When you treat guilt like gravy

photo by goodiesfirst

I’m a good southern girl. And if there’s anything a good southern girl knows it’s this–everything goes better with gravy.

And guilt.

Yes, a nice helping of guilt.

I’ve struggled with guilt as long as I can remember. I have no idea why. I feel guilty if I do too little. I feel guilty if I do too much.

I even feel guilty if I pause at a stoplight for two seconds after it turns green. I imagine the person behind me glaring at the back of my head for holding them up. Then I look in the mirror and there are no cars behind me. Yes, ma’am. That’s how I roll.

One day I got tired of all this guilt. And I started looking at what Scripture really says about it. Especially in the New Testament. And here’s the thing: guilt is always tied to a specific sin. In other words, we have clearly and intentionally broken a command. Then we confess it and ask forgiveness.

That’s different than gravy guilt.

Gravy guilt is poured over everything. It’s not specific. It’s vague and hard to get a hold on.

Gravy guilt isn’t about what I’ve done. It’s about me. It tries to cover who I really am and tell me I’m a no-good-pause-at-the-light-too-long-disgrace-to-southern-society.

Gravy guilt also doesn’t know about confession and forgiveness. It tells me that only way to deal with it is try harder. And when I’ve scraped every bit off my plate, another helping is already on the way.

So I think we all need to pause and ask ourselves, “Is this gravy guilt or God guilt {otherwise known as conviction}?”

Conviction is temporary–it’s a response to a specific sin and leads us to repentance.

Conviction never shames or condemns us–it calls us back to who we truly are.

Conviction is about a relationship–it helps us realize we’ve hurt Someone we love and prompts us to draw closer to Him again.

What do you do when gravy guilt tries to cover the plate of your life? Same thing you probably learned to do at a southern dinner table somewhere. The hostess holds up that ladle and you know you’re about to get your potatoes drowned to oblivion. So you say, “Oh, thank you, but I’m going to pass this time.” In other words, I’m not receiving that gravy guilt.

Not on my potatoes.

Not on my heart.

Not on my life.

Then you make room on your plate for something really good. A heaping helping of grace.

As much as you want.

Seconds and thirds.

Until you’re all happy and full on the inside.


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    • Char Klinkenborg says

      The words in this analogy has help me identify exactly what has been a burden for such a long time. I’ve many explanations and they would come close but what you have shared has given me more clarity and how easily the solution is. Thank you Holley for sharing your heart with us. God Bless you.

  1. Leah Loy says

    Holley, your words today really hit me between the eyes. I have been struggling a lot lately with guilt in several areas of my life. Reading what you wrote really helped me to see that it wasn’t a conviction type of guilt but a gravy type of guilt!! I am heaping it upon myself by being critical and over-demanding on my own life. I have set such unrealistic expectations for myself that I feel guilty when I can’t achieve them! Thank you for your timely words. They really gave me a lot to think about, pray about and try to figure out how to pass on the heaping serving of gravy :)

  2. Anastasia says

    This is exactly what I struggle with! I feel guilty if I sit and relax for all of 5 mintues, because I feel I could be doing something productive instead. So needless to say that this speaks right to my heart! Thank you so very much!

  3. says

    Thank you for this…I am that girl at the light with you! I will be making room for that “heaping helping of grace” from this point on.

  4. Ana says

    Great message today Holley.

    I love gravy! We live in an imperfect world with lots and lots of gravy to be had, and I love the fact that when this “gravy” spills out way too far, and trust me, I’ve had more than my share for feeling shame and guilt. I know my Spirit will let me know when I’ve had too much or gone too far. That’s where the conviction comes in and I say “Hmmm”, I think I’ll pass on this one. We live in the flesh and we beat ourselves up so much everyday, but what we need to do is “let go, and let God”! When we come to realize that person behind me as “flaws” just as we do, and we beat ourselves up thinking “oh I hope there aren’t mad at me”?

    That’s where God would say as he said to Martha to come and rest a while like Mary is doing with me. We need to look at the bigger picture and realize we aren’t perfect nor will we ever be, because there is only One who is and His name is Jesus. So, easy on yourselves and easy on the gravy. Dessert’s coming up! God bless you.

  5. says

    So nicely stated! I do that at green lights too!!! I’m such a pleaser and a try-harder, but I’m learning. Thanks for writing and all you do. :)

  6. dianne says

    A statement I make every day is ‘I am driven by guilt’. I’m not going to say that anymore. Wow! Thank you so much for the ‘gravy’ analogy. I got it!

