It’s almost as if, after the delights of Christmas, there's a universal guilt-binge. The newspaper is full of references to Dry January and Veganuary…Guilt-ridden punters flood the gym and the supermarkets flash their special offers on foods for extreme diets. It sounds as if we can’t celebrate without excess. We can’t enjoy ourselves without really losing control. What's it all about? Here in the UK at least, January days are still dark, often cold and sometimes comfortless. So why make life more miserable now? Why do we opt for this annual guilt-binge?
My answer to that question is that guilt-bingeing is one of life’s ultimate comforts. If you can’t binge on sugar or alcohol or chocolate, find something else to binge on! And guilt offers itself so subtly and beguilingly – here I am – just binge on me! And between self-beatings, we can gently pat ourselves on the back for being so moral! We can binge quietly on the whiff of our own success and ‘self-control’. Look at me, we whisper, I’m denying myself! And I’m going to be so-o-o much better than I was!
We can feel good about ourselves….for a little while! But the rewards of bingeing on guilt and self-congratulation about our new ‘goodness’ are elusive. In the end, bingeing on guilt is no more ultimately satisfying than bingeing on chocolate! But what’s more, we won’t be able to keep up the iron discipline for long. We know it. Let’s be honest! Nobody can! Like all guilt-based attempts to ‘try harder’ and ‘do better’, it is doomed from the start. It is doomed because it is based on the myth that we can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.
So what am I saying here? Am I denying that human beings should attempt to control their appetites? Am I promoting the indulgence of greed in ourselves and the wider society? Am I suggesting that we shouldn’t aspire to be the most measured people we can in a world where both intemperance and self-indulgence commonly masquerade as sophistication?
Of course not! What I’m sharing is my own experience that it is often easier to guilt binge than honestly and gently to recognise our weaknesses and take up the moderate, regular and often tedious work of good habit building. None of us can do that unless our determination draws on something more self-nurturing than guilt.
It seems to me that there’s a narrow gate to be found beyond physical bingeing and spiritual bingeing which leads to a quiet place of acceptance. As a Christian, I believe that acceptance comes with not just 'knowing' but believing at a deep level that I am loved by God. And loved as I am - with all my bingeing propensities – however they manifest themselves. And my response to that acceptance is a new ability to accept myself in all my colours. Gratitude for that acceptance and the liberty it offers, sets me free to do the regular (and still often demanding ) work of enjoying the world – and of making wise and regular choices. It roots me in being kind to myself and to other people as God is kind to me. Of course I shall continue to fail often but there will be no need for guilt binges in January or at any other time of year!