Neither Grace Nor Guilt

In the traditional Ordains (rules we agree to live by) of the Aquarian Tabernacle Church of Canada, we are reminded that there is “neither grace nor guilt”. This phrase has been on my mind lately, as it speaks to personal responsibility.

Neither Grace Nor Guilt

Personal responsibility? Isn’t that a bit of a leap? Not really. Let me back up, and explain what “neither grace nor guilt” means to me.

In other faiths, worshipers are told that if they believe hard enough, they will be forgiven of all their sins “by the grace of God”. Some take that as a kind of “hall pass”, that they can do whatever they want, say a few prayers of repentance, and voila! Forgiveness! All their sins are wiped away. Here are the keys to heaven and your happily ever afterlife.

On the other side of that coin is guilt – you are born of “original sin”, therefore you must strive every day to atone for the “sins of your fathers”. If you live anything other than a pious, god-fearing life, you will be condemned to hell. Good luck!

Neither Grace Nor Guilt

In my faith, no deity is going to save me from the consequences of my actions (grace), nor are they likely to condemn me for making a few mistakes (guilt). It’s up to me to choose my words and actions wisely, and face the consequences and make reparations where possible when I inevitably screw up (personal responsibility).

I grew up in the Lutheran Church. Although I no longer subscribe to all of their teachings, grace and guilt run deep. While I totally believe I have to do my own work, and I don’t believe God is out there judging my every move with a “good girl/bad girl” tally sheet, I tend to beat myself up with one.

Make a donation to a cause I support – good girl. Get a Starbucks drink as a treat – bad girl. (That one hits several “bad girl” points in one shot.) Pick up trash on my walk – good girl. Say something without thinking that hurts a friend – bad girl. I am constantly judging myself and my decisions, and mentally berating myself with right/wrong thinking.

Be Gentle With Yourself

This is advice I give to my students and coaching clients ALL THE TIME. Do I take it to heart for myself? Rarely. Why do I have a harder time believing that I am doing my best than believing that others are doing their best?

Oh right, because guilt and shame are the cornerstones of our very commercial society. Eat less. Exercise more. Buy our product. You won’t be happy until you have the newest, the best, the shiniest, the most high tech – and we can sell it to you!

I’m working on taking my own advice. Oddly enough, social media has had some good reminders for me lately, like, “Some days your best will be better than other days. It’s okay if today your best is getting out of bed.” And this one hit particularly close to home:

“My therapist told me that if I had to perform “at my best” all the time, then it wouldn’t be my best, it’d be my norm. I need a moment to recover.”

The response is great and speaks to my geeky little heart: “The Starship Enterprise is capable of travelling at Warp 9.9. But it regularly travels at, maaaybe, Warp 5. Or thereabouts. Because if the Enterprise ran at 9.9 *all the time*, then its *engines would explode* and kill everyone. You don’t have to sprint. Sometimes you can walk.”

Mental Health is Health

Last week I took a one day mental health course focused on the entertainment industry. One of the big takeaways I got was that physical injury and safety is taken more seriously and elicits more compassion than mental injury and safety. Just as rest and sleep and being gentle with yourself is vital to recovering from a physical injury, it is also vital to recovering from a mental injury.

The isolation and limitations of the pandemic have caused mental stress (and distress) for all of us. It has also given us opportunity to pause and rest. I’m choosing to give myself a little more grace than guilt over this rest. I don’t need to be productive *all the time*. I don’t have to sprint. Sometimes I can walk.