Forgive Yourself

By Kersley Fitzgerald

When I was about three, we lived in a two-story apartment with a narrow staircase. One day the thought came to me. I knew it was bad to fall down the stairs because my mother had said so. But what if you could fall down the stairs controlled? So I laid down on the top step.

Then another thought came. This was my first time. I should start easier. (Yes, I still remember this conversation with myself.) So I jumped up and went halfway down.

I was in control for about two and a half steps. Then there was no more control. My mom ran from the kitchen. I seemed to be fine physically, if not emotionally. And I only waited 25 years to tell her I'd done it on purpose.

Forty years after that tumble, I went to the chiropractor for the first time because my lower back was giving me more problems than usual. He stared at the x-rays of my spine, taken from the side. His face filled with concern as he pointed at the curved portion between the shoulder blades.

"Your vertebrae are twisted here, and overly curved. It looks like you had a serious trauma sometime in the past." He pointed at a vertebra. "It looks like this one was broken."

I don't hurt there. It's possible that bend in my back is responsible for my stomach issues. But I mostly find the whole thing funny. What three-year-old does that? And should I blame her for my digestive problems now?

My mother had told me not to fall down the stairs. Apparently several times. I should have known better. Does that matter?

What about more serious issues? What about the man addicted to sin, who started when his seven-year-old self got a little too caught up in his friend's brother's magazines? Or the girl who at eleven knew it was wrong to make shallow cuts across her arms but didn't stop, and now can't, ten years later? Or the college student who knew she shouldn't go to that party — and certainly not drink that much?

How many people are trapped in sin, addiction, or pain because of mistakes they made in the past? Surely most of us. Our sins hurt us; sometimes for the rest of our lives.

Which is why I don't get it when Christians say we don't have to forgive ourselves. They say we have no right to forgive ourselves because God already did.

Yeah, God did, if we follow Christ. That's salvation-forgiveness. But we're talking about relationship forgiveness. Salvation-forgiveness is when God forgives all our sins and reconciles us to Himself by the power of Jesus' blood. But that's not the forgiveness the Bible says God will not show us if we don't show others (Matthew 6:14-15). Relational forgiveness is how we release ourselves of resentment and start healing from the wounds the offense caused.

And who do we offend more than ourselves? Every sin we commit, in some way, hurts ourselves — even those sins that are against others. Even if we don't suffer direct punishment, we do damage relationships we should have had and reject the love we need.

Not to get touchy-feely, but every sin hurts the relationship we should have with ourselves. We're called to remind ourselves we're children of the King. Instead, we dredge up reminders of how we failed, how we should have known better, and how much our mistakes have cost us. That's the origin of a lot of the shame we deal with.

Imagine living with someone like that in your home. Someone who constantly belittles you and explains in no uncertain terms what, exactly, is your fault. If that person is living in your head — you can never get away from the voice.

There's no difference. We can't live surrounded by that much bitterness. As Anne Lamott says, we must be gentle with our younger selves — even if we should have known better. And even if our "younger self" was only a year or a day or an hour younger.

Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting. It doesn't absolve us of the consequences. It releases the emotional burden so we can concentrate on the more practical matters of restitution. For me, it may mean going to the chiropractor and avoiding steak. For another, it may mean learning how to overcome anorexia or finishing a prison sentence with grace. And forgiving ourselves offers a measure of freedom so we can take care of our obligations to others we have harmed, with humility instead of shame.

So, yes. We must forgive ourselves. We can't live with someone who resents and shames us. That's not some kind of stoic humility — it's emotional abuse.

Image Credit: Eric Allix Rogers; "forgive yourself"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Hardships

comments powered by Disqus
Published 2-4-15