Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
I think it’s a simple fact of life that we’ve all done things we’re not proud of.
Maybe you spent half the month’s food budget on a new coat, didn’t get to your son’s soccer match before the second half, put your Mother in a nursing home, or, when the cat’s yowling got on your nerves, you let him outside where he was promptly hit by a car.
There are thousands of everyday acts that can make you feel guilt. Have you ever felt ashamed of yourself? Ever wished you could take back a word, sentence, or conversation? Anything in your past haunt you? Ever done something you wished you had not done?
It’s hard to forgive yourself, and you may think your friends and family would never forgive you either if they knew half of what you do. Unfortunately, you know the real truth. That’s the way it is – God has made you with an active conscience. And the sheer weight of it rocks you with guilt and sinks you with shame.
Instead of taking responsibility for what we’ve done by trying to repair the damage or make things right, many of us unconsciously decide to punish ourselves by feeling miserable for the rest of our lives. This makes us say, ‘Why can’t I forgive myself? Why do I feel so guilty all the time?’
The Forgiveness Process
American psychologist Fred Luskin, PhD, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, has studied this subject in a comprehensive way, and has a few answers.
“Forgiveness is a tool with which we face what we’ve done in the past, acknowledge our mistakes, and move on. It does not mean that you condone or excuse what happened. It does not mean that you forget”, says Luskin. “There’s a season for our suffering and regret. We have to have that. But the season ends; the world moves on. And we need to move on with it.”
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Fred Luskin says that most of us find it hard to forgive ourselves when we’ve done one of these four things.
- You fail at some major life task such as making your marriage work.
- Your actions have hurt someone else.
- You’ve hurt yourself by the way you’ve led your life: drinking or doing something else that’s self-destructive.
- You didn’t do something you thought you should, such as intervene in a family dispute or put money away so your kid can go to college.
“Categorizing the offense begins the forgiveness process,” Luskin says. “It allows you to break down what you did, look at it, get a little distance, and begin healing.”
Forgiveness is releasing my hope for a better past. The truth is we can’t change the past, and, if we hold onto it, will ruin our future. When we forgive – ourselves – it doesn’t change our past, but it can change our path.
You have a God who says, “You’ve beaten yourself up enough”. God wants you to move on. He’s giving you the gift of a better future, through giving you the gift of forgiveness of your sins. But when you say, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself”, not only will you stay stuck in the past, but you’re refusing to accept God’s gift of a better future, through refusing to take His gift of your sins being forgiven.
Jesus died on the cross for your sins and mistakes. You can accept Him as Lord and Saviour.
Only Christ Truly Sets us Free
Over 300 years ago, Puritan John Bunyan wrote The Pilgrim’s Progress, in which the main character, Christian, would have been diagnosed by many today as someone struggling to forgive themselves. Christian carried around an enormous pack on his back called his “burden.” A portion of the story deals with the dilemma of removing his burden. He attempts various self-focused, self-actualizing techniques. He tries to sleep it off. That doesn’t work. He meets a precarious fellow named, “Mr. Worldly Wiseman.” He counsels Christian to consult two individuals, Legality and Civility who supposedly have skill in helping men out of their wits with their burden. Their methods involve doing good for oneself. However, Legality and Civility are shams who propose destructive man-made solutions.
Eventually, he enters through the narrow gate and proceeds down the path called Salvation. He comes to a small hill upon which stood a cross, with an empty tomb at the bottom. Simply by looking at the cross, it finally happens: Christian’s burden falls from his back, and quite easily. And it not only falls, but tumbles into the empty tomb, never to be seen again.