One of the hardest parts of forgiveness is learning to forgive ourselves.
If you’re like me, the person you most struggle with giving grace to is the person you see in the mirror each morning. Just yesterday, I failed to do something I said I would and it took me most of the day to let myself off the hook emotionally.
While we struggle with trying to understand what it means to forgive others, we may struggle even more with self-forgiveness.
We beat ourselves up for being broken, imperfect, and human.
My friend Leeana Tankersley wrote a brilliant piece on this topic for RELEVANTMagazine.com. The article was shared over 5,000 times on Facebook and it gets at the heart of our struggle (in Leeana’s trademark lyrical and authentic fashion).
I asked Leeana if I could share some of her words with you and she graciously agreed.
“Yesterday, I opened a kitchen cabinet, and sitting right there on the bottom shelf was the coffee pot, half full of cold coffee.
The day before, I was anxious. My body and my mind were a semi-mess because of the anxiety, and unwittingly—in the midst of that tangle—I poured myself some coffee and put the coffee pot away in the cabinet.
You’ve got to be kidding me, I think to myself, immediately rigid with annoyance. How is it possible that I am this insane?
Later, I will take a picture of the coffee pot in the cabinet and post it on Instagram, and I will laugh about it. But not at first. At first, without even thinking, I will feel a wave of self-contempt. I will chastise myself for being weak and out of control, for being someone who has anxious days, for being human. I will forget what I know to be true: that things won’t always feel the way they do right now, and I will wish, in my bones, that I could eradicate that part of me who can’t seem to figure out where the coffee pot goes.”
Let’s push pause on her story for a
I’m sure you know how that feels! Not the coffee pot in the cabinet, but the self-contempt, self-chastisement, and the forgetting of important truths. And like Leanna, I want to hide from these moments.
“My immediate reaction is to avoid these messy parts of myself. I don’t want to do the hard work of welcoming them and bringing them to Jesus. Frankly, I’d rather reject, abandon, punish them into submission. I’d rather drown them with Sauvignon Blanc and Doritos. I want them to shape up, get it together, stop requiring so much of my time and attention and energy. I want to believe I’ve evolved past them, that they’re no longer an issue.”
Such powerful words!
It’s this kind of refusal to forgive ourselves which prevents us from experiencing the gift we’ve given to others.
Forgiveness transforms those it touches, but only if they’ll receive it.
For many of us, myself included, we don’t feel we’re worthy of forgiveness. And so we pretend we either don’t need it or we beat ourselves up because we don’t deserve it.
I won’t steal the powerful ending of Leeana’s article. You can read her entire piece here…and you should. It offers a great deal of hope to those of us who have a
Her new book, Begin Again: The Brave Practice of Releasing Hurt and Receiving Hurt, has received wide praise this spring and if you enjoyed her words here, I encourage you to order a copy today!
As I read Leeana’s article, I thought of one of my favorite quotes about forgigveness.
Lewis Smedes once wrote, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that prisoner was you.”
After teaching on forgiveness, one of the most common questions I receive comes from people who are beating themselves us for a mistake.
“Scott, how do I forgive myself?”
I know that territory all too well. Maybe you do too.
After a big mistake, we tend to…
…ourselves in an effort to move beyond the regret and failure we feel.
I’ve often found it easier to forgive someone who hurt me than to accept forgiveness myself. I cannot undo what I did, but I can sure make myself pay the price for it. I’ll stew and stew and stew on a bad decision like a pot of
Sometimes, I wonder if refusing to embrace forgiveness myself is my last grasp at control in a past situation I am powerless to change.
Over the last week, I’ve been assembling a short list of things we can do to help us abandon this self-punishment and rejection
1. Name the voices which are blocking the path between you and forgiveness.
My friend Leeana calls them “soul-bullies.” Ariana Huffington calls them “obnoxious roommates.” These voices include shame, despair, regret, and pride.
Assigning a name to these voices can help us identify these destructive forces for what they are – the barrier between us and the abundance we were created to live within.
Once you name the voice which haunts you, call it out and drag it into the light. These voices are lions in the dark, but mice in the light.
2. Replace the voice with the truth of who God says you are and what forgiveness says about your future.
What would you say if a close friend came to you who couldn’t forgive themselves? How would you counsel them?
Now turn those words on yourself. Aren’t you worthy of that same advice? Do those words only apply to them or can they be relevant for you too?
I’ve often found that this mental process reveals my pride and ego. I have a hard time comprehending I could be forgiven, even as I implore someone to embrace forgiveness themselves.
If this is hard for you to comprehend your worth and value, check out this list of identity statements from the pages of the Bible.
3. Give thanks for this struggle in your life.
I know this sounds odd, but this struggle you’re having in forgiving yourself is a gift. Because you have an opportunity others don’t have.
Due to this need, you have a place to experience grace in a profound way.
My friend Leeana reminded me of this in the article I shared with you last week. She described how the Bent Woman in Luke 13:10-13 experiences Jesus’ touch and power because she had very real need, not because she was perfect and flawless.
Without need, we wouldn’t have a place to experience His love and mercy. No failure? No need for grace.
I think this is why Jesus said in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” The source of our mourning isn’t a blessing, but the outcome of it includes a gift – an encounter with the comfort and care of God.
Being grateful for your struggle, naming the destructive voices, and replacing them with truth – these are just a few of the steps which can help us accept the forgiveness available to us.
So, instead of being filled with remorse today, obsessing over a past you can’t change and beating yourself up emotionally for your stumbles…
…what if you acknowledged your mistakes and went in a different direction?
Remorse and regret keep us locked in on the past. We can make a U-turn and go in a new direction today. Accepting forgiveness sets us free and opens up a different kind of future.