Finding Joy on the Other Side of Guilt

“Nooooo!” 

I rushed to the sliding glass door at the sound of my 4-year-old daughter’s anguished scream. 

Moments earlier, Amelia had pressed her nose to the screen to tell me that the ladybug she rescued the day before was still alive in its tiny plastic-tub home. 

“Mommy! I’m taking care of it,” she said. “I’m keeping it alive!” 

As I raced outside, I saw Amelia crumpled on the ground, tears streaming down her face. My older daughter, Sadie, stood frozen nearby like a deer caught in the headlights.  

“What did you do?” I asked, my voice dripping with accusation.

“I just killed a ladybug,” she said, shrugging her shoulders in true 6-year-old fashion.

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Even though it was only a pet ladybug, my heart broke both for my youngest daughter’s grief and my older daughter’s offense. I felt tears in my own eyes as I took Amelia into my arms and explained to Sadie the pain she had caused her sister—the joy she had stolen.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” she said frantically as the weight of what she had done set in. “What can I do? I’ll do anything!” Sadie wrapped her arms around her sister. Tears streamed down her own face as she promised to help her find another ladybug.  

As the girls scoured the backyard for a replacement in the dusky twilight, I thought about the times I’ve hurt people through my sin. Harsh words I’ve spoken. Selfish choices I’ve made. Gossip I’ve participated in. At times, I’ve watched my sin wound others deeply and irreparably.  

Perhaps your children have also reminded you of your sinful tendencies. Sometimes their selfish choices and childish tantrums are startlingly similar to our own, aren’t they? And just as our kids seem to give into sinful behavior again and again, we often find ourselves doing the same. When conviction hits, guilt rushes in and can threaten to overwhelm.

I know I’m not the only one to fall into this terrible cycle of wanting to do what is right but choosing sin instead. The Apostle Paul knew this struggle well. In Romans, he describes not comprehending his own despicable actions: “I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). In fact, he says there is a direct conflict between his godly desires and his sinful choices.  

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).

Talk about feeling conflicted! I see myself in Paul. I know I have the power of Christ within me to make godly choices, and yet my selfish, sinful nature keeps cropping up.[1] Maybe you can relate. As moms, we want to model God’s patience and love to our little ones, but instead, we lose our tempers and say hurtful words. As wives, we want to build up our husbands in the Lord, but instead, we harbor critical spirits and tear them down. We want to be grateful for the unique blessings in our lives and cheer on other mamas, but instead, we find ourselves envious of their blessings or influence. 

Every day, I encounter opportunities to get it wrong and hurt people through my choices (because sin always hurts both myself and others). And sometimes I can stand there like my daughter, wracked with guilt over what I’ve done, not sure how to make things right. In that moment, Paul’s next words are like a cup of cold water for my soul: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

Jesus willingly went to the cross on my behalf, knowing that I would not be permanently cured of my sin problem until heaven. He paid the full penalty for my sin and took my guilt, replacing it with his own righteousness. Because of this, God does not condemn me! He doesn’t condemn you, either. Our worst mistakes—as wives, as mothers, as people—don’t define us. Instead of saying, “What did you do?” God says, “Look at what my Son did for you.” When our choices lead to death, he offers us life…and second chances as we follow him in faith. 

Several minutes after the ladybug’s untimely death, I peeked out the screen door to see my girls examining each flowerbed for signs of another speckled insect. They worked together, chatting excitedly about caring for the next bug they found. All was not lost after all. Hope was alive and new joys were on the horizon. 

That’s what God offers me, too—a life in the Spirit that sets me free from sin and death. A life rooted in the gospel. A life that allows me to move forward in Christ’s victory, when I repent of my sin and trust in his righteousness alone. And as I do that, I find that joy is available on the other side of my guilt.

[1] Colossians 1:29


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Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She is the co-author of Grit and Grace: Devotions for Warrior MomsShe lives in California with her husband, Kevin, and four young children. Follow her on Instagram @suzannegosselin and @gritandgracemoms