According to the May 18-24, 2020 Book of Mormon Come, Follow Me “Ideas for Personal Scripture Study for Mosiah 26:1-6, we are “responsible for [our] own faith and testimony. …We all must experience our own conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In other words, we are responsible for ourselves. Trying to take the sins and negative emotions of others upon ourselves is inappropriate because we don’t have the capacity to handle them. The only one with the power to handle those intense burdens is Jesus Christ, and He has already done that with His infinite atoning sacrifice. He paid for all of our burdens so that we don’t have to keep them.
Accepting the Things We Cannot Change
Of course, we never feel like we are doing enough to help others, and we feel guilty when our help has no effect on another person’s behaviors. Inappropriate guilt is the blame we take upon ourselves for the poor choices of others. We often wonder if we could have prevented them from failing or could have been a better influence on them. It’s nice to think that our faith and love could compel others to behave righteously, but that isn't realistic.
The whole concept of inappropriate guilt came to my mind in May 2019 when I was sitting in Relief Society, attending a lesson based on Becky Craven's general conference talk “Careful versus Casual,” (Ensign, May 2019).
When we began to discuss the Vision of the Tree of Life, the iron rod was likened to Christ’s Atonement because it leads directly to God and is a symbol of everyone's personal journey to God. Such a journey would not be possible without us grasping on to the atoning mercies of Jesus Christ and holding on for our dear lives. Distractions, however, can make us lose our hold on the Savior’s Atonement. One distraction that I suggested while in that meeting was the distraction of inappropriate guilt.
Repentance Brings Freedom to Focus on God’s Will
My outlook on inappropriate guilt changed while studying the Come, Follow, Me lesson for January 28-February 3, 2019 called “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” that states, “True repentance is “a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world” (Bible Dictionary, “Repentance”). I found myself exploring the concept of repentance and realized that it goes beyond making restitution for sin. I have come to realize that we need to repent of anything that keeps us unaware of our worth, our divine lineage, and our potential as children of God.
Being in a state that carries no negative emotion, such as the burden of inappropriate guilt, allows us to focus on learning and doing God’s will. We may sometimes fear, as Alma did, that we will “do wrong in the sight of God” (Mosiah 26:13). Consequently, we may make our weaknesses into justifiable excuses as to why we cannot successfully carry out what the Lord asks us to do. When such fears arise, we need to pray as Alma did, who “poured out his whole soul to God” (Mosiah 26:14).
To surrender our weaknesses to Christ’s Atonement and carry on with the Lord guiding our steps are parts of being born again. We don’t need to beat ourselves up trying to achieve a measure of success.
As the Lord came to Alma and guided him in assisting all those who “were desirous to take upon them the name of Christ” (Mosiah 25:23), so will He assist us when we are ready and willing to change.
A Personal Discovery about Inappropriate Guilt
Blaming oneself for the behaviors of others is something I am personally guilty of doing. My biological father, who died in October 2014, was an abusive alcoholic for as long as my family can remember. Still, my family always tried to love him as best we could in hopes that he would stop drinking. We often fought and tried to do more, blaming his drinking on what we were not doing.
As I look back now, I realize it was a futile effort because we were truly doing all we could, but he still chose to do what he did. Local Church leaders and missionaries also tried helping him. Although he was a baptized member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he never embraced the principles of the restored gospel. He never had a true desire to give up his addictive behaviors. I experienced every bit of abuse and every moment of grief that was included in our family’s tempestuous journey. As a youth, I felt guilty for things beyond my control and wondered if I had done enough to keep this from happening. At that time, I felt like that was the way for me to show compassion, but all such feelings did was drain my energy and my confidence.
Throughout these abusive times, I attended counseling offered through local mental health services, and every counselor I had happened to be a member of the restored Church of Jesus Christ. The last counselor I had was named Matt, and he immediately recognized that I was carrying everyone's problems and that I tried to be involved in everything as if I could do something to make broken things better. I will never forget his counsel that I needed to “empty my backpack” and no longer worry about problems that were not mine.
The words of that counselor helped me find a release for misplaced burdens that I had carried through most of my life. I still constantly struggle with feelings of inappropriate guilt. When such emotions come, I try to remember priesthood blessings that have told me, “The Lord is pleased with me—I am loved, and I am enough!” I just need to keep reminding myself of those words of comfort as I move forward in faith.