At the end of the service, we gave folks a chance to write a little note on a card about something in their life or from their past for which they have a hard time accepting God's forgiveness. It was one of those unusually powerful moments when God was very clearly working to stir something in a lot of people. I was honestly surprised by how many folks were moved.
Accepting the forgiveness that God offers us through Jesus' sacrifice is difficult for many people. I suppose the regular reminder that "you can never go too far, commit one too many sins or do something so bad as to put you beyond the reach of God's forgiveness" is something we just need to hear again and again.
But it also occurs to me that there is another kind of forgiveness that's even harder to accept, at least for some folks. You might think that I'm talking about the ability to forgive an egregious offense against you - like severe abuse or sexual abuse or things that we don't even want to think about. But I don't even think that is the hardest kind of forgiveness.
The hardest kind of forgiveness is the forgiveness of self.
I have watched many people wrestle for years with the mistakes they've made or the sins they've committed from their past. In many cases, everyone around them has extended forgiveness and grace and love. They even know and believe that God has forgiven them. But, often, they are held hostage by what they did. They become stuck, unable to move forward - save for small, incremental steps - because they just can't forgive themselves for their past.
This is a chronic condition for some, affecting every other area of their lives. If this is you, allow me to give you some advice.
1) Get some counsel. I'm a big fan of a good counselor. Personally, I have seen the benefits of what a skilled counselor can mean. And I've seen many others experience the same blessing. A good counselor is often the difference between staying stuck and moving forward. It's worth the time and money, but you have to have the right one. More on that in a later post.
2) Consider what you are saying when you refuse to forgive yourself. Essentially, this is a way of saying, "God, your forgiveness of my past isn't good enough. Or big enough." This may sound harsh, and I don't mean it as a reprimand. Rather, I want folks to consider the full view, the big picture. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, self forgiveness is linked to how we understand God's forgiveness.
3) Get it out. For most people I know who struggle with forgiveness of self, they treat their past or their sin like a big secret. They don't really tell anyone (except possibly their spouse) or talk about it. Like a bad infection, it festers inside of them, eating them from the inside out. Part of the remedy for this is often a willingness to talk about it to a few other folks. Get it out! Tell your small group or some trusted friends. I know it will be hard and you'll be nervous, but healing will come. Hear from them as they extend you grace and watch as they don't change the way they see you. Why? Because they can relate! We're all broken, we all have a past, and yours really is no worse than mine or anyone else's. You'll start to feel better as you release the burden you've been carrying for a long time.
Whatever you do, realize that if you've been carrying around the burden of unforgiveness of yourself, that burden is unlikely to be lifted unless you change course in some way, which will involve some stretching, discomfort and risk.
But you can do it, it will be worth the effort. And you can finally be free.