Forgiving Ourselves

by Dcn. Wayland Moncrief

All of us face varying degrees of temptation. All of us encounter certain people or situations that we find difficult. All of us have areas of our life, and personality, where we are likely to sin. And, in our failures, in those times where we do not live up to our own expectations, the expectation of others, or even the expectations of our Christian beliefs, we are filled with guilt and remorse.

In the more serious, in the most personal of these situations, we may carry feelings of guilt and shame for some time, even for years. And, forgiving ourselves can be a constant struggle. In our confusion, it can even be difficult to know what forgiving ourselves actually means, much less how to do it.

Forgiving ourselves employs similar techniques as forgiving others. In general, we are very poor judges of ourselves and our actions. We rarely have an accurate picture of ourselves. Often, we are hyper-critical of small infractions, but, at other times, we are unaware and completely dismissive of very serious transgressions. And, to add further injury, we beat ourselves up in a false sense of pride, demanding perfection.

So, how do we forgive ourselves?

  1. The first step is coming to God.
    1. We begin buy asking God for the desire to forgive ourselves and those we have hurt. But, to forgive, we need an accurate picture of ourselves.
    2. So, we begin by asking God for the wisdom to know ourselves. We ask God to show us how our attitudes and behavior affects others and ourselves. Do we act from a sense of pride? Are we envious or jealous? Are we angry? Do we feel inferior? Do we doubt God's Love? Do we recognize that we are God's creation? Do we sincerely have a love for others?
    3. And, in this, to gain an accurate picture of ourselves, we may seek the advice of those we trust – those who will be honest with us. Spiritual direction is invaluable here. However, again, it's important to be accurate – not to be overblown by favorable complements, nor deflated by our deficiencies.
  2. The second step is restoring our own humanity.
    1. As was said previously, "Nobody plays with a full deck", and that includes us. However, forgiving ourselves doesn't’t mean letting ourselves off the hook. It means not giving into the temptation to heap hot coals on ourselves for having failed.
    2. St. Francis de Sales, a highly regarded spiritual director, once noted that our sins tend to be flawed attempts to make ourselves feel better. We give in to temptation to make ourselves feel better, then we feel worse because we have sinned. It's an endless cycle. Seeing ourselves, and our behavior realistically breaks the cycle.
    3. Rather than degrading ourselves, or trying to make ourselves feel better, we need to look at our errors and deficiencies in a positive light. We need to recognize that, even though it may be painful, we have learned something about ourselves, and have identified an area where we need to improve.
  3. Step Three: Surrendering our desire for revenge.
    1. Failing to forgive ourselves, or failing to accept forgiveness, is a means of taking revenge against ourselves. We punish ourselves for our perceived transgressions.
    2. We are all children in God's Eyes. We are redeemable in God's Eyes. Yes, we should try to correct our faults, but it is not our prerogative to prescribe our own punishment. We are simply called to confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and make amends as we can. But, once done, we leave it to God in His infinite Goodness and Mercy to direct our healing.
    3. God is infinite Goodness and He gives us only good things. Sometimes, He gives us spiritual vitamins and we rejoice in His blessings. Other times, He sees where change is needed and, as our Physician, He gives us medicine. However, we may not like the medicine, and so we call it suffering. But the medicine is a gift for ourselves and others. It helps us attain our salvation.
    4. Jesus said to St. Faustina, “Paint an image according to the pattern you see with the signature, Jesus, I trust in You”. When we punish ourselves for our sins, we seize control, and fail to trust in the plan God has for our healing. God knows the medicine we need. We need only to trust in where we are being led. We need to try to see God's Hand in all things, and trust in Him!
  4. Like forgiving others, in our final step we ask for God's blessing.
    1. We ask for His blessing on us and on those we have offended. We ask Him to repair the damage we have done to ourselves and to others. We ask Him to teach us, to guide us in ways of holiness, and follow the path He has set before us.
    2. We ask God to help us recognize that we are all His creatures. And, though we are flawed by sin, evil doesn't have the last word. We ask for Our Lord's Blessing - Our Lord who defeated the forces of hatred, wants to bless us and restore us to the fullness of life. God brings good out of evil and makes all things new, including ourselves.

In Summary

In the Book of Revelation John turns to see the Lord, but as he turns he sees a Lamb as though it had been slain. Jesus stands on the Cross. He is the Lamb who was slain for our sins. But He stands, not in anger, not in condemnation, and not seeking revenge.

He stands in forgiveness. And He prays, Father, forgive them. They know not what they do”. Jesus offers His Life. He offers Himself for our sins, and the sins of others. And, as He breathes His Last, He stands on the Cross with arms raised - raised in triumph over evil, raised in forgiveness, raised in blessing, and raised in love. For the love of God conquers all – even the most vengeful, and the most wounded heart.

Hopefully, in all of this you have come to a very different view of forgiveness. Hopefully, you have found that forgiveness is possible, that we make it more difficult than it actually is. And, hopefully, you too, in your walk with the Lord, can make all things new. Jesus, we trust in You!