If I were to ask you this question, right now: “Who do you need to forgive in your life?” my hunch is that you would begin to think about those who have wronged you. Perhaps the image of someone once (or still) close to you would come to mind. You would picture a face, one that makes you either burn with anger, or crumble with hurt. Or perhaps you would think of that person and remember how far you’ve come—that where there was once anger, there is now a sense of peace and hope. But what if I were to ask you, “What about yourself? Have you ever considered if you need to forgive yourself?” what would you say?
My immediate connection to forgiveness is about others, people in my life who have hurt me or I’m working on forgiving. I assume that all my hurts are about other people, yet when I look closely, I see that many of them are about how much I’ve hurt myself. When I think of what I need to forgive myself for, they are all instances where I’ve had a choice. I made the choice to hurt others with my words or by my actions, and I made a choice to hurt myself. It’s in that choice that my true pain lies, because I could have done something different.
In times of hurt and regret, I try to hold onto these seven important truths:
We are all broken. We all have something inside that is aching to be forgiven, yet that relationship with self is one of the most neglected. Quite often we don’t even realize we’re dealing with guilt or shame over a situation. We may have shelved it to the back of our mind, and when something triggers the memory we pretend we’re “all good,” that it doesn’t affect us anymore. And yet, underneath we hold on to our guilt and shame as though we are the only one who has ever hurt, betrayed, or done the wrong thing. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. As someone once said, “There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.” None of us is perfect. We are all broken. We have all hurt and been hurt. Forgiveness is the only answer.
Your mistakes don’t define you. When I’m struggling with forgiving myself, the hardest thing for me is to separate my actions from who I am. At times, I can sink into the debilitating thought pattern of: “I’m a bad person.” Our mistakes don’t define us. The guy sitting in a jail cell doing time for murder is not only “a murderer,” he is also a human being with his own broken history. Yes, he may need to stay in that jail cell to protect society, but that doesn’t give us the right to define who he is. He is a person who has done a great wrong. But he is still a human being. Our mistakes, choices, and crimes are the things we DO, not the people we ARE.
You are always worthy of love and belonging. No matter what you have done, what I have done, what the guy in the jail cell has done, our “God-given” right is that we are loved and we belong. People may reject us, but they do not decide whether you or I are worthy of love and belonging, God does. The good news is, there is a God in heaven who will never abandon us, will always be there for us, and who will forgive us (even when we can’t forgive ourselves), who accepts us and loves us – no matter what.
You are enough. We all have “beat-myself-up-days,” times of regret or shame, when we say to ourselves, “I am not good enough” Yet I know, if a friend was to confide in me about their shame over the same behaviour, I would console them and want them to forgive themselves. I would tell them “You are enough,” and that “We all mess up.” It’s what we do with the mess that counts. It’s how we pick up the pieces and learn, how we use it for good and move on. If these are the words and thoughts we lean into for our friends, why then do we find it so difficult to do the same for ourselves?
Your mistakes are your teachers. The choices we make, both good and bad, can be great teachers if we allow them to be. There are some things I would do differently in my life if I had the chance. But I don’t have that chance. In fact, I have two choices: to live in a state of constant regret, or to allow my past mistakes to be my teachers. In every failure we learn. We learn what hurts ourselves, what hurts others, and who we are in the process. If we don’t like what we see, we have an opportunity to change.
You get another chance. Little Orphan Annie had it right when she sang “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow, you’re only a day away.” Tomorrow can be representative of a new beginning—an opportunity to let go, if we will allow it. The emotions attached to whatever it is you need to forgive yourself for won’t go away over night, but you can choose to consciously make an effort to let go of them each and every day. You do get another chance, but you have to be willing to give yourself that chance.
Self-forgiveness is always a process. Forgiving ourselves can be far more difficult than forgiving others. Often the thought, what right do I have to forgive myself? comes up. But forgiveness is never about rights—it is always about letting go and healing. When you forgive someone else, it isn’t for their benefit, it’s for your own. The same is true of self-forgiveness. You may feel like you have no right to release yourself from the chains that bind you, because the person you hurt may not be released. But should you spend the rest of your life beating yourself up for something in the past? Everyone’s journey is their own; don’t try to carry the pain for both yourself and the person you feel indebted to. Let go and hope and pray that they are able to do the same. None of this will happen overnight. Just as it takes time and often many attempts to forgive someone else, the same is true when forgiving yourself. Don’t allow your shame, regret or self-directed anger steal one more day of your life. Choose to begin walking the path of self-forgiveness.
Take out your journal, laptop, iPhone or whatever medium feels right for you and write your answers to these questions and statements:
What is one thing I need to forgive myself for?
When I think of this thing I feel ______ about myself
How can I separate who I am from what I did?
How do these actions of the past affect the way I live in the present?
How does knowing God forgives me impact on how I forgive myself?
What step or steps can I take today to begin the process of self-forgiveness?
Until next time …