Do-Gooder Guilt

Do-Gooder Guilt

I have chronic do-gooder guilt. And it is exacerbated by my isolated pandemic lifestyle. Like most of you, I’ve felt trapped at home, worrying about the world “out there.” Now that the school year has begun I have a whole new preoccupation with monitoring my children for COVID symptoms. Today it’s a child home from preschool with suspicious sniffles, last week it was a 2nd grader sent home to quarantine after a COVID exposure, and the week before it was a baby with a fever that probably wasn’t anything but needed a COVID test just to be safe. I’m tired of the relentless focus on my family and, uggh, the VIRUS!

I miss being out of my home and spending time with other people. I miss being present to the needs of others—especially when I know there are so many needs. It feels counter-intuitive to lock ourselves away in a time of deep poverty and isolation, here and around the world. But I have come to realize two things in this time when I feel guilty about not being out in the world, doing good. 

The first is that it is okay, even virtuous, to give your family and yourself the care you need. I remember hearing a well-meaning preacher (it was a man, to be clear) guilting families for using their children as an excuse for not getting out there and “living for the Kingdom of God” and I felt his words like a gut punch. But I also wondered if he knew anything about my life with a four-month-old who takes three naps a day and a marginally potty trained child who couldn’t be far from home for long. I sat in that guilt for a while and then I felt like God spoke to me as I rocked my baby to sleep, “This is holy too.” 

It is holy thing to patiently love your kids and spouse in the seventh month of this unsettling pandemic. It’s a holy thing to stop and bring your anxiety and fears to God and let him care for you. Let me assure you, it’s okay to take a nap. It’s okay to take a few days off at home waiting for lab results. It’s okay to thoughtfully care for your family. It’s okay to nurse your wounds and disappointments. 

A wise and deeply committed pastor I once knew would regularly remind young go-getters that if thing can’t be done peaceably, it shouldn’t be done at all. That, of course, comes from a life deeply rooted the provision of God and from witnessing the catastrophic damage of good works done by harried Christians without love.

The second lesson I am learning is that God doesn’t need me to stretch myself thin in order to do good for his sake. In fact, God’s work isn’t dependent on us at all. He invites us to take part in what he is doing but it never succeeds or fails based on the effort of a single person. This season of my life is very different for me. I am unable to spend a few hours getting a homeless person into safe housing for the night or helping a refugee fill out confusing forms. And yet, God issues invitations daily to join him in meeting the needs of neighbors, even from a distance.

If you feel disconnected from the needs of your community I encourage you to take a little time to look up the demographics of your zip code—you may find them surprising and discover new needs, just in the numbers. You will see your neighborhood in a new light, even just from your car. You could reach out to a local school or senior organization to find out about their most pressing needs. Or respond to the needs of one of our ministry partners that we feature during our weekly “Live Out Love” focus. There are still great ways to “do good” within the limitations of COVID. 

There is great good to be done in the name and authority of Jesus but it is never meant to come from a place of guilt or fear. Start with prayer for your household and move outward, covering our city and state and nation and world with prayer. We will live out love best from a place of trust in God’s provision for us and his care for the world.