Forgiving yourself … have I lost anyone yet? Come on back, my friend, this is important.
We’ve spent a lot of time talking about forgiving others. Usually that’s what we think about regarding forgiveness, isn’t it? We think about people who have done us wrong.
And while we’ve talked about how important forgiving others is for your emotional and mental health, we haven’t really talked about you. That is, forgiving yourself, why it’s so very difficult and why it’s every bit as important as forgiving others.
It’s okay if you struggle with this, because honestly, we all do. Forgiving yourself is harder than forgiving anyone else. There’s no one on this planet who is harder on me than I am! We’re our own worst critics and of course, we remember every stupid decision and harmful mistake we made.
It is so very hard to admit and let go of our mistakes.
Back in 1960, my grandfather made the decision to leave his secure job as a grocery store manager in a small city and to move his family back to small town Nova Scotia. The reason, from what I’ve been told, is that my grandmother missed her mother. In 1960, living a thousand miles from family meant you didn’t speak with or see them very much at all.
The decision was a bad one. Let’s be honest, it was a phenomenally bad decision, since he couldn’t get along with his mother-in-law and couldn’t find a job. He nursed his anger at himself, began drinking to dull his pain, and became violent and abusive.
One poor decision, which could have been handled had it been faced and acknowledged openly, turned into several generations of pain and hurt.
It’s impossible to love yourself until you can forgive yourself. And it’s impossible to truly forgive others until we face our own failings and forgive ourselves.
What happens when we look at our past mistakes, face them squarely and honestly, and then forgive ourselves?
Our sense of personal worth grows.
A while ago, I went through the Bible to find all the descriptions of how God sees us in Christ. It was powerful and you can download it right here (no sign up form required). You are not supposed to see yourself as worthless.
With a more accurate sense of your worth will come a newfound confidence that will serve you well.
Life is much easier and a lot more fun when you see yourself clearly and accurately, when accept your flaws and mistakes, forgive yourself for them, and accept yourself for the beautiful, worthy person that you truly are.
It’s easier said than done, though, isn’t it?
Forgiving yourself is harder than it sounds and it certainly doesn’t come easy to most of us. If you are lacking in an awareness of your worth, of how you are seen through the loving eyes of God, it will be even harder.
So let’s break it down.
First, admit your mistakes. Among most Christians, the wording will be to “confess your sins”. If that terminology makes you uncomfortable, it’s okay. In this context, a sin is a wrong that you have done to yourself or to others. It is something that you have done that hurts someone.
A journal helps here. Sit down and objectively list the wrongs that you’ve done and that are standing in your way. Don’t pretend you don’t know what they are. There are sins in my life that I would never admit to another living soul, but I know and God knows.
Writing them down is good because you have a visual record as you deal with each and cross them out. Don’t be too quick with the strike-out, though. Make sure each is fully dealt with first.
The next step is to think about what you would have done differently, given the chance. Knowing what you know now, what would you change?
That’s clear in your mind, right? Now take a step back and ask yourself this – DID you know that at the time? What I mean is, this hindsight that lets you know that it was a really, really bad decision … did you know that then?
That decision or action that you look back at and can’t forgive yourself for – did you know all of the consequences at the time? Or did you make the best decision with what you knew then?
My grandfather wanted to make his wife happy, and he probably missed home, too. He was making the best decision he could make at the time, but his inability to forgive himself for the bad decision caused decades of pain.
There is a decision that I made a long time ago, which caused me – and other people I love dearly – a great deal of hurt. For years, I had many sleepless nights and tear-soaked pillows because I couldn’t forgive myself for what happened.
If only … if only … if only.
I would have dreams in which I would go back in time and change things.
The problem was, though, there was nothing I could have changed. It took me a long time to fully realize that I did the very best I knew at the time, even if it did end up horribly wrong. The fallout from that decision is still with me, and it still hurts every day, but I no longer punish myself for causing it.
Nor will I allow others to use it against me, to manipulate or blackmail me emotionally over it.
You have those times in your life, too. Maybe you didn’t make the best decisions, but you had to grow and things had to change before you could realize that. It’s time to forgive your past self for the decisions that you made and to be thankful for those mistakes.
Thankful! It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But the truth is that those decisions formed the person you are today. We learn from our mistakes and all of our experiences, good and bad, mold and shape us.
Now, what’s next? There’s another part to confessing the wrongs you’ve done. I once heard a wise person say that not all wrongs or sins must be confessed publicly. Some do, but not all.
If the wrong you did is against God or against yourself, you need to deal with that privately in prayer. Why do we tell God our failings and mistakes? It’s not for Him – He already knows. We confess our wrongdoing in prayer because it is a very important part of forgiving ourselves and healing.
If the wrong you did is against another person, true healing requires that you admit it to them (and to God). I know – that’s really, really difficult. Even within a marriage, it can be very difficult to admit that we did something wrong.
The hardest type of confession, though, is when we have wronged our church or the public. That requires public confession (and a whole lot of private prayer, before, during and after).
The last step is what Christianity calls repentance. It literally means to turn your mind away from something. When we repent of the wrongs we’ve done, it doesn’t mean that we beat ourselves up, put on a figurative hair shirt, and moan about how we’re terrible people. Really, it doesn’t, and it’s a shame that anyone in the church ever thought it did. In fact, I’d say that true repentance might even be the opposite of that.
Repentance means to turn your thoughts away from the thing you’ve done and vow to do better in the future, with God’s help. You’ve grown and become a different person. Forgive yourself for the things you wish you had not done, be done with the guilt and shame and move forward.
The amazing thing is that, when we do things God’s way, we end up as happier, more joy-filled, confident people. No hair shirts required.