why I stopped feeling guilty about stupid things

There is a small tree growing between our neighbor’s side yard and ours. Every year around this time, that tree spits out tiny pink buds, whispering the promise of hopeful things to come. The buds are only pretty for a short time, and yesterday I realized I missed their prettiest days this year.

My first instinct was to feel guilty about that. Oh no! I’m missing my favorite small gifts! I’m not paying attention in life. But that’s simply not true. I am paying attention. I’m just not always able to pay attention to everything at the same time.

pink tree

Here’s the thing: I’m thankful for the small gifts of the every day, the tiny reminders that life is not all about me and my big self. But I can’t always roll around in them. I value the practice of celebrating small gifts – but that practice doesn’t look the same from day to day or season to season.


When our kids come home from school at 2:30, we jump in the deep end of homework and projects and juggling food on the stove. We eat together at the table, practice spelling after dinner, referee sibling fights and snuggle on the couch before bed.

During the hours they’re in school, I have a job to do. I am committed to finish this third book. So far in 2013, my writing efforts have been entirely focused on re-writing large portions of my manuscript (this is not ideal, by the way). Last Friday, I finally turned it in (for the second time). But that was only after 9 hour writing days, early morning wake up calls, lots of reading, thinking, praying, and waiting for the message to make sense.

I’m also committed to write blog posts, guests posts, and articles, to communicate with my editor and agent, to plan marketing and promotion, to do interviews and prepare talks for events. This is my job, one I love and sometimes want to hide from, but I’m always committed to doing it – not to mention all the other responsibilities of being a mom, a wife, and a dependable grown up.


My husband wakes all of us up every morning. He makes breakfast and does the laundry (washes, folds, and puts it away, people. I will never leave him). Frankly, he does a lot of the household work I used to do – and he still has his own full time job.

I felt guilty about that for about 7 minutes once. And then I woke up and smelled the fresh laundry, realizing I can’t waste my time worrying about stereotypes and expected roles. This is our life together and we both make it work.

We are learning new rhythms, flexible schedules and shared responsibilities. We plan downtime and date nights and squabble about timing and dinner and who’s picking up the kids. Sometimes I get it all wrong, work too much, and have to reset things.

There are days when I still fight every moment with guilt over not going with them to the park or the movies, over feeling distracted even when I am with them. It’s important for me to enter into that fight, but it’s also important for me to recognize this is a unique season and it won’t always be this way.

It’s also my responsibility to make sure that’s true.


Here are some things that have helped me release the guilt over the past eight months as I’ve been working more than usual:

  • My husband and I have decided together this third book is part of my calling as a writer. We decided this was the time to write it and we both knew what that meant, from the proposal to the marketing and all the things that come in between. If you’re entering a season of focused work on a big project, it’s vital to have your family on your team.
  • Sometimes being fully present to my work and my family means I will miss the pink buds on the tree in my side yard. We choose what gets our attention. When it’s time for margin, enter in fully. When it’s time to work, do the same. Missing the small gifts sometimes means I’m simply caught up in a bigger picture.
  • Doing the risky work of hyper-focusing on a project now means my mind and heart will be free from the burden of having to figure out how to say it later.
  • The beautiful truth I’m thankful to know is this process brings its own small gifts. When I have something to say and I finally take the risk to say it, I become more fully myself with each word. That kind of courage is a gift all by itself.


I’m sharing this for a few reasons.

One, in the next few weeks I plan to tell you more about this book I’ve been working on. But before I did that I wanted to be honest with you about the process. I haven’t figured out “how to write a book” yet. But I’m at least learning to stop feeling guilty over the amount of focus it takes me to do it. I mainly have my husband to thank for that.

Second, I’m guessing most of you are in your own full seasons right now. And maybe you struggle with fear or guilt over not being able to embrace all the moments the way you either used to or want to.

Might I suggest that you take the day off from the guilt and see if it changes anything? You may realize the space all that guilt was taking up in your soul is now free to embrace more moments than you thought possible.

You’re juggling plenty of balls in the air. Don’t let shame be one of them.

Drop the guilty, wilty worry over missing out on the little things or not living up to made up expectations you have in your head. Be fully present where you are with what you have and trust that God is big enough to fill in the gaps.


  1. says

    Love this. Thank you for sharing it this morning, Emily. I really needed to hear it. Can’t wait to hear all about your new book and read it from cover to cover : )

  2. says

    Set us free, Emily! That’s so good for me to hear. Missing the small buds of the tree…don’t let shame be one of the balls we juggle…family support on big projects…stellar stuff today.

  3. says

    Oooh…this is fantastic and hits me right between the eyes.

    Also, I thought at the end you were going to say…”You’ve got enough balls… to stop feeling guilty” or something like that and I was thinking EMILY! And I loved it. But I also love it the real way.

    Can’t wait to get my mitts on your new book.

  4. katie says

    so sorry things have been crazy, emily. i will be praying for you– and i am looking forward to this whole new book business you’ve mentioned from time to time :) your words encourage me so much and i thank you for sharing! i am in my last semester of college.. sometimes i think “wait?? am i enjoying this enough? soaking in every moment.” Yes.

  5. says

    Love this post. I also feel guilty in the ways that you do, and I also struggle with reconciling that guilt. Your advice is gentle and helpful. I’ve found that one thing that makes me feel better is acknowledging that the seasons of focused work are just that—seasons. They’re temporary. Between them I regain the time and attention for life’s little pleasures. You’re not always available, but you’re not always busy, either. It’s all part of the ebb and flow of life. I may miss the pink buds of early spring because I’m occupied now, but I may notice the blooms of summer instead. You know what I mean? :)

    Thank you for your lovely post.

  6. says

    I am the queen of made up expectations for myself! Every word of this post resonates with my soul as I am adjusting to choosing to stay home from a job I loved to raise my baby boy. In this season of change I’m learning to embrace where I am and not compare myself to other moms who seem to have it all figured out. It’s a slow process, but I am thankful for the Lord’s new blessings every morning!

  7. says

    Oh my, this reminds me of our recent conversation, except this is the Cliff Notes. Thank for for this. I feel EXACTLY the same way as I enter a similar season. And my husband does the laundry too. He sees writing as my call and for that I am grateful. I don’t take it for granted. I’m pretty sure none of this would be possible without his support. I’ve been praying for you over the past two weeks, glad to know you’ve sent that manuscript back in. Breathe, yes and amen.

  8. says

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve been struggling with this exact thing for the past couple of weeks. I don’t understand why we feel like we have to do everything and we are failures if people help us. Between working full time, going to school full time, trying t be a good mom to 2 kids and a good wife to my husband, I don’t feel like I have anything left. And I feel guilty all.the.time. Thank you for this. It really touched me today.

  9. says

    Looking forward to hearing more about your upcoming book! And, yes, the “guilty wiltys” get to me sometimes, but I try to shake them off and simply do what has to be done.

  10. Rebecca Sarine says

    Each of our stories is different. Each situation that God is orchestrating. But i definitely struggle with remembering that. With remembering that God has mercy and compassion for me in my particular situation. He works through it and grows me in it. He doesn’t need me to compare myself to those around me but to run to him. I can glorify him through my life right here and now. I do struggle with the guilt of not living what I imagine is the perfect wife, mother, work, and friend role. Thank you for this beautiful reminder it is so timely as I was just dealing with renewed struggles in this area. What you said at the end: “You’ve got enough balls to juggle in the air. Don’t let shame be one of them.” That is a powerful image. I don’t want to waste my time on guilt but to live fully in the moment of my individual story. Thank you.

    Oh and I can’t wait to hear about your 3rd book!!! I pray for you, your project and your family often. Thank you for being obedient to this calling. It is beautiful and glorifies our God.

  11. says

    This. Is. Awesome. The other day, when I was shoveling the driveway and my husband was making our son’s birthday cake, I thought, “What’s wrong with this picture?!” But then, in the very next breath, I thought, “No, there are so many things RIGHT with this picture!” So, we have an upside-down gender role household. It works for us. It works for our kids. End of story!

  12. says

    I love these words…”but I can’t always roll around in them” talking about the gifts all around us. Great encouragement. I’m in awe that you were able to articulate these thoughts so beautifully in the middle of such an intense season. Blessings and looking forward to hearing about the new book!

  13. says

    Thank you for your encouragement & for being so real. It’s so hard for me to remember every day to take one step at a time and let God handle everything else. That’s what I want to do but when the rubber hits the road every day, it’s not always what happens. I’m on the leadership TEAM of our church’s Celebrate Recovery ministry which begins Monday; I had double mastectomy surgery 6 weeks ago today (praise God there was nothing in the lymph nodes so I don’t even have to follow up with an oncologist!!!); because of the surgery I’m waaaay behind on my volunteer bookkeeping work for two 501(c)(3) ministries that two of my friends run; I need to go visit my sister who is dying with anal cancer and encourage her (AGAIN!) to give up the control to Jesus that she so desperately wants to hang onto; well, just like everyone else I could go on and on…praise God that at least I retired last year!! I was thinking after I read your post that it would really help if I would just sit down & write out every little thing I can think of that needs to be done. I’ve tried to do that before & it really seems to help. Somehow seeing it on paper brings it down to size & it doesn’t seem to be quite so overwhelming…just cross one thing off at a time…and add all those little pieces to the list as they flit through my mind…and believe me, as I get older I have to catch those thoughts fast & get them down on paper because either they flit faster than they used to…or else my mind is a lot slower in catching them! My, my, how I do go on!! I really just wanted to say that I’m eternally grateful for the wisdom God is giving you every day and also for your ability and willingness to share it, even when, no, especially when, it’s very hard to do. Keep on keeping on & God bless you and your family–especially that great catch of a husband…does he give lessons to other husbands? :-)

    • Nancy R says

      Dee, whenever one of us in our household starts getting overwhelmed I say “How do you eat an elephant?” First few times they would look at me quizzically. Now they state “One bite at a time!” Reminds us to not get overwhelmed just do it one bite at a time like you did when writing it down. Then for giggles, I will say — do you eat the tail first or start at the front!” Blessings

  14. says

    I share this same impediment. Guilt used to rule my life, but I’ve discovered that God doesn’t ask me to be perfect, just do the best I can with what He has given me that day. I wish that I could roll around in the sea of God’s blessings, but I,too, can’t. Thank you for giving me new insight.

  15. says

    Beautifully written and boy did it hit home with me.
    I don’t do many of the things that are on your plate but I do have my own set of Guilts….
    Thank you for repurposing my thoughts and the reminder to give them all to the Lord.

  16. says

    So good. My guilt is in creating. I feel guilty no matter how rigorous the work; the time spent. I also feel guilty about the neglected ‘others’ from a life dedicated to writing down words and making with hands. I’m not a published author, but I’m working towards someone choosing me to be so. For now, I (crazily) keep choosing myself.

    Thanks for allowing your place to be one where we can include the words rattling around in our chests so we can breathe easier, too.

    Prayers to you and all you have to accomplish.

  17. says

    thank you for the beautiful photo and the words ‘breathe’, i am using it as my screen saver hope that is okay.
    In a simple way i know that is what i need to do. Not panic. Breathe. Look forward to hearing of your new your book.

    • Rachel says

      That last line did do me in. Whew.

      Shot through my heart like an arrow and let the tears that I’ve been holding back flow. At some point I realized that in this season of life, working full-time, starting a new business venture with my hubby, raising a one-year old, and trying to keep our home together – I have no more to give. I have to give it up to the Lord and trust that he will fill in every place where I fall short. Being able to do that has been very hard – but tonight his grace may have finally settled in my heart and the rest I’ve been seeking may come.

  18. says

    Emily, I am so grateful for your words here, as I feel the tension that comes from wanting to do everything well, as I get frustrated at the hard work of writing my first book, while also caring for my family and three kids. Thank you. And I had to pin your image “Just breathe.” Yes, that says it. :) Gratefully, Jennifer

  19. says

    Emily, these are such beautiful words, so real and raw. I love how you said you felt guilty about your husband doing the laundry for all of about 7 minutes. Perfect! We all become immersed in the tiny details of our lives and miss some of the greater picture, but it all pulls together later like a Monet.

  20. says

    Really appreciated this!! It’s always so refreshing to see that, depending on seasons of life, personalities, jobs, etc., spouses can serve each other by adjusting and helping, regardless of supposed social norms. “I felt guilty about that for about 7 minutes once. And then I woke up and smelled the fresh laundry” <– made me laugh so hard!! Very excited about your new book!

  21. says

    Emily, thank you so much for this. It’s an important truth to hang onto. I love the idea of paying attention to the small details of our lives and believe that for most of us, most of the time, it’s a necessary and important correction to a scattered life. BUT it can’t always happen that way, as you have so beautifully illustrated in this piece. This is a lovely balance, and really helpful. But then, that’s what you’re so very, very good at, isn’t it?

  22. Anna says

    Love, love, love your message, and the beauty of your authentic voice. “Might I suggest you take the day off from guilt…” really hit me. Why is it so hard to let go of the guilt & shame that are just making life harder for us?

    Looking forward to hearing more about your new book. Blessings on your work.

  23. Kathy says

    Thank you for this. I’m in the middle of what seems to be fast-running-out maternity leave with my beautiful new one, and then it’s back to full time PhD work and not being around for all the little milestones and so forth. I needed this reminder, though it doesn’t change that it will be hard. So thank you.

  24. says

    “…but it’s also important for me to recognize this is a unique season and it won’t always be this way. It’s also my responsibility to make sure that’s true.”
    Love this–especially the last part. It aptly sums up my season of Hubs in grad school with two toddlers at home. I let them watch way more shows (but really, can you get too much Sound of Music?) than I would normally, but I’ve had to just give myself permission–especially while making dinner and on the long, daddy-less days. But, even in the midst of the hard days, I want to enjoy my babes and this lots of time together.

  25. says

    Emily, I so needed to read this. Thanks for sharing a peek at your life, and the wonderful ways your family has adapted in order to give you the time/space to fulfill a calling on your heart.

    Can’t wait to read the new book; your last was such a blessing and I’m sure this will be too.

  26. says

    This is the first time I have stumbled upon your blog, but I wanted to say thanks for this post. I often worry and feel guilty more than I need to be, and this was just a good reminder to set aside the guilt, accept God’s grace, and live my life in His freedom and love.

  27. says

    these words spoke to my heart. I have been feeling guilty lately about missing so many things, small moments, blogging, doing the laundry on time… But my life is really busy. I just went back to work as a full time teacher with a 5 month old at home. My husband is out of work but doing lots of side jobs and managing our home, while our baby is at the babysitter. A lot of what is going on in our life is unconventional, and we get judged often for our situation. But God put it there and I need to embrace this busy season.

  28. Courtney says

    As a high school teacher, I have acquired the nickname of “guilt magnet” – I drop several of the balls I juggle every day, and I just love how you’ve so clearly put these feelings that all of us have into words. Yes…WRITE THAT BOOK!!

  29. says

    SO thankful for these words Emily!! They came at a good time for me to sit and think through. It is so hard when you don’t fit a regular mold or people make you feel as though you should be doing things a certain way. Can’t believe this is your third book!!! Way to let God use you in do many lives :) I’m so sad you aren’t speaking at the influence conference again this year, I so enjoyed your sweet funny personality :)
    Much love!

  30. says

    I am sorta like crying and giving you a standing ovation in my soul all at the same time. I don’t have the words to explain that further today…just thank you for ALWAYS being so real and inspiring me to be the same with my art.

  31. Mel B says

    What a great post. It’s reassuring to know that we’re not alone in this world with our thoughts and feelings of guilt and all the pressures of being all things to everyone. I’m a ft corp comm professional, wife and mom to two wonderful young ones (with that, I’ m a first time hockey mom and annual soccer mom, not including the other sports and activities in between). My new year’s resolution this year was not to lose weight, or diet or exercise more. My new year’s resolution this year is to focus more – focus on the task at hand. Like many, I’m juggling lots of balls and although I may be physically present (and usually on auto pilot), my mind is usually racing two plus steps ahead. I’m guilty of missing the finer moments in life – like a giggle at the most inconvenient time with my three year old daughter or a word of encouragement before the bus in the (rushed) morning with my seven year old son. And more times than I’d like to admit, my mind is also clouded with monkey chatter – useless thoughts of worry and wonder that add absolutely no value. So, I’m committed to focus more and seize those valuable moments. After all, it really is ok to giggle while getting dressed and squeeze in a hug and peck on the cheek before the bus. I’m not passing with flying colours, but I am making progress. And that’s good enough for me – guilt-free.

  32. Elizabeth U. says

    Thank you, Emily. I have been reading your blog for a couple years now and have also read “Grace for the Good Girl” (which soooo encouraged and opened up a new world to me by the way), and, as always, this post is full of more good words. I am a public accountant, so this season of the year is an extremely busy and stressful time at work. I’ve been struggling frequently with the fact that I have so little time for anything besides work. I work 65+ hours a week and come home so exhausted I often go straight to bed. I struggle with the fact that I do not have more time to invest in things outside of work, and I am so focused on just getting the work done that I am often blind to the gifts that God gives me there.
    Thank you for the reminder to drop the guilt – God has me in season where work needs to be my focus…but after a while that will change and I will be able to open myself up to gifts in other areas of life. For now, I need to focus on finding the gifts where He has me, instead of wishing for them elsewhere.

  33. says

    I know this is an older post, but I just needed to comment on here and say “Thank you.” I don’t think I realized until reading this how much guilt I carry around each day. Guilt over the laundry, the food, the house not being clean enough, nod the list goes on. Thank you for shining a light into that dark corner.

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