Giving Up the Guilt of Following Jesus

I’ve been in the process of deconstructing my childhood Christian faith for the past year, and there are a lot of things I miss from my pre-deconstruction days. The sense of certainty religion provided me. Community with other like-minded Christians. Answers to all my biggest, toughest questions. Assurance my life was part of a much larger plan.

As much I miss certain things, it doesn’t compare to the freedom I’ve experienced by walking away from the dysfunction of evangelical Christianity. Now on the outside looking back in, I’m seeing how so much of my life was previously controlled by religion’s heavy burden of guilt.

And I will never miss the guilt.

I was about as dedicated of a believer as you could be, but guilt was always there telling me I could do better. I’d spend an hour reading and reflecting on a Christian devotional book, an hour reading my Bible, and another 30 minutes praying — yet after all that, I’d open my journal and write about how I still just wasn’t loving Jesus enough.

I’d “pray without ceasing,” literally talking to God in my head all day long, yet still feel I wasn’t praying sincerely enough. In college (a Christian college, mind you) I’d read my Bible and pray every morning, go to chapel twice a week, attend a Bible study once a week, go to church every Sunday, and talk to God daily about every single thing going on in my life, yet STILL felt like I could be a better Christian.

I know Christianity is supposed to be about a relationship motivated by love, but if I’m being honest, most days that relationship with Jesus felt driven by how bad I was falling short of who he wanted me to be.

The guilt was everywhere, always. I should step up and say the closing prayer at Bible study this week. I need to be more loving toward my coworkers. I really should be volunteering at my church. This shirt I’m wearing is probably too tight; I have to try harder to protect my boyfriend’s purity. I spent an hour watching TV tonight when I COULD have been spending time with God. I should have stopped to pray with that homeless person I passed earlier. If I really loved Jesus, I wouldn’t be so afraid to leave my comfort zone for him.

These days, I don’t know how to be a Christian anymore without the guilt. For that reason, I have backed off from almost everything I used to do as an evangelical Christian. I don’t pray anymore. I no longer read the Bible. I rarely attend church. I don’t listen to Christian music. I know this is confusing to people who have always known me to be a person of faith, but I just don’t know how to pray, or read the Bible, or attend church, or even listen to music without feeling bad about myself. And I’m tired of living my life perpetually feeling bad.

So here I am, living and learning and making decisions for the first time free from the burden of religious guilt. Like Jesus challenging and inspiring people in his day, I’m inspired by those from religious backgrounds stepping out and calling bullshit on guilt-based spirituality.

Call me a heretic, but I’m not going to waste any more time feeling bad about my spirituality. A guilt-laden life is not the kind of life I want to live.

3 thoughts on “Giving Up the Guilt of Following Jesus”

  1. This is exactly how I’ve been feeling. Thank you for sharing so that people like me don’t feel alone in this process. It’s going to be a hard year for me.

  2. Yes, guilt is absolutely the worst. I was a pastors kid and missionary kid and felt guilt in various segments of my life. But the older I’ve gotten, and as I’ve faced life apart from the extreme legalism that I grew up in, I realized that all the religion and guilt etc etc wasn’t at all the truth. It was a bunch of bs. There is a simplicity of faith. A beautiful, peaceful life with everything I wanted but wasn’t shown and or I didn’t see it for myself. I leaned into the good and stopped listening to the voices that didn’t seem in line with who the person of Jesus was, it’s very clear, and recognizable. Just following the words and teachings of Jesus and not the legalism and guilt, that religion brings is incredibly freeing!

    One of my favorite quotes is “people don’t go to church because they’ve been to church” this is so true…why would they?

    Church, religion and people are human and super flawed….

    Knowing Jesus, and following a real historical person that changed lives and removed guilt is a completely different thing. Sara, I hope you continue to feel free of guilt because I don’t believe that guilt has any part in what Jesus would ever want for you and your life.

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