What to Do with Mom Guilt on Mother's Day

Why Not Every Mother Enjoys Mother's Day

Mother’s Day posts are a dime a dozen it seems like. In the weeks leading up to the big holiday, you may be wondering why another post is needed. Mother’s Day can be a day of great encouragement for some women, and a day of great pain for others. For some, it’s painful because they long to be mothers and are not. For others, it is painful because they have lost children, both physically and emotionally. It hurts knowing their families are not complete this day.

But there is another set of mothers that Mother’s Day is hard for. These are the ones who feel like they aren’t good enough. The ones who feel like they aren’t measuring up to a set of standards set for them (either by themselves, by Scripture, or by the world).

Mom guilt is real and debilitating. If you are walking into this Mother’s Day feeling like you don’t measure up, let’s examine the standard.

What Makes You Guilty?

Depending on your personality, you may be up against a myriad of expectations placed upon you by yourself or the outside world. You survey your life, feel the squeeze of your season, and you don’t think you measure up to whatever standard is staring you in the face. Maybe you spend your days with a low-level guilt, wondering if you are doing the right things, if your work is good enough, or if you are faithful.

Faithfulness is your standard, not perfection. When you work, you are working not for man, but for the Lord.

In God’s kindness, he has given us a standard to measure our guilty feelings—his own. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul talks to the Corinthians about the “grief” he caused them in a previous letter. This grief was for their good, though, because it led them to repentance. Another way of thinking about it is saying that this letter caused them to feel guilty. They heard his words, and their consciences were pricked. It did its intended work. He goes on to explain how to distinguish between what he calls “godly grief” and “worldly grief”.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter (2 Corinthians 7:10–11).

In my book, I call this “godly guilt” and “worldly guilt.” Godly guilt is owing to a realization that you have sinned, that you have done something against God and his law. Worldly guilt is all the rest. Godly guilt has a hope for removal. Worldly guilt has nowhere to go but death. There is no way out of it.

In other words, the guilt you feel should never stay as guilt. It should lead you somewhere. If your guilt is stemming from true sin, it should lead you to repentance and ultimately change. In repentance you have Christ and his finished work on the cross pleading for you (Heb. 7:25). You have the resurrection giving you the promise of new life (1 Pet. 1:3). You have the Holy Spirit giving you the power for a changed life (Rom. 15:16). Worldly guilt gives you none of that. It only leads to shame, condemnation, and no hope for restoration.

Worldly guilt has everything but God as its focus. It’s the guilt of failing to meet other people’s standards, the guilt of not meeting your own standards, the guilt that you feel at the end of the day when you have an unfinished to-do list and a house that is a wreck. It’s the guilt you feel when you see another mom reading to her kids on social media and you haven’t read to your kids in days or weeks. It’s the guilt you feel when you didn’t make Christmas cookies this year, or didn’t buy them Easter baskets. It’s the guilt you feel when you give your kids cupcakes instead of fruit. It’s the guilt you feel when your husband does the laundry or the dishes, seeking to serve and help the family.

This guilt has no place in your life. We are broken, finite people who will sin against our kids and our spouses. And when we do, we need to repent. But we have enough of those instances to not give in to the false guilt that threatens to destroy us. Godly guilt leads to repentance. Worldly guilt leads to death.

Glory in the Ordinary

Courtney Reissig

This book combats misunderstandings about the value of at-home work to help moms see how Christ infuses glorious meaning and significance into every facet of ordinary life.

Encouragement for the “Guilty” Mom

So where do you go from here, guilty mom? On this day where you feel like you should be celebrated, but can’t pinpoint what exactly is worth celebrating about your mothering, where does your standard lie?

Faithfulness is your standard, not perfection. When you work, you are working not for man (or woman), but for the Lord (Col. 3:23). And his standard is not that you be perfect, but that you trust the perfect One. Human masters are ruthless, leading only to worldly guilt. But your heavenly Master is kind, forgiving, and only gives you a light burden (Matt. 11:30).

The root of so much worldly guilt in our work is likely owing to a belief that perfection is the standard. We might not verbalize it, but our emotions, our thoughts, and even our actions reveal otherwise. God calls us to be faithful, not perfect. There is only one perfect One, and he is the one we run to when we face the waves of guilt that threaten our souls. We will never be perfect, but we can be faithful. We can work hard, rest hard, and trust the Lord for the rest. We don’t have to live in bondage to the expectations of ourselves or others. We simply need to be faithful where he has us. And when the guilt overwhelms you, remember the words of the great modern hymn:

“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there, who made an end to all my sin.”

Let the godly guilt lead you to repentance and let the worldly guilt have no place in your mind on Mother’s Day and every day.

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