We all say and do things that we afterward regret. For some of us, these feelings of remorse are positive and strengthening, while for others, these feelings are negative and destructive. What is the difference? Here are my thoughts about this.
Lets consider an example of two men who didn’t complete their home teaching (or sisters and their visiting teaching). It was a busy month, and the first brother realizes there are no opportunities to visit his families between now and the last day of the month. He knows that on Sunday he’ll have to report to his Priesthood leader, and he feels guilty. He realizes he should have gone out, but he was very busy. He is sure he’ll do better next month in organizing his time and getting out.
The second brother also realizes that he didn’t plan very well and won’t be able to visit his families this month. As he reflects on this, he thinks about his families and their problems that have been shared with him. His heart aches for the difficulties they are having, and he regrets that he didn’t bring positive influences into their lives this month.
OK, Which is It?
What is the difference between the two home teachers? Both situations concern the same type of problem, but the two men reacted differently! The difference, I believe, is that of focus. The one brother focused on himself, and the other man focused on his families. The one brother suffered guilt, and the other man suffered godly sorrow. The one brother suffered negative, destructive feelings, and the other man suffered positive feelings that strengthened him.
It’s OK to Feel Bad
The Apostle Paul taught the church members in Corinth that feelings of remorse are part of God’s plan, if (and that is a big if ) the feelings bring people to Christ.
Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing.
For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)
Come Unto Christ
Jesus taught that the way we treat others is the way we treat him. That is, if we are to come unto him in love and faith, we must come unto his children in love.
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. (Matthew 25:40)
Thus, our feelings of remorse are positive and true godly sorrow if the feelings bring us closer to the people we are involved with. On the other hand, if our remorse turns us into ourselves, our feelings are negative and destructive; we will, emotionally speaking, “beat us up” with self condemnation.
Leaders Must Use Godly Sorrow
It is a common practice in the Church for leaders to use guilt to motivate people. On many occasions, I’ve heard my Priesthood leaders discuss last months home teaching statistics, and it has usually been from the viewpoint of the home teacher not from the viewpoint of the families being taught. These leaders were sincerely trying to do the best they could with their stewardships, but I believe they were having negative influences on their quorum members, because they were causing the members to look inward for the motivation to be teachers.
On one occasion, I heard a priesthood leader talk about our home teaching performance from the viewpoint of our families. He didn’t say anything about our problems in scheduling time, or that we could do better next month, or that the quorum only had xx percent last month. Instead, he asked us to think about our families. He asked us to think about our being representatives of Jesus Christ to those families and how we could help them. It was a wonderful, inspiring, positive talk, and I left the meeting with a greater desire to serve my families. He helped us look to Christ as our motivation to be teachers.