How to forgive yourself, not!


Guilt is debilitating. No one can operate at full efficiency while carrying a jumbo load of guilt. Sooner or later you will succumb. One of the most difficult issues plaguing me for years was that of a crushing guilt that followed me home from Vietnam. Discovering self-forgiveness was no easy task. For decades I thought I had been responsible for the deaths of seven fellow Marines.

Heartaches and tears caused by guilt became a familiar part of my life. The search to find forgiveness has been perplexing, frustrating, and nerve destroying. Even after becoming a Christian and having some understanding of God's grace, I continued to struggle with self-forgiveness. No matter how much effort I expended, I could never forgive myself.

There have been numerous attempts to offer answers to the question of how to forgive yourself. A little research on the subject brought several results. I found one example representative of the academic world presented by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley Oct.10, '14 (Wildmind Buddhist Meditation). Dr. Hanson attempted to be helpful by sharing a list one might follow in order to experience self-forgiveness. According to the Doctor's list, a person needs to speak aloud saying he forgives himself for a particular error.

A doctoral candidate, also at UC Berkeley, wrote (Greater Good in Action Aug.23, '12) that self-forgiveness was essential to well being. What I found intriguing about her article was not what she had written but the first response given by a reader. He shared that he had suffered for thirteen years and had tried everything the author had suggested. None of it had helped him get better.

A cursory examination of the available writings that offer help regarding self-forgiveness point the Sufferer to look inside themselves while following prescribed steps at the end of which they should discover self-forgiveness and relief from guilt. Of course, there are Biblically oriented authors who also make pronouncements regarding self-forgiveness, but they, too, come up short. Those I researched were equally confusing, albeit, in a kinder way. I expected Christians to point people to an answer outside themselves. However, some of them cleverly amalgamated belief in God with having the same conversation with one's self that was suggested by non-Christian sources. (How to Win Over Self Condemnation, Compton. The Huffington Post Feb.12, '16) In the Christian author's third step toward self-forgiveness, I found the old standby of telling yourself out loud that you forgive yourself.

Here's what I've discovered about myself. I have an overly active conscience. When I make a major moral boo-boo, my conscience reacts like a maddened satanic accuser. It is impossible to rationalize a way to forgive myself. I've found my heart to be so rigid, so uncompromising, that I could never crush that "evil pump" enough to make it bleed a little forgiveness for me.

The good news came when, in my search, I discovered not one shred of evidence that the Bible ever declares that God forfeited forgiveness of me to me! It is my theological understanding that one of the most reprehensible moral things any person or entity can do is to assume powers reserved only to God. Imagine how chagrined I was to find that I had done precisely that in my search for self-forgiveness.

This discovery has validated my faith in our Creator. Why would He instruct me to go to a heart that I know is wicked and hardened in order to find forgiveness? Those who suggest I look inward were either oblivious to my true nature or naively optimistic. Finding self-forgiveness is somewhat misleading.

The truth is when God forgives me, I am completely forgiven. I must believe in His forgiveness. There is no need to embark upon any other quest. I am not required to find forgiveness within myself. I may forgive others of the injuries done to me, but I may not forgive myself. Isn't this obvious now? I have neither the capacity to forgive myself, nor have I been granted the authority to pronounce myself forgiven.

To those of us who have been laid low by a "mistake" in the past, this is such a relief. When God forgives, it is complete forgiveness. Others may wish to remind us of our faults, but they have not been entrusted with influencing our standing before the Judge of all humanity. My nature will continue to accuse me. However, instead of following the temptation to look inward for forgiveness and to continue punishing myself, I look to God's complete forgiveness and to the punishment He took on my behalf and declare, "It is enough!"

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