What if Christian teachings fill me with feelings of guilt and worthlessness?

Then move to another teaching.

No one left the presence of Jesus feeling worthless. And any sense of guilt was immediately healed with his loving acceptance. Christian teachings should leave you with feelings of thankfulness and joy. When you are loved absolutely, infinitely, without qualification or limit, you are healed and forgiven from feelings of guilt, and you are granted infinite worth.

There is an emotion of holy awe that accepts the wonder of such divine benevolence with humble reverence. Healthy guilt is a motivation for facing reality truthfully in order to let God's forgiving light shine into our darkness. Once revealed it is healed, and we can begin again with courage to change. Any guilt beyond whatever brings us to free repentance is a false guilt that usually leads to pride. And any emotion bordering on worthlessness— except the mystical experience of disappearing into the oneness of the divine— is probably pathological and life denying.

—The Rev. Lowell Grisham

Christianity is a religion of joy that invites every human being to experience liberation from feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and worthlessness. More than underscoring our shortcomings, the teachings of Jesus open for us a deep appreciation of God's unfathomable love for every person. God's love does not depend on how good we are, how bright or promising, how conscientious or even caring. It's hard to believe, but God loves us just because we are. How do we know this? Jesus, God Incarnate, demonstrates this in his interaction with people.

Jesus surrounded himself with the "losers" of his day: prostitutes, tax collectors (hated because they cheated the public), lepers (their disease made them total outcasts), and the poor and disadvantaged. His primary followers were a group of motley fishermen, whom he promised would learn to "fish for people." These followers often misunderstood Jesus, and when Jesus was being persecuted, they deserted and denied him. Jesus was amazingly patient, always forgiving, always meeting people on their own terms. He was slow to condemn and quick to bring out the best even in the least likely people. Their transformations came as a result of their gradual appreciation for the mystery of God's love for them. If God could accept and love them despite their sins and shortcomings, perhaps they could learn to accept and love themselves!

Jesus does hold up ideals that are never possible to fully emulate here on earth. His desire is to bring out the best in each of us not to lay some guilt trip. Even those whom we call "saints" (the holy ones) are hardly without faults. What makes someone a saint is not their goodness but the quality of their love of others. Those who live more and more for others, who like Jesus extend themselves to respect and value every other person, are God's saints.

Ironically, it is often when we do feel inadequate or sinful that God's love and grace come to reassure us and turn us around. "Blessed are those who know their need of God, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:3. What is important to God is not our perfection, as if that were possible, but our understanding that we need God in order to find our deepest selves. When we know our need of God, we understand that the world does not rest on our shoulders, that someone loves us deeply despite our many warts, that we will never be alone, and that our life is not a test we have to pass. Rather, life is a relationship with God we simply have to live.

—The Right Rev. Robert W. Ihloff