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We’ve been talking about forgiving others. We’ve noted that although forgiving others can be very difficult with God’s help it is possible.
One of the things concerning forgiveness that we haven’t touched on yet, and it is one of the most difficult aspects of forgiveness, is forgiving ourselves.
I have a hunch – no not a hunch, I am certain there are many among us who have been living with guilt for the way we hurt others and/or in many cases the way we hurt ourselves by making poor choices that are not in keeping with God’s will for our lives.
And the irony is that many of us make matters worse by hanging on to the guilt of what we have done because we feel like by languishing in guilt, we are somehow making what we have done wrong, right. Yes, there are many Christians who can justify forgiving others, yet find no justification for forgiving themselves, believing instead that there is a price, some form of life-long penance that we must pay.
God does not wish for us to live like that. The first three fruits of the Holy Spirit are “love, joy and peace” (Galatians 5:22). Paul says in Romans 14:17 that Kingdom living is “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Paying penance will not make anything right, but will only hurt us. Carrying a load of guilt around will not change the past, it will only cause us pain.
Speaking of pain, are you aware that amputees often experience some sensation of a phantom limb. Somewhere in their brains, a memory lingers of the nonexistent hand or leg. Invisible toes curl, imaginary hands grasp things, a leg feels so sturdy a patient may try to stand on it. For some, the experience includes pain. Doctors watch helplessly, for the part of the body screaming for attention does not exist.
There was a medical school administrator, Mr. Barwick, who had a serious and painful circulation problem in his leg but refused to allow the recommended amputation. As the pain grew worse, Barwick grew bitter. “I hate it! I hate it!” he would mutter about his leg.
At last, he relented and told the doctor, “I can’t stand this anymore; take it off.” Surgery was scheduled immediately. Before the operation, however, Barwick made a most unusual request: “I would like you to preserve my leg in a pickling jar so that I can display it on my fireplace mantle. Then, as I sit in my armchair, I will taunt that leg, ‘Hah! You can’t hurt me anymore!’ ”
Ultimately, he got his wish. But the despised leg had the last laugh. Barwick suffered phantom limb pain of the worst degree. The wound healed, but he could feel the torturous pressure of the swelling as muscles that were no longer there cramped. You see, he had hated the leg with such intensity that the pain had unaccountably lodged permanently in his brain. 1
Similarly, we can be obsessed by the memory of some sin committed years ago. The emotional pain never leaves us and if it isn’t dealt with can cripple our relationship with God as well as with others.
In his book, Dealing with Damaged Emotions, David Seamands writes about a young minister who once came to see him. He was having a lot of problems getting along with other people, especially his wife and family. Seamands recalls:
I had already talked privately with his wife; she was a fine person, attractive, warm, affectionate, loving – and totally supported him in his ministry. But he was continually criticizing her, scapegoating her. Everything she did was wrong. He was sarcastic and demanding, and withdrew from her advances, rejecting her love and affection. Slowly but surely it began to dawn on him; he was destroying their marriage. Then he realized that in his weekend pastorate he was hurting people through sermons which were excessively harsh and judgmental.
Finally, in desperation, he came to see me. At the beginning of our interview, he met trouble like a real man; he blamed it on his wife! But after a while, when he became honest, the painful root of the matter came to light. While he was in the armed forces in Korea, he had spent two weeks of R & R in Japan. During that leave, walking the streets of Tokyo, feeling empty, lonely and terribly homesick, he fell into temptation and went three or four times to a prostitute. He had never been able to forgive himself.
He had sought God’s forgiveness and with his head, believed he had it. but the guilt still plagued him and he hated himself. Every time he looked in the mirror, he couldn’t stand what he was seeing. He had never shared this with anyone, and the burden was becoming intolerable. When he had returned home to marry his fiancée, who had faithfully waited on him all those years, his emotional conflicts increased because he could still not accept complete forgiveness. He couldn’t forgive himself for what he had done to himself and to her; so he couldn’t accept her freely offered affection and love. He felt he had no right to be happy. As A. W. Tozer put it, the young minister was living in ‘the perpetual penance of regret.’ 2
There comes a time when we need to be able to forgive ourselves and then get on with life. I pray that time is now. For being able to forgive ourselves will change the direction of our lives for the better.
We are worthy of love, we are worthy of happiness, we are worthy of joy. We just need to stop being hard on ourselves we just need to stop judging ourselves. We need to be kind and loving to ourselves. We must choose to forgive ourselves so that we can let go of the past and move forward.
How can we forgive ourselves?
First, recognize the problem. I have not forgiven myself so I am in bondage.
Then, be honest with yourself. We need to own our wrongdoing before we can forgive it. Remember we said before we can forgive another person, we must blame that other person. In this case, we need to blame ourselves.
And if we are in a situation where we continually mess up and we can’t stop, then perhaps it is time to get some help. That’s what our Friday night group is all about. It exists to help us search our souls, to get honest with God and ourselves to admit we have a problem controlling some area of our lives to find forgiveness and throw off the shackles that bind us.
Third, Write down with pen and paper all of the things that you have done wrong. It is imperative that you write; word processing is not the same.
Fourth, accept the forgiveness God in Christ provides. I am talking about His forgetting of our offenses against Him. We have very clearly wronged God many times over. But one of the most remarkable promises in the Old Testament is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which ends with the phrase: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” The forgetting of our sins by our Creator will begin, Jeremiah tells us, when God cuts a New Covenant with His children. And Jesus said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my blood.” The forgiving and the forgetting of our sins was offered to us through the blood of Christ.
In not forgiving ourselves, we have a tendency to think that what we have done has put us way beyond the forgiveness Christ provides. But remember, sin is sin before God. All sin is the same in God’s sight, none bigger or smaller. When He forgives us, He forgives all our sins. The bible does not say God forgives us of all our sins except.
Fifth, reaffirm your trust in the scriptures.
Psalms 103:12 – As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Romans 8:1 – Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ
Galatians 5:1 – It was for freedom that Christ set us free.
II Corinthians 5:17 – If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
Dear Heavenly Father, I confess there is nothing to gain by holding myself in un-forgiveness and there is everything to gain by forgiving myself and beginning the process of healing. So, Lord Jesus on the basis of your word, by an act of faith, I here and now forgive myself because you have already forgiven me. I accept my forgiveness and choose to be free from all that I have held against myself. Thank you for loving me and for Your grace to move forward with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Lastly, as an act of faith destroy (burn or shred) the list you made.
Then listen as Jesus sings to you:
“My peace I give unto you, it’s a peace that the world cannot give
It’s a peace that the world cannot understand,
Peace to know, peace to live
My peace I give unto you.”
I know it’s hard; as we have been recognizing from the beginning, forgiveness isn’t easy.
But when Christ is in our lives, God promises to give us the power to forgive; even ourselves.
Someone once said, “We are most like beasts when we kill, we are most like men when we judge and we are most like God when we forgive.” And that includes forgiving ourselves.
1 Morgan Robert. Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations and Quotes.
[Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publisher, © 2000] pages 306-307.
2 Ibid. pages 307-308.