Did you know that the bible never actually talks about forgiving yourself? It obviously mentions God’s lavish grace and forgiveness for us, and also mentions how we should forgive those who do wrong by us – but never us forgiving ourselves.
For a while I’d been struggling with the concept of forgiving myself. Not with anything huge, but just with my ongoing inadequacies, failings and recurring weak areas. I struggled to show myself grace, because (more than anyone else I forgive) I know my motives, I know why I did what I did and most of all, I know how likely I am to do it again some time soon. More than anyone I will ever forgive, I know why I don’t deserve to be forgiven.
So why doesn’t the bible talk about self-forgiveness and what then are we suppose to do with the guilt we can often find ourselves mindlessly carrying around?
For me, forgiveness is the act of acknowledging imperfection and pouring grace and love all over it. Loving others in the hope that they will see that their wrong does not define them, and that God’s love for them is greater than the amount of times they mess up. God’s forgiveness for me is Him promising that when I whole-heartedly apologize, he will not bring up my wrongs in the future – the all-knowing God chooses to remember my wrongs no more. He chooses to let love win and let the divide between the imperfect me and my perfect God be bridged.
It might begin to make more sense then, as to why the bible doesn’t talk about forgiving ourselves. When we do something wrong, we don’t create a divide with ourselves, we don’t hurt a relationship with ourselves, and we also can’t force ourselves to forget what we ourselves have done. The bible describes us as created for relationship (with God and with others) and so the main impact of our wrongs is probably on these relationships. To build a stronger relationship with God, to know him more, and to reflect and share him more is what I live for.
So what then do I do about the guilt I carry, the work I’m not progressing with, the friendships I haven’t kept up with, the prayer time I haven’t fit in, the negative thoughts I haven’t shifted yet, the unhelpful criticism I shared or the apathy I feel towards something I know is good. Well, for me the only thing I can do and coincidently the thing the bible mentions we should do is to live as if I’m forgiven. When I forgive a friend, it makes no sense for them to timidly approach our friendship afterwards, expecting reproach and annoyance. When I forgive them I expect them to enjoy our friendship and move onwards from the difficulty we worked through. Similarly, we I apologize to God for the times I have not thanked him, praised him, honoured him or even remembered him, I should live in the forgiveness he’s promised to show me.
A song I was listening to the other day had the recurring line “I’m holding on to the love you swore”. Being forgiven is only half of the task. Receiving forgiveness is a very active part of the process. To hold onto the promise of love and grace, to hold onto the promise of forgiveness, to hold onto the desire to move onwards and upwards – that’s our part to play.
If you’re anything like me, the unfathomable truth that God loves us can be a huge truth to let sink in. Similarly, the promise that he wants to wipe the slate clean and let us live like blameless people whose hope is undamaged and who potential is unconstrained, can seem pretty huge too. Receiving forgiveness is vital. Unwrapping that gift enables us to shake off the shackles of shame and guilt, and to live as those who have forgiven us want and intend for us to live: as if we are forgiven, as if we are free!