Dec 172017 2 Responses

Feeling Guilty About Where You’re Not

Jenny and I lived in Alabama when I was in graduate school. While I would never ordain our way as being the only way to establish a strong marriage, being away from home was a good experience for us. The distance empowered us to create a strong bond and insured that we turned to each other before turning to family. Now that we are close to family, I credit our good interactions with each other and with family to our time we spent developing strong bonds and boundaries at the beginning of our marriage.

A memory I have of those early days of marriage is coming home for the holidays. Thanksgiving was a short trip, but Christmas was an extended period of time to see those we loved. Being away had its perks, but as two people who love their families, being home was good for us both.

In looking back, though, one emotion defined those holidays–guilt. Whenever we would come home, I would feel guilty. If I was with my mom, I felt guilty I wasn’t seeing my dad. If I was with my dad, I felt bad I wasn’t with my mom. If we were at Jenny’s parents, I felt guilty we weren’t with mine. Wherever we were, I felt guilty about where we weren’t.

Nobody else felt it. No one was trying to make me feel it. My parents and in-laws have never pressured us in any way. They understand life is complicated, choices have to be made, and time must be split between families. But I felt it.

The problem with feeling guilty about where you’re not is that it keeps you from being where you are. You aren’t fully present when your mind is continually thinking about another place or disappointing some other people. The irony is that as you feel guilty about not being somewhere else, you are robbing your present company of your presence as well. As I wanted to be in multiple places, I was actually nowhere.

This isn’t an unusual scenario, especially during the holidays. While we can’t be everywhere we desire and do everything we want, there is one thing we control. We can be fully present.

How to Be Fully Present

In a day where we are continually distracted, being fully present is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others. Some may be so accustomed to only getting part of people’s attention, they may feel uncomfortable if they receive total attention. But largely, people will be drawn to those who give all of themselves to others.

4 Essentials to Be Fully Present:

1. Recognize you can only be one place at a time. We are human. We have limits. As much as we wish we could more than one place at a time, we can’t. Appreciating our limitations is the starting point for fully experiencing who God created us to be.

2. Admit life is rarely perfect and full of choices. While we can’t be multiple places, we often desire to be. This guarantees that life is going to be full of disappointments. Our mistakes, the mistakes of others, and the nature of life will force us to choose between equally good options. When we own our choices (specifically where we have chosen to be), it will empower us to be present where we are.

3. Reject false guilt. It sounds silly, but we can refuse the feeling of guilt. While we should take full responsibility for our actions, we do not have to own things which are not ours. If you begin to feel false guilt, recognize it and reject. Refuse to give into the feeling.

4. Appreciate where you are. Gratitude grounds us. When we are grateful for where we are, who we are with, and what is happening, we become fully present in the moment. Thanklessness continually causes us to consider other places, people, or circumstances.

The holidays, maybe more than any other days, bring to the surface factions and divisions which remain hidden on other days. While it’s understandalble that we might experience disappointment or guilt that we can’t be all things to all people, do not allow that disappointment to rob you of the experiences you can have. Wherever you are, be there.

2 Responses to Feeling Guilty About Where You’re Not
  1. Kit Moulton Reply

    I’ve been through all of what you wrote about. Nothing new in this day and age. I alternated every other year between families and that was okay. If it’s not okay with someone then you are being selfish and self centered. But with what I say it seems to me that your point that you tried to make is missing the big picture. Christmas is about Jesus. Always will be with myself. Not you, not me, not about extended families or whatever. The message is simple: Jesus! And that is where guilt ends!

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Kit, thanks for reading. The article isn’t about Christmas; it’s about guilt. I simply used Christmas as the main example but it applies to many more other events.

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