by Marcus Guevara
Recently I’ve been encountering others who struggle to forgive a particular person. They try, and try, and try, but still can’t find it in them to forgive that one person. They have forgiven many others. Sometimes they have forgiven people who deserved even less forgiveness than the person I am talking about. The worst part about it is the person they refuse to forgive truly wants to be forgiven. That person begs for forgiveness and still they are denied that gift.
The person I am talking about is their self.
Forgiving myself was something I used to struggle with. After I had my conversion I realized that I had been a terrible person. I was haunted by the memories of who I once was and the things I had done.
I looked down at my hands and had flashbacks of where they had been and the evil they had done. From my mouth had come many lies and manipulating words and I was beginning to realize the damage I had been doing. I felt guilty, embarrassed and full of shame. In fact, I hated myself for a while.
We have the ability to ignore the pain and destruction caused by our sins for a while. We spend a lot of time and effort convincing ourselves that what we are doing is not wrong but all the while we are losing little pieces of our self. It’s like justifying spending a dollar here and there at the corner store and buying a six dollar lunch each day. We see a cool shirt or movie at the store and decide to buy it. It’s only fifteen or twenty dollars. No big deal. We keep this up and at the end of the month we look at our bank account and realize that we spent five hundred dollars outside of our budget. How did that happen? Little by little. Even though it happens little by little the result can be very large. As we slowly let go of our integrity and commit what we think are “little sins” we don’t realize that we are leaving behind a trail of destruction for our selves and others. One day we might look back and think “My God, what have I done?”
Why Is It So Hard To Forgive Yourself?
Once we decide to look back at our path of destruction we can become overwhelmed at the realization of the pain we have caused others. This moves us to ask God for mercy, which is good, but we also have the tendency to despair. In some cases I think the guilty party can suffer (spiritually) longer than the person they have sinned against. The reason for this is because even when we realize we have sinned and are willing to admit it our self-ishness kicks in and we have a hard time letting it go. Simply realizing that you have sinned and admitting, or confessing, that you are guilty is not enough. The easiest part of reconciliation with God is asking for forgiveness. That’s actually not that hard. We can be easily driven by emotion to fall on our knees and say “I am sorry. Please forgive me”. The hard part is accepting forgiveness or “forgiving your self”. God offers his forgiveness and you simply have to accept it. The phrase “forgive your self” alludes to the same thing but it’s really not about forgiving your own self. I don’t really remember saying “I forgive you Marcus” and then following that up with “Marcus, I accept your forgiveness”. That would have been kinda silly. It’s more accurate to say that the most difficult part of reconciliation is allowing God to give us the gift of forgiveness.
But why is that? Why is it so hard?
I think there are a few reasons. Sin causes us pain. Pain, if not given to God, turns into anger, bitterness, and frustration. It can also turn into violence. When pain is not addressed it will affect a persons relationships, logic, and faith. We don’t like feeling pain so we create mechanisms to try and avoid it. One mechanism is to protect our self. Our tendency to be self-ish prevents us from receiving the gift of forgiveness by refusing to address the issue.
The “I don’t need forgiveness. I’m fine. It’s no big deal. Leave me alone” attitude is very difficult to break. This attitude is taken when a person tries to avoid the pain of addressing the issue. They believe if they don’t think about it the issue will eventually just go away and, of course, it never does. This causes the person to close their self off to any help. It’s a defense mechanism. It’s self-ish because it is a refusal to take the necessary steps toward reconciling with God.
If we think of our relationship with God like a marriage then it is like one party refusing to work towards reconciling. The person refusing is more concerned with avoiding pain for the sake of their self.
Those who are self-less are not afraid of pain and sacrifice because they understand that sometimes it is necessary for the good of their self and others.
