I read this awesome post about guilt this morning and it got my thoughts going. Having been manipulated by a heavy dose of the g-word since childhood, and most especially since my parent's divorce, I have only in recent years been learning to distinguish the difference between real guilt because of wrong-doing and perceived guilt because I did not meet or exceed the expectations of someone else.
Perceived guilt comes in a variety of places. I grew up feeling personally responsible for my mother's mental health, and since it was a pretty consistent downward spiral, you can imagine the tsunami of guilt that I tried to stand against. As a young mother, I struggled with making the right choices for my babies - breast or bottle, cloth or disposable, and on and on and on, and as my children have grown these choices have become more complex. When bad things happen to or involving your children, in floods the guilt. In church and homeschool groups, you find yourself signing up to participate in good things because you think that they should happen, even while you don't feel necessarily compelled to do them, because if you don't you'll feel guilty that they didn't ever take off or weren't as good as they could've been because you did not do your part. This guilt can be handed down from the pulpit or from the group in general, and I too have participated in guilting others. (What do you mean you're not making the gingerbread houses this year? Sorry Helen!)
I have come to realize that anything motivated by guilt or obligation is not the real thing at all. It is why the Salvation Army bell ringers standing outside the stores on the holidays are successful, because we are motivated by the pressure to perform when we see a need. I am not saying the cause is not worthy, but that often we give out of the peer pressure of public performance versus out of the abundance of a generous heart.
Recently, I was talking to a friend and brought to tears when I realized that my mother never really let me love her. Everything you did for her was expected, and great mountains of guilt were heaped when you did not perform according to her specifications or expectations. This chokes a relationship and clogs off the natural flow of love.
If you think about the Garden, and the seeming risk Father took when He gave each of us freewill to choose to live in love with Him, it paints the perfect picture. Motivated by obligation and guilt, our "relationship" would mean nothing. Free to live above guilt is the path to perfect love.