The Importance of a Guilt-Free Zone

by Shannon Rains

“No-guilt zone, dear friend.”

These words began an email that Grady King sent to me in December. I couldn’t make a HOPE Network connection call, so I sent a note apologizing.

He saw past the short note of explanation and spoke to my heart. I hadn’t considered that I felt guilty for missing the call, but as soon as I read the note, I knew that’s what I was feeling.

As ministry leaders, how often do we look at our ever-full calendars and immediately begin formulating our apologies?

I’m sorry I can’t make it.

I’m not as prepared as I should be.

I know this isn’t my best work.

I should be able to do this all.

I don’t really need to sleep.

I’m running on fumes

In the process, we begin to neglect the things that matter most. Our health. Our relationships. Our spiritual lives.

Guilt forms in the rut of bad habits in our souls.

I was reminded this week, reading J.K.A Smith’s book You Are What You Love, for one of my classes at LCU, that our habits point towards our loves. And, often, a close examination of our habits will reveal that our loves are out of order. Our environment pushes in on us, and our habits are formed, or mal-formed, as a response to that environment.

As ministry leaders, we have many needs presented to us each day. Leadership needs. Personal needs. Spiritual needs.

It is this environment that shapes us. The environment that pressures us to respond. The environment for which God has called us to serve. The environment presents the opportunity to bring a little heaven to earth daily and in each interaction.

One of my favorite passages is found in Mark 1:29-39. Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law. Word gets out fast and the whole town gathers at the door, they had needs, many needs. Scripture says, “That evening after sunset, people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.” I wonder how late into the night Jesus worked, addressing the needs of these women, men, and children visiting Jesus.

If we were writing this verse today, perhaps we would say, “After office hours, and just before bedtime, the calls, emails, and meeting requests began. A hospital visit. A neighbor dropped by for advice. Tasks left unfinished from the day kept me awake. A teen texted, feeling alone and overwhelmed.”

What an honor to step into the messiness of life with other people. And how quickly it can drain us.

What Jesus does next is one of the most encouraging passages in the Bible.

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Now, my guilt-shaped brain will let this verse hit hard. Do I get up early in the morning to pray? Do I get away from people? One more spiritual task to do. I’m failing. Jesus did it; why don’t I get this done?

But, living in the guilt-free zone, I view this as an invitation. If Jesus chose to withdraw to a quiet place to pray the morning after a long day of ministry, how much more do we need to do so?

My reality, lack of sleep causes a lot of dysfunctions in my life. So, getting up early is only sometimes the way. But, leaving work in time to sit in the school pick-up line for a few minutes before my child jumps in the car is just as much as a quiet place. Closing my office door. Turning off the notifications on my phone and computer. Simple little habits can provide many moments in a solitary place with God throughout the day.

These solitary moments allow us to turn our hearts back towards God. To examine our day and our interactions. To prepare for what comes next, known or unknown. Creating a habit of finding these short moments with God allows us to develop the kind of ruts in our soul that keep us focused on our response to God’s kingdom mission. It allows us to remember our mission and calling so that, like Jesus, we can say, “That is why I have come,” with full freedom and without guilt or a heavy heart.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *