Learning to Forgive Yourself

Recently, I had a huge parenting failure. I lost my temper and unleashed every emotion I had been keeping bottled up on my poor, unsuspecting child. Looking at the tears in his eyes as I ranted, I knew I had crossed the line. Once I gathered myself, I apologized and, as kids are prone to do, he forgave me right away. I prayed and asked the Lord to forgive me too. Then came the really hard part, forgiving myself.

When my former husband and I first separated, I struggled with self condemnation then too. I would recall all the ways I had failed in my marriage, all the ways I had been selfish and self-serving. I didn’t need anyone to punish me. I was doing a fine job of it by myself.

We all know how important it is to forgive others quickly (Matthew 6:14). But why does it seem okay to somehow keep beating ourselves up over our mistakes? When God says in Psalm 103:12 (ESV), “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” we counter with, “No, you’ve got it wrong, God. This time I’ve gone too far. This time I can’t be forgiven.” When He says He “… will cast our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19b, ESV), we grab our fishing poles. Why? Why do we somehow think we know better than the God of the Universe when it comes to forgiving our own sin?

David knew what it was like to have an epic failure. He committed adultery, then tried to cover it up with murder (2 Samuel 11). Psalm 51 was written after the Prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (vs. 1-3 ESV, emphasis added). I’m sure David felt as I have felt, unforgivable. I’m sure he kept replaying in his mind the errant choices he made. That’s why he says, “my sin is ever before me.”

When we are in self-condemnation, we hide from God, feeling unworthy. That’s exactly what the enemy of our souls wants. He wants us to feel shame for our sin and hide just like Adam and Eve did in the garden. But when Adam and Eve sinned, God came looking for them. He didn’t storm in with bolts of lightning and cracks of thunder, ready to condemn. He simply came looking for His children (Genesis 3). He does the same for us. While we’re busy trying to cover up our mess, He comes with arms wide open, ready to forgive, if we would only come to Him.

That’s what David did. He went directly to God, without covering up: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). He goes on to say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12 ESV).

Forgiving ourselves is really just learning to receive the forgiveness that God has already given us through the death of His Son. We need to take God at His word when He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).

In the immortal words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5b). Now “pick up your bed and walk” in that forgiveness (paraphrase of Mark 2:11).

How do you explain the unexplainable?

I hesitated to write about the social unrest that has been highlighted recently with the murder of George Floyd, among others. I didn’t want to be another voice in the cacophony of voices on this subject. But as I thought about it more, I began to think about what I want to say to my children as I try to explain to them the unexplainable.

How do I explain why people hate simply based on the color of a person’s skin? How do I make sense of the idea that not all lives are valued? What do I say to my son, who will one day be a black man, when yet another black man died senselessly?

The only thing I can do is call it by its name: sin. Whether it’s institutional or more personal and direct, racism is sin.

As much as it sickens me to watch the videos that have been circulating, at least the sin of racism is being uncovered. But as with all sin, unless there is a true heart change, it will not just go away. We can decry the injustice, and we should. We can say that things need to change, and they do. But until there is repentance, no real lasting change can happen.

I am reminded of what Isaiah 58:3-7 says: “‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’ Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself? Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast and a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?” (ESV)

God calls us to a higher standard than simple lip service. We need more than words or legislation from well-meaning politicians. We need true repentance, as a country and individuals. Only then will we heal and move forward.

My hope and prayer is that as more of the sin of racism is exposed, through social media and the news, we will not become indifferent to it. I pray it will begin to convict hearts so that real change can happen.

But It Still Hurts: The ongoing struggle to forgive

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into something and bruise your arm or leg. It smarts for a minute or two. But after a while, the pain subside and you move on. But then you bump that same spot again, and suddenly the pain of the original injury comes flooding back. You realize that there’s still a tender bruise there. That’s been my process of forgiveness. I’ve tried to be quick to forgive, not wanting bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). But sometimes a situation will come up, unexpectedly, that will renew the pain and I find myself in need of forgiving all over again.

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

Keeping my heart free from unforgiveness hasn’t been easy.  C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

I’m reminded of a time when Journey hurt Faith. As I was mediating between them I encouraged Faith to forgive her brother. Her response was so innocent and real: “But it still hurts!” Years later, as I think back on that incident, I know exactly how she felt. How do you forgive when you still feel pain?

I think God must have had a similar dilemma. Over and over, from that first moment when Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3), mankind has rejected God in one form or another. Yet even in the pain of rejection, He made a plan, through Jesus, to reconcile us to Himself: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

I’m learning that walking in forgiveness isn’t pretending like the offense never happened or the pain isn’t real. I’ve found that it’s important for me to process through the emotions of the hurt. And as good as it feels to vent to my friends and family, I have found no better listening ear than my Heavenly Father. I can be ugly honest with God. I can tell Him that I’m hurt or angry or some combination of the two. I can tell Him that I’m having difficulty forgiving. Then I can ask Him to heal me and help me forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He always helps me. It’s not always instantaneous. Sometimes it takes crying out to Him several times. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s not a one-time event. But an ongoing, daily–sometimes minute-by-minute–decision to let go of my desire for retribution.

I’m hopeful that one day soon those tender spots in my heart will heal. And the enemy of my soul will no longer have a bruise to poke. But until that day, I will continue to cry out to God to help me forgive as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).

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