Guilt or Godly Sorrow?

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.

A Scenario

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.


4 Responses to Guilt or Godly Sorrow?

  1. Taylor says:

    Home Teaching is a big deal, and it’s largely a failed program in its current form, unless 0% to 30% participation is considered “success”.

    I really think alot of people don’t feel guilty at all for not home teaching. They are more annoyed by having to report their numbers, rather than filled with guilt. I’m not saying this as a former LDS who didn’t do his home teaching. I was an “every month” home teacher who prayed with his companion before every visit, etc…

    I think the root cause for people not doing their home teaching is that they don’t like it and the Spirit doesn’t inspire them to do it. They know their assigned families sometimes don’t like it and could certainly do without it.

    Please understand my criticism of the program is not meant to be angry or anything like that. But as a non-LDS, looking at the program objectively, it only works for a small percentage of members. If that defines success then it’s a successful program. However, if the goal is that 100% of people do their home teaching, then it’s a failure.

    So, if it’s a failure the question comes down to “why?” Will management accept responsibility for the failure, or will the responsibility be passed down to the lay-workers? If it’s not a failure, and 0-30% is considered successful, then there’s no more reason to keep bugging the other 70+% about it.

    I’m assuming the shame and responsibility for low numbers will be passed down to the lay-workers, because home teaching is considered divinely inspired. Is that correct?

    This leads to a larger concern and question I have. If a book, doctrine, program, etc…is labeled divinely inspired by a leadership claiming direct revelation from God, would the leadership ever accept any accountability for a failure or a direct unintended consequence of one of these? What is the historical precedence?

  2. I could not disagree more about your Taylor’s comment, I think like many principals in the church Home teaching provides an opportunitees for greater blessings. I have lived all over the country and have been in wards like you describe but I have also been in wards where home teaching was consistently over 90% and I can tell you that there is a huge difference in the activation and participation in these latter wards. The blessings of Home teaching come in the form of closer communitees and stronger and more lasting relationships between families in the ward. I honestly feel home Teaching is one of the greatest programs in the church and I beleive every member must at some point in their progression gain a testimony and prove that they can care for their fellow men.

  3. Bry Carter says:

    “I have lived all over the country and have been in wards like you describe but I have also been in wards where home teaching was consistently over 90% and I can tell you that there is a huge difference in the activation and participation in these latter wards.”

    Your statement suggests:

    Cause: Home Teaching above 90%
    Effect: Activation and Participation

    When further analysis actually shows:

    Cause: Testimony of the Gospel; Effect: Activation
    Cause: Activation; Effect: Participation
    Cause: Participation; Effect: Home Teaching above 90%

    You can’t arrive at the latter without the former.

    You can’t arrive at the latter through guilt, pressure, or mandates.

    The Church, Stakes, Wards, Branches, High Priest Groups and Elders Quorums are making what is called a Type II Error, “solving the wrong problem in the most expedient manner possible.”

    If indeed the “Home Teaching Program” is inspired of Him, then the actual problem is a lack of a full testimony of the Gospel.

    So, that returns us to Taylor’s fundamental, and very good, question.

    • Paul says:

      The error in asking will “management” take responsibilty or will it be pushed down the chain, is the idea that only one person or group has ultimate responsibilty for carrying out the requests that God places before us.
      The root of the problem is not the Divine direction – it is the imperfect implementation. We will all make mistakes (note “we” is not limited to general memebrship of the LDS Church – it inculdes leaders, members, not members, ALL of us), and no matter your station in life you can still miss the promptings of the spirit.
      God provides the direction, wether to the church as a whole or to individuals – it is up to us to listen and receive the inspiration.
      “Management” has addressed this lack of success many times – most of the time just like Allen’s post suggests – reminding us that we can have a positive impact on our faith and that of our visited families.
      Too often I think we want a wide sweeping answer, or a “reform” that will fix everything. We see this in education, coaching, management. We blame the teacher for low test scores, we blame the coach for all the lost games and bad lockerroom environment, we blame the manager for lost production or low sales. Sometimes the correct answer IS to cut it all away and start fresh (see Genesis & Noah, and the Great Apostasy), but that is the exeption, and often causes just as many problems when it is overused.
      Thankfully we are in a dispensation and time were it is promised that the Church will no longer be removed, and God has promised to point us back to the way – Jesus Christ and his atonement.
      I agree we need to improve our testimonies, and I also agree that focusing on Christ and his teachings is the only way we can do this. The leaders will point us in that direction, but no matter what they change or do not change, it is ultimately up to us to build the relationship with God that will make the difference.

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