One of the first people I saw as a counselor was a gentleman in his 60’s who was sure that he was cut-off from God for eternity. He believed that if you betrayed God, He was done with you forever.
What was his betrayal?
The betrayal is not relevant to God, repentance and reconciliation is what the Lord seeks from us. This man had repentance in abundance. His sin wasn’t even something the world would deem sin, although that doesn’t say much. He was disobedient to the Lord’s leading.
On several occasions he felt the Holy Spirit guiding him to carry out some loving action for “the least of these” and he didn’t respond. He ignored God’s leading. He felt that his willful disobedience was an act against God and that once separated, our salvation is gone.
I remember at the time rising up a silent discussion of my own with the creator of the universe. “Lord, I hope not.”
I had done much worse in my life and was counting on the love and mercy of our Lord. Over time, I found that this sweet man couldn’t forgive himself. Only he knows the willful disobedience that was involved and nothing I could say about God’s forgiveness could touch his pain.
All I could think was if God, the Lord of the Universe, the One who sent His only Son, could die for this man’s sins, could forgive him fully, and willingly make him clean, how could he not forgive himself?
The Lord of the Universe offers forgiveness, yet we don’t feel we are worthy.
Yesterday, our pastor gave a sermon on forgiveness and sin. At some point in the sermon he said, “even the worst prodigal can come home”.
Even the worst.
I believe that the adjective is important to us because we judge our sin in degrees of “badness”. A killer is the worst. A rapist may even be worse than the worst.
God can still forgive them. Christ can reconcile them with the Father.
If a killer or rapist can be forgiven, give their life to Christ, and be saved…..can’t my sweet man, who just didn’t follow God’s nudging to help someone in need, also be cleansed of his sin of disobedience?
I know this man repented. He was sincerely torn up about it. He repented with all of His heart.
I know that God forgives him. Because God is a God of mercy and grace.
But I am not sure if he ever truly forgave himself.
Do You Forgive Yourself?
If you are like me, there are many things over the years that you have done that hurt someone, and even burdened our Lord’s heart. As a Christian we know about repentance. We know to seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We know the heart of God and we know that He is a forgiving God.
Forgiving ourselves is a little less clear. I can consciously know that I have repented and that God in His goodness forgives me. But, we seem to have difficulty in knowing if we have truly forgiven ourself.
If I did forgive myself, why do I:
- Still have a recurring sense of guilt and shame and often think of my transgression?
- Not feel as close to God as I used to?
- Feel terrible about myself and not deserving of positive things in my life?
Sometimes we can recognize this “unforgiveness of self” from patterns in our lives:
- Self-sabotage – when things start to go well for me, I do something to mess it up. Then I tell myself I didn’t deserve it anyway.
- Perfectionism – if I don’t mess up again and I hold myself to a higher standard, maybe I can regain my worthiness.
- Blame – the only way to cover up my feelings of shame and guilt are to make excuses and blame someone or something else for my failings.
- Continuous sin – sometimes we give up on ourselves and feel it is too late. This keeps us from trying to improve and become a better person.
How Can I Forgive Myself?
We all want a path forward. It is possible to forgive yourself and to live a better life for yourself and for others. Here are some steps:
- Ask God for forgiveness – in some cases, we are so ashamed that we have not wanted to face God. If you haven’t taken that first step, do it knowing that if you were the only person on this earth, God still would have sent Jesus to die for you. This is a God who is approachable.
- Make amends if your sin hurt someone else. Sincerely confess and apologize whether that other human forgives you or not. They are only human and they have to deal with their own unforgiveness, even if you feel that you are the cause.
- Create a new path forward. Depending on your sin, there is always some core issue to deal with. Don’t give Satan a helping hand by not addressing whatever caused you to sin to begin with. To stop the cycle by uncovering the source.
- Ask yourself for forgiveness. Sometimes people write themselves a letter. It is a more tangible way to ask yourself to give you the same grace and mercy that God gives us.
- Accept forgiveness – both from God and yourself. Without acceptance, you carry with you the harm the sin caused before and are likely to continue the cycle.
I haven’t thought about the man who came to see me in a long-time. We discussed all of this. We read scripture. We prayed. I know he took the steps.
But only he and Our Father in Heaven know his heart. I pray again that this man has indeed received the peace that comes from knowing that we are His.
Where Do I Start?
If you need a starting point, here is a prayer I found online a while ago. I don’t remember the source, but I am sure they would want this prayer passed on:
Dear Heavenly Father, I understand that there is nothing to gain by holding myself in unforgiveness and there is everything to gain by releasing myself from unforgiveness and beginning the process of healing. I want to move forward and make a positive difference in the future. I confess the ungodly accountability, self-abasement, and the vows I have made to never forgive myself. Because Jesus died for my sins, I choose to forgive myself–to no longer punish myself and be angry with myself. I forgive myself for letting this hurt control me and for hurting others out of my hurt. I repent of this behavior and my attitude. I ask for Your forgiveness and healing. God, help me to NEVER again retain unforgiveness of myself or others. Thank you for loving me and for Your grace to move forward with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.