Dear Parishioners and Visitors,
After a prolonged struggle with not knowing how to forgive myself, I thought it might be a good idea to share with you my journey and experiences to recovery. The reflection is on two fundamental questions:
1. Why is forgiveness of “self” important?
2. How do you forgive yourself?
Focusing on these two questions has helped me to realize that one of the most difficult things to do to myself is to truly forgive my "self." I have experienced the "pain" of failing to forgive myself for certain things. Fortunately, I have also enjoyed some moments of break-through. Using a metaphor about cooking, the pain has been rooted in not knowing the " right ingredients" of self-forgiveness and how to become a "master chef" at forgiving myself. Honestly, it has not been easy to resolve some of the feelings of guilt, self-blame and shame for my actions, thoughts, feelings and omissions. Furthermore, the older I become, the more I experience feelings of guilt for things I did or did not do during my childhood, teenager years or adult life.
The same applies for some of the things for which I have asked God many times to forgive me. I do not doubt God's mercy and unconditional love for me as a "prodigal son." However, I do not know how to be merciful to myself. This reflection helps me to take the baby-steps.
As you can imagine, continuing to be unfairly self-critical is not fun and it is very dangerous. Lack of self-forgiveness for one's past, present and/or future transgressions reinforces self-hatred and guilt. Therefore, if you (reader) are in the same boat with me, I invite you to join me in pondering upon the following ingredients of self-forgiveness and share them with others in related situations. They are mainly written in first person singular to highlight self-forgiveness as opposed to forgiveness in general. Choose whatever phrase helps you or another person you care about to embrace the Gift of self-forgiveness:
Acknowledge my mistakes and sins and learn useful lessons from them. It is a treasure to stop beating myself up for the "split milk" which I cannot restore and the other things out of my control. Beating my "self" up beyond the point of appropriate remorse does not save anybody. It is time for each one of us to accept: "I am a human-being not a human-doing." To err is human but to remain in the error is inhuman. Every one messes up once in a while. Many saintly people messed up (for instance, King David, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta). They all had their shortcomings and struggled with forgiveness of "self" too. Therefore, let us understand and accept that to err is human, then turn to God like King David (cf. psalm 51). Ask God for the grace to forgive you and in turn forgive yourself. The act of forgiving is divine. It is liberating to learn how to take solace in knowing that once God forgives me, especially in the Sacrament of Confession, I should become soft with myself and forgive myself. It is counterproductive to continue beating myself up after receiving God's mercy, forgiveness and absolution in the Sacrament of Confession. No one is greater than God.
Understand that self-forgiving is not a synonym of forgetting what I did or did not do. I may remember what I did but the certainty of self-forgiveness involve remembering without feeling bad, pain, shame or guilt. In other words, the goal of forgiving is not forgetting. It is to allow myself to let go of the pain, guilt, sadness, anxiety of past mistakes and create opportunities for growth and development.
Identify what you did wrong, take responsibility for it and resolve to do things better. For instance, if find it hard to forgive yourself because you either yelled at a child, lied at work, had an abortion, partied too much, turned your back to God, made unkind remarks about a loved one, missed your friend's birthday, let a friend down, cheated on a partner, broke all the commandments, or were secretly glad about someone's down fall – or whatever it was – honestly acknowledge the facts, without making excuses.
Take a deep breath and complete these sentences with personal information may be helpful: I forgive my "self" for (i) _____ (ii) ____ and (iii) ______. I ask God for (i) ____ (ii) _____ (iii) _____ to forgive myself. Additionally, to forgive myself successfully, I ask my conscience (or inner voice that keeps reminding me of what I did wrong) for: (i)____ (ii) ____ (iii) _____.
Let go of our past and be kind to myself. Let go of your unrealized "wish list." "I wish I had ___" and "What if ____" questions. All these keep us from embracing God's mercy and self-forgiveness. Being compassion and ability to laugh at myself facilitates self-forgiveness. It not fair to use my current knowledge, wisdom, faith and experiences I have acquired as a criteria for judging what I did or did not do in childhood, adolescence or young adult. Kindness toward self is also critical in regard to the baggage I have accumulated over the years.
Embrace and celebrate the benefits of self-forgiveness. These benefits include: inner peace, living a happier life, transformation from fear to love, and breaking through the overwhelming guilt, shame, self-blame and anger. Likewise, self-forgiveness does not change what I did wrong in the past, it frees me in the present and I start to envision the future with opportunities.
Finally, "let us not become tired of doing good; for if we do not give up … we will reap the harvest" (Galatians 6,9) of self-forgiveness. So, whenever we mess up, let us forgive ourselves and move on. It is my humble prayer that we all learn to forgive ourselves. Let us find solace in realizing that the God revealed to us by Jesus Christ is Almighty God, has mercy on us, forgives us our sins, and will bring us to everlasting life in heaven. Amen.
In Christ - the Good Shepherd, Fr. JosephBACK TO LIST