Sometimes our greatest lessons are wrapped in guilt, anxiety and anger, and it’s up to us to look past the packaging to the treasure contained within. Growth, insights, connection. This is what I learned through my last writing for self reflection session using the journal prompts for guilt you’ll find at the bottom of this blogpost.
God’s Gifts Don’t Always Come in the Prettiest Paper
My son wanted to switch from field hockey to free running lessons last week. So, I signed him up. I’ll have to be honest that even before the first lesson I had misgivings because of the distance from home (thinking of your child jumping from great heights is also fantastic for a mother’s anxiety). It’s on a route where there’s always traffic – especially at 17:00 on a Monday. But, hey, after he spent four years playing a sport he had lukewarm feelings about, I wanted him to try something he’d come up with himself
After the first lesson he was excited. I mean the whole drive home he couldn’t stop talking about how much fun he’d had and how nice Nienke, a girl he’d met in the lesson, had been to him. He definitely wanted to join the class. Gulp.
I was thrilled that he’d found something he was excited about. I was also relieved there’d be no more pouting before hockey or resistance because he didn’t want to go. No more complaints afterwards that training was ‘stupid’ and he didn’t learn anything.
On the other hand, I was not looking forward to driving 30-40 minutes every Monday, sitting in my car for an hour (parents are asked not to stay and watch – they say for COVID but I'm sure moms standing around worried is a factor) then returning home at 19:00 and scurrying to get dinner on the table. How I wished we could find a lesson closer to home.
Those Old Friends – Guilt and the Pit of the Stomach
The following week we set off for his second lesson. We got half-way there when I asked my son to grab my phone so he could put the address in Google Maps because I didn’t know the way.
“Where’s your phone, Mom?” he replied.
“It’s right there where it always is.”
“It’s not here, Mom.”
I knew exactly where it was: still on the kitchen counter charging.
“Is it so bad that you don’t have your phone, Mom?”
Well, yeah, cause I had no idea how to get to his lesson from where we were. At that moment I felt a familiar gnawing in the pit of my stomach. It crept up until it settled in my chest and then tightened. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. I wanted to rage at the injustice. In those first moments I couldn’t think of what to do – my mind wasn’t functioning.
“I’m so sorry, sweetie. Mommy did something really silly. We’re not going to make this lesson because by the time I turn around and get my phone then go back you’ll already be 10 minutes late. And that’s if there’s no traffic.”
In the middle of my further apologies, my son told me that it was okay, that everyone forgot things sometimes.
“Remember, Mom, I left my retainer at school. I don’t mind if I miss a lesson.”
But I minded. I just couldn’t shake the guilt. I just couldn’t accept that I had let him down.
Writing for Self Reflection – Our Path to Gratitude
Back home, I immediately got online and found another free running lesson that was actually closer and on a route where there was hardly ever any traffic. I signed him up for a lesson and breathed a sigh of relief. I felt my body relax and my thoughts calm ever so slightly.
He went to the new lesson and loved it even more than the first place. And it only took me 13 minutes to drive there. Yessssssss!
I wrote this situation in my journaling notebook because it occurred to me what a blessing in disguise forgetting my phone was. Had it not happened, I probably would not have looked for an alternate lesson, and perhaps each week I would have dreaded driving through traffic. It seemed to me my silent request for a closer lesson was granted. Sure, it came wrapped up in irritation, frustration, guilt and self-doubt – but a gift it was.
My bonus gift was the recognition that at no point did I ever beat myself up for my actions nor for how I felt in response to my actions. I was aware of how my emotions made me feel physically, and I just acknowledged it, which gave me the presence of mind to think of and find a solution.
As I continued to write my reflections in my journaling notebook, I was reminded of something I’d read in Daniel Goleman’s seminal study on emotional intelligence:
“Managing our emotions is something of a full-time job: much of what we do – especially in our free time – is an attempt to manage mood.”
The art of soothing ourselves is a fundamental life skill
By finding a solution, I didn’t only soothe my son. After the initial disappointment, he was okay with missing a week. I discovered that I’dbeen searching for a way to soothe my own guilt because what it engendered in my body didn’t feel good.
Journal Prompts for Guilt
Dear reader: I invite you to grab your favorite pen and open your journaling notebook. Think of a recent situation that yanked a strong emotional reaction of guilt from you. For 10 minutes write about that situation in as much detail as possible. Then respond to the journaling prompts, allowing five minutes for each one:
I soothed myself by _____________________________________.
Maybe I didn’t see it back then, in that moment, but now I see the gift in the situation. The gift was _________________________________________________.
Now when I think about the situation I feel ___________________________ .