  7. Cindy says

    Boy do I know what you are talking about!
    I just wish I could find a good way to keep the ‘gravy guilt’ out of my life.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Louise says

    Hey Holley, perfect – I’m not a southern girl, I like my gravy, but just not swimming! I have always had this “gift” if there is guilt laying around, I’ll pick it up carry it until I am so burdened, well you can guess what happens then. Thanks so much for the clarification – your words are so very encouraging and I too would like to sit and have a cup of coffee with you, conversation salted with God’s wisdom and uplifting! Bless you today.

  9. says

    You nailed this, Southern sister. This is way too close for comfort over here.:) What a beautiful distinction you make between conviction and guilt. Yes that vague, oozing, generic guilt is paralyzing while conviction comes to us in Love –gracefully, mercifully filled with God’s desire for our highest and best. Great post, Holly. Yes, I think I will pass today and way more often on the gravy variety of guilt.

  10. karyn says

    I’m not a guilty person as I kinda let things pass me by and really what is there to feel guilty about when there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. Well, only if the sin if not great. There are degrees of sin and little things like losing your temper and other things like sleeping in when I’m supposed to be somewhere else. Well, these are minors not majors, so, I don’t really fall into the major trap so, there really is nothing to feel guilty about, is there. Nice article. Keeps me thinking. Think thinking is good for the brain. Keeps it healthy. Thanks for sharing. Are you really a guilty person. All the time. Were, but, not now.

  11. Lisa E says

    Dear Holley,
    Wow! You sure described me, ( except it might be chocolate sauce) I am guilty of feeling guilty!
    If I spend time on my artwork I feel guilty I’m not doing housework! If I’m spending time with friends, I “should” be doing something for/with my family… I have fibromyalgia and am no longer able to work, I feel guilty about that too. I have always struggled with self worth, but I’m working on it.

  12. says

    I wade through the gravy guilt all day! It drips across the floor as I drag myself out of bed (ugh…will I survive my kids today?!); it flies from my finger tips as I type this very comment while my daughter is watching Curious George…again; it simmers in the microwave as I heat up chicken nuggets for my kids’ lunch; then I float in it as I lay in bed at night…knowing that I did nothing intentional today since I was too busy “surviving” motherhood. And it goes way beyond motherhood, but that’s usually where it pools. Striving today to drain the gravy pool and fill it with globs of grace!

  13. Kenyatta says

    Oh I like my gravy but not on everything which seems to be the way it always gets served to me. On the job, gravy, at home gravy, professionally gravy, physically gravy, and financially gravy. I’m so glad for your word on today, thanks for being a willing vessel to be used of God to help his people for the progession of His Kingdom. Now that I know the difference I can learn to say “no thank you I’ll pass on that heaping of gravy but can you supersize my serving of grace, please and thank you”

    Be Blessed

  14. Win Hawkins says

    Thanks Holley Your comments are always so encouraging. I too remain guilt-laden in spite of my best efforts. Is it a woman thing? I even apologise if the weather is bad when an outing is planned!

  15. okshanny says

    Today God used your words to truly speak to my heart. I am guilty. But that truth does not mean that He doesn’t love me and can’t still use me. I have to believe that or I cannot go on until tomorrow. Thanks for your encouragement. Some of us are hanging on by the thead of a spider’s web.

  16. Barbara says

    Holley, I’m glad I’m not alone in this! But I wish that this wasn’t such a common trait among Christian women. From your new name for this condition, I will be able to recognise my ‘gravy guilt’ and let the grace of God cover my plate instead! Thank you once again, Holley, for opening your heart to so many of us just like you, longing to serve our Saviour with all that we are and have, despite it often feeling ‘not good enough’. God bless you!!

  17. Lisa says

    Hi Holley,
    Oh, boy, did this ring true. I am not southern born and raised, but I was raised in the north by a very southern belle and learned about “gravy guilt” very early on…goes along with the “smothering worry butter”. I loved my mother dearly and she loved as big as she heaped on the guilt. Isn’t God so wonderful that He loves us right out of it. Thank you for your wise words. I love your devos :) You are such a blessing :)
    Lisa :)

  18. says

    I’ve had days when I feel like a failure at everything – as wife, mother, writer, Christian. Once I asked for prayer during one of those days and a friend said something I’ll never forget. “God deals with specific sins. Satan deals in broad sides.” God pinpoints a genuine sin, usually one or two at a time. And this isn’t something someone else just doesn’t like about you. It’s some thing you’ve done or failed to do that is truly a sin. Satan takes that one thing and paints everything in my life with the same brush bringing me down so I feel unable to fix any of the problems.