The tendency to be self-ish can also affect us when we decide to address the issue. This is what I call false humility. Selfishness can cause a tendency to despair where we say, or think, things like “God would never forgive me. I’m too terrible”. This is at least an attempt to address the issue. Instead of being closed off and saying “I’m fine. Leave me alone” this person is willing to recognize that they have sinned and need forgiveness – even if they think they don’t deserve it. This appears to be humility because it is an attempt at recognizing we are sinners but really it’s a false humility. True humility is recognizing truth and then being open to it. The truth is that we are sinners and God wants to give us the free gift of forgiveness. If we can recognize that then we have to then be open to the gift he wants to give us.
Just Take The Gift, Seriously, It’s Yours
A refusal of the gift is selfish because it’s like God says “I forgive you” and we say “I can’t accept your forgiveness. My sin is too great”. We are telling God that He is not powerful enough, not merciful enough, or not loving enough to forgive us. Saying “I am too bad for God to forgive” is too much credit to ourselves and very little credit to God. It’s like telling God “I know you said you forgive me but I can’t believe you. I can’t trust you. I don’t have any confidence in you” I keep saying “we” because at one point this was a big struggle for me. I’ve also talked to multiple people lately who have just overcome this struggle and I’m talking to others who are working through it. I know it’s not easy. It’s very hard. It took me years to realize I was rejecting God’s forgiveness and I needed to just get past my selfishness and accept.
Recently, I spoke to a room full of men about forgiveness. One man told me he had sinned terribly in his past and had gone to confession and asked for God’s forgiveness. He thought he was going to hell, though, because he still didn’t feel forgiven. I knew he had a daughter whom he loved so I gave him a scenario. I asked him “If your daughter had committed some terrible sin against you would you forgive her?” He said “Yes, of course” without any hesitation. I then said, “Okay, what if it was really, really bad?” He said “Yes, of course” without any hesitation. I said “Okay, but what if it was really, really, really bad?” He, and the crowd of men, laughed a little and I could see he was getting the idea. He said he would still forgive her. Then I asked him “Well, what if she felt so guilty and was so embarrassed that she didn’t feel she deserved your forgiveness. She decides to write you a note that says ‘Dad, I’m so sorry for what I did. I know you’ll never be able to forgive me and that’s okay because I don’t deserve it. I’m going to save you the pain and trouble of having to deal with me. I’m going away and you’ll never have to see me again. I don’t deserve to even have you talk to me. I love you and I hope you have a good life'”.
His face got very serious and the room was quiet. I could see he finally understood what I was trying to say. He would probably be more hurt by that letter than by the sin she committed against him. He would be upset at her lack of faith in his mercy, and love, for her. He is her father and there is nothing she can do to ever make him stop loving her. He would die for her just as Jesus died for you.
Realize that it hurts God more that we are not confident in His mercy and love for us. love is so great that there is NOTHING that we can do to make him stop loving us.
You may have lost your virginity.
You may have raped or killed someone.
You may have been unfaithful to your spouse.
You may have been in a gang or involved in drugs.
You may have been an alcoholic.
You may have been a thief.
You may have been a lot of things.
But you ARE a son, or daughter of God.
If you ever wrote that note to your father – tear it up and come back home. Allow God to give you the gift that you don’t deserve. Do not close your self to God. Open your self to him. If you find that there is a part of your life you can’t think about without becoming sad, angry, depressed or bitter – you need healing. You can only heal by submitting yourself, humbly, to God and say “not my will but yours be done”. Once you say “yes” to God’s gift you will start to find that healing you are looking for. Once you have experience that healing the pain will no longer control you. You will be able to talk about your past and share it with others.
You never know. God may use you to witness to the world how powerful his mercy and love is. You can say to others “If God could forgive me and still love me after what I have done – he will also do the same for you”. You may find that sharing your testimony with others is a healing experience. When you minister to others you are at the same time receiving the fruits of your ministry. It is in loving others that we feel loved. It is in forgiving others that we are forgiven and it is in helping others to heal that we are healed.
I am living proof to this theory. I share my story to help others. Every time I share my story and someone experiences a conversion or finds healing – I experience healing.
God may not call every one to speak in front of many people. However, everyone is called to share their story and witness what God has done for them.
Know that you are loved and that the gift of forgiveness and healing is waiting for you. All you need to do is accept it.
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