I’ve written about the uneasy feeling that, now that my breast cancer treatment is coming to an end, something else, maybe something bad, is about to happen. But now a different feeling is bubbling to the surface. This emotion is an old, unwelcome companion… guilt.
More specifically, I am experiencing some weird form of survivor’s guilt.
My first experience with this type of guilt began when I was in my twenties. That’s when my baby sister’s sexual abuse by our father became known. Up until then, I had assumed that she had escaped from the trauma endured by myself and another sister.
This revelation devastated me. I was convinced that I should have known that she had been a victim too. Why hadn’t I suspected something was going on? Why hadn’t I asked her?
After all, I had been able to speak out on my own, and then later, on another sister’s, behalf. The abuse then stopped for us. But no, I hadn’t had a clue that my baby sister was being hurt too.
Fast forward to my thirties. After enduring more than a decade of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, depression, and excruciating migraines, that same sister ended her life.
Amid the chaotic and overwhelming mix of emotions I went through in the weeks and months and years following her death, the most lasting one has been guilt.
So here I am again, only this time I’m feeling guilty for surviving breast cancer. What? I know… it’s not rational. But it’s there none-the-less.
I am experiencing discomfort that I have been healed… and others have not.
I want to run from this feeling because:
- I’d just like to just relax and not worry about anyone else.
- I want to be happy that I’m all better.
- I want to put this year behind me and look forward to what’s ahead.
But a part of me poses the question, “how can I when there are others who have had it so much worse?” Sometimes much, much worse?
- The woman who’s had cancer three times?
- The sister-in-Christ whose cancer has metastasized?
- The mother of three little ones who is dying?
Because how on earth can I rejoice… when others are suffering?
In John 21:21 (ESV) Peter asked Jesus a question about another disciple. In particular, he wanted to know if another disciple was going to have to endure the same kind of death (crucifixion) that he was.
“When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus’ answer in John 21:22 (ESV) is interesting:
“Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!'”
Basically, He tells Peter to mind his own business(!) followed by a reminder that Peter was to follow Him.
So, I’m left with a question. What is the pain and grief of others to me? Or, perhaps more importantly, what is the suffering of others supposed to be to me?
Obviously, if I follow the example of Jesus, I am not to ignore it. Far from it. But on the other hand, I don’t think I should continue to allow to the pain in this world to rob me of my joy and peace in my Savior either.
One definition of guilt, when used as a verb, says to “make (someone) feel guilty, especially in order to induce them to do something” (English Oxford Living Dictionaries).
So who’s making me “do something?” Well, sometimes it’s my old enemy, the devil. He uses guilt to tempt me to get caught up in attempts to make myself feel better. But honestly? I’m probably not difficult to tempt because I am often my own worst enemy.
My first response to guilt, real or imagined, is to try to ignore it. When that doesn’t work I try to “save myself” by feeling lousy about whatever it is until I think I’ve earned the “right” to feel better.
But either scenario produces the same futile result. I end up looking to myself for the the solution instead of my Savior.
Jesus wants me to allow Him to break the cycle of guilt and shame and self-flagellation. It’s only by bringing all my confused feelings to Him that I can find freedom from bearing burdens that I don’t have grace to carry.
Ultimately, only Jesus can accurately judge whether or not the guilt I’m feeling needs His forgiveness.
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 ESV)
I’m praying that Jesus will continue to teach me to turn my head and heart towards Him with everything. Firstly, in praise, because He is, oh, so good! And secondly, in earnest prayer for those that He lays on my heart… and not because I feel guilty.