    I guess your gravy illustration is the same thing.

    If guilt is the heavy, gloppy gravy, I think grace is the whipped cream on top of the dessert. It makes everything richer and sweeter than it was before.

  19. Molly S. Agbaje says

    Thank you so much Holley and God bless you indeed!
    I relate so much , I feel like you just told my story; although most of the unnecessary “guilt” I feel was learned way back from my childhood. I will continue to pray for discernment and I must remember from now on, to “pass”, on the gravy guilt. Thank you.
    Molly Agbaje

  20. says

    Thank you, Holley. The explanation about guilt from the Holy Spirit being tied to a specific sin is especially helpful. “There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus…” Conviction over specific sins? Yes. Gravy condemnation about who I am? No. ~smile~

  21. Donna says

    Ah guilt! Something that I have everyday. Your article on guilt spoke directly to me. I am always feeling guilty about something. Even when I know that I don’t want or need to do something, I still feel guilty for not always fulfilling the wishes of others. I always feel less than and I know that God doesn’t want us as Christians to feel that way.

    Thank You Holley! The gravy message today was right on target just like all of your writings! God Bless and please keep sending your messages of hope to us all !! Your messages help me sooo much!!

  22. says

    I used to do the guilt-trip thing about saying “NO!” But I’ve had a Holy Spirit attitude adjustment!! When I’ve prayed, and the Lord tells me to say “NO,” I realize that it gives an opportunity for someone else to say “YES” to the Holy Spirit’s lead!

    We’re not meant to carry the whole load, and it’s wrong for us to think we should! Amen!
    Great post, Holley!

  23. Janice says

    You really spoke directly to me today. I too grew up in the South. I had a guilt-ladling mother and married a guilt-ladling husband. I felt like I was just paranoid about everything. I have come to realize I really wasn’t paranoid, but I just didn’t know how to handle everything and had let any self-confidence be eroded. Thank you for your encouraging words!

  24. Lu says

    Thanks for this reminder Holley. It can be easy if we’re susceptible to let guilt come and we need to recognise it and pass it by. Thanks again :)

  25. Abby says

    I needed to read that tonight! Your wonderful and awesome for sharing Holley! :) I’m gald to know that I’m not the only one who struggles ladies! God bless!!!! :)

  26. Sowjanya says

    Always your mails are refreshing and also interospective. But today i was really feeling low and full of guiltiness. Your words hit me on the face.Thank you for showing the difference between guilt and conviction. I now realize that it is time to pass on the gravy and have more servings of his grace.

  27. Stephanie H. says

    Love this analogy! It is somehow comforting to know that I’m not alone in my gravy guilt. That really helped to put this guilt in perspective and realize I have the choice to say “No thank you.”

  28. Catherine G says

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! I cannot begin to tell you how much I relate to what you’ve said about gravy/guilt! Im not even a gravy girl, but I have southern blood on both sides of my family! This releases a lot of pressure off of me; I could cry right now while typing the library! Thank you for sharing!

  29. pat rich says

    You were definitely talking to me about gravy…thank you…will work on that. I so look forward to your emails. Not sure how you do it, but you bless us all. A big personal thank you.

  30. says

    I know exactly what you are talking about as it sounded like I wrote it. Guilty if I do too little or too much and definitely recognized the stop light comment. Your right, guilt is like gravy and I am trying to lose weight so am cutting that. I think I will lose some spiritual weight too . But it has taken me a long time to live in guilt so pray for me as I learn to live in freedom.

  31. Mary Ann Simpson says

    Holley, this is one of your BEST insights ever! I love the image you created with gravy and guilt and the creative way you put it all together!! You have been given a God-sized portion of thinking and inspiring us “outside of the box”! Thank you for sharing your gift!! Hugs and prayers!

  32. Javene McCabe says


  33. says

    Wow, gravy guilt…never heard it described that way but you hit the nail right on the head! It covers everything, AND it is not healthy. A little bit of guilt is good, but not the running over your plate kind. I suffer from that gravy guilt too, even though I am a yankee girl. I like fried Okra does that count?? Great and encouraging post! Lori

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  35. says

    Your sharing just “made my day”. I never liked making gravy; how much water needed, how much flour, how much milk, it’s too thick, it’s too thin, bacon grease or ham grease? Thanks for your insight. I needed a serving of “mashed potatoes without gravy guilt” today.

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