Recently I had an unexpected epiphany: I realized I needed to forgive myself.
As a Christian, forgiveness seems like a pretty basic concept. God forgave us, so we must forgive others. We need to let go of offense, get rid of bitterness, and release to others the grace we have been shown. It’s one of those deceptively simple Sunday School concepts that comes back to bite you when you’re an adult.
Forgiveness is difficult. First of all, it’s difficult because you have to be self-aware. You can’t let go of offense unless you are aware that you are offended.
That may sound simple, but I’ve come to realize that I’m very good at hiding my feelings from myself. Sometimes it’s one big sweep under the rug after a trauma. My survival instinct tells me I can’t handle it, so down it goes. Other times, it happens in bits and pieces: One hurtful word here, one slight snub there, and before I know it, a huge monstrosity is hiding just under the surface.
Second, it’s difficult because you have to make an unnatural choice.
Forgiveness goes against your pride, your sense of justice, and probably your emotions. The only way to really be capable of this radical act is by being on the receiving end first. By experiencing the power of being shown forgiveness. When we are wronged, we want an apology. We want to see remorse, receive a promise of changed behavior. We may even want to see the person punished. Many times, we are right for wanting those things. But often we can’t control whether or not those things happen. The only thing we can control is whether we forgive.
And though I sometimes still struggle with it, I do believe forgiveness is the right choice. For our own health and freedom.
So back to my epiphany.
One evening not too long ago, I did an unforgiveness purge. I went through this whole list of people I hadn’t even realized I harbored bitterness towards. Whoever came to mind, I forgave. I didn’t justify their actions to convince myself to let go, I simply chose to. Plain and simple. The exercise was a lot more emotional than I expected.
And then, I felt God whisper that there was one more step left to take. I needed to forgive myself.
Forgive myself? For what?
The first thing that came out of my mouth was, “I forgive myself for not being perfect.” And I started to cry. That’s when I realized that I have not been kind to myself lately.
There is something to be said for self-love. I’ve probably said it before, but I’m going to say it again: Loving yourself is important. Jesus said the most important commandments were to love God and to love others as yourself. Love God. And love others. As yourself.
What is self-love?
It’s not self-absorption, self-indulgence, or self-centeredness. Self-love is simply being kind to yourself. Showing yourself grace when you make mistakes, when you disappoint yourself, when you get lost. Self-love is encouraging yourself, choosing to affirm the good instead of focusing on the bad. It’s forgiving yourself––not defining yourself by your mistakes. It’s treating yourself the way God treats you. If God is willing to forgive and forget your sin, then you probably should, too. Sometimes I have a standard for myself that is different than God’s. One thing I’m still learning is to submit to God’s standard.
I want the performance, meeting, or conversation to be perfect, and it isn’t. So I’m tempted to be negative about it. But God’s view is completely different. God sees my sincerity and my boldness, He sees how much progress I’ve made. God sees the way I faced my fears or restrained my anger. He magnifies the few amazing moments that happened, no matter how small or brief.
God values the heart. God affirms the process. And God always knows a new beginning is possible, if needed.
Slowly but surely, I’m learning to see the way God does. Because of the way God treats me, I’m learning to not only forgive others, but also show grace to myself. And it changes everything. That’s the power of love.