________________, and I ask for your forgiveness. I want to have a clean heart before you. I also want to surrender my false guilt to you. I realize false guilt is self-imposed and not a result of sin. Please search my heart and show me the root of my false guilt, and help me to face and resolve whatever it may be. Thank you for your forgiveness, cleansing, and guidance.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.1
Let Go of Guilt
Feel trapped, controlled and, oh, so lost.
What I have done has hurt me so.
My health, my soul, has paid the cost,
but I’m afraid to let it go.
My habits are not good for me,
deprive myself of what I need.
ED keeps winning ev’ry day.
Afraid of where this all may lead.
I used to see this as my friend
as I obeyed the ED’s call.
Deception’s victim I have been.
I’ve granted enemy my all.
And now I carry guilt within,
berate myself both day and night.
It’s like a penance that I feel
I have to pay to make it right.
But God’s forgiveness waits for me
if I confess and leave with him
the awful wrongs that I have done,
and he’ll forgive me of my sin.
I know that he is also there
to take the burden off from me
of false guilt that just weighs me down.
I’ll hand it over, leave it be.
I know it’s time to let it go
and then walk free of guilt’s demands.
I’m grateful God is there for me.
It’s time to leave it in his hands.
Identify and Let Go of True Guilt and False Guilt
When you feel guilty, ask yourself if you’ve sinned. Determine if it’s true guilt or false guilt. If it’s true guilt, confess, repent, and accept God’s forgiveness. Examine whether there is something you can do to remedy the situation and proceed if there is. Then give the associated guilt to the Lord. If you struggle to leave either your true or false guilt with the Lord, read on for a practical suggestion that you can try.
For this homework, you’ll need pen and paper and two jars.
- Use one jar for true guilt. This is for sins you’ve committed and confessed, but struggle to accept God’s forgiveness for.
- Write that sin on a piece of paper and put it in the true guilt jar. As you put it in, say a prayer and give it to the Lord.
- If, the next day, you are still holding the sin against yourself, examine why you think that might be. Pray and write about it in your journal.
- Write that sin on another piece of paper and put it in the jar while saying a prayer giving it to the Lord.
- The second jar will be for false guilt. This is for guilt not caused by sin, but you can’t shake that remorse, even if you’ve been able to do something to rectify the situation the best you can.
- Write that matter of false guilt on a piece of paper and put it in the false guilt jar. While placing it there, say a prayer, giving the matter to the Lord.
- If, the next day, you are still holding onto that guilt, examine why you think that might be. Pray and write about it in your journal.
- Write it on another piece of paper and put it in the jar while saying a prayer, giving it to the Lord.
- If you like to be creative, decorate your jars. You might put crosses or other reminders of God’s love on them—whatever redirects your thoughts away from your guilt and toward the Lord. Even if you’d rather not do something like that, you can still cover the outside of the jar or line the inside with some paper with verses on it so when you see the jar, you aren’t seeing the slips of paper that have the sins or matters of guilt written on them. The idea is to get your eyes off them and onto the Lord.
- If you prefer not to use a jar or other container, you can do the same thing by dedicating two sections in your journal to use in the same way.
The remaining features for this lesson, as listed below, are printable. You may download the PDF file here.
Answer Key for Quiz
1Laurie Glass, Inspiration for Your Eating Disorder Recovery, 2015.
All Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Find out about other lessons on the Recovery Course page.
Change Your Thoughts
Learn to Deal with Emotions
See Yourself through God’s Eyes Inside and Out
Address Your Relationship with Food
Invite God into Your Recovery
Let Go of Control
Face Your Fears
Experience Inner Healing
Let Go of Perfectionism
Let Go of Guilt
Let Go of Shame
Deal with Relapses