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Living with Guilt vs Living with Gusto

Written by: Alice D. Hoag, Ed.D.
Living with Guilt vs Living with Gusto

A few years ago, I intercepted one of my sons as he was descending the staircase and heading outside. He explained, with a guilty expression on his face, that he was going to go outside to smoke a cigarette. Ever since I was my grandmother’s companion during her final months of life as she went through chemo and radiation treatments for lung cancer after her 50 years of smoking cigarettes, I’ve not been a fan of cigarette smoking. And he knew this. I stopped him and challenged, “Either do it with gusto or don’t do it at all.” I went on to encourage him, “Fully enjoy inhaling and blowing smoke rings or whatever you do. Get the most out of whatever it is that you do. Choose wisely, then do it with no guilt. If you cannot enjoy it fully, then don’t do it at all.”

In the decade since that first statement just slipped out of my mouth on its own, I’ve reflected on that sentiment. I believe it is a way of living life to its fullest. “Either do it with gusto or don’t do it at all.”

Each moment of each day, we make choices about our actions: “Should I do this?” or “I really have to do that.” And so on. Many of the choices we make are compelled by guilt or obligation. This creates a heaviness in the doing: rounded shoulders, bent posture.

It’s as though we’re hiding something from…from whom? From ourselves? No, we know what we’re doing. From God? No, He knows what we’re doing and knew what we’d do even before we made the choice. Are we hiding an unsavory motive behind the action? Maybe the heaviness is related to an anxiety about “What if?” (“What if I don’t do it, then what will people say?” or “What if I didn’t do it well enough?” or worse yet, “What if I’m not good enough?”)

Guilt and anxiety. Neither is a good option to live with as a way of life, yet I interact with so many people who do live in a constant state of guilt and/or anxiety! It’s their default mode; it just happens without even thinking. Every action and thought carries with it either a sense of guilt or anxiety.

“Being my best self” is a way of life that I attempt to live by every moment of every day. While I may not hit the “best self” goal all the time, I can certainly choose the “better self” more often than not. It’s an element of being a good steward of what I’ve been given. And we’re all called to good stewardship of everything we’ve been given: time, talent, energy, body, mind, actions, motives, finances, relationships, and on and on.

Being my best self requires that I observe what I’m allowing myself to think (Phil 4:8-9) and how I’m expressing myself (words and actions), and then deciding if this is consistent with my best self, if this is being a good steward of my higher calling as a human being. When I engage in mindless actions, which end up being re-actions anyway, then I find that guilt or anxiety ensues.

Being my best self involves intentionality. Intentionally choosing the better train of thought, the better course of action, the purer motive of my heart. Intentionally becoming more and more Christlike in my journey toward sanctification.

It is not an easy task to choose our better self (or best self). It requires that we surrender the easy path, the selfish or self-protective default mode in each of us. However, as we do, we become more intentional. When we choose our actions intentionally to be consistent with our best self, we end up being less guilt-driven. And when we act intentionally, there is less anxiety. There’s actually less emotional involvement at all. Acting intentionally requires that we observe the options from several angles, then choose the best version of myself to move forward in a direction. This results in freedom, contentment, and joy. That’s living with Gusto!

If you’d like guidance and encouragement on choosing joy and living with gusto as your better self, I’d love to come alongside and walk with you on your journey.