Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to share the importance of self-forgiveness with close friends. Although it doesn’t come easily, self-forgiveness is possible; and when we offer it to ourselves more freely, self-forgiveness can change how we move through life for the better.
I didn’t know how much I struggled with self-forgiveness until I listened to someone else share how it made the difference in their healing from past pain. Throughout my faith journey, I tried to rid myself of bitterness and resentment towards others because my personal convictions call me to that. However, I didn’t know that forgiving myself – specifically for the ways in which I contributed to my own pain – would require just as much (if not more) attention.
Fortunately, being in isolation for about a year now and going through a sermon series on forgiveness gave me some additional time and tools needed to make self-forgiveness a regular practice. Here are my thoughts on why self-forgiveness matters.
“Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn’t know before you learned it.”Maya Angelou
A lack of self-forgiveness is too burdensome.
Imagine spending your entire lifetime withholding forgiveness from yourself. Believe it or not, many of us punish ourselves in this way. We carry around the weight of every past mistake even after we’ve made amends. We drag around a ball and chain for every personal failure – both seen and unseen. The sum of these mistakes and failures cause us to move slowly through life only to miss out on it. We might appear to be putting one foot before the other, but in reality, we’re not getting as far as we imagine. We might also find ourselves revisiting unhealthy mental and emotional spaces only to pick up burdens we weren’t meant to carry.
Self-forgiveness is the remedy here. It helps lighten the load of unforgiveness and frees us from our past. It welcomes the possibility of living fully in the present and moving forward without guilt, shame, and/or anger toward ourselves.
You are worthy of forgiveness just as much as the next person.
Have you ever thought about that? The same forgiveness you hold for others is for you. The same grace and mercy you extend to others is for you. The same understanding you demonstrate towards others is for you. The same manner in which you relinquish grudges to live peaceably with others is for you. Don’t miss that. You are deserving of that same compassion. So why do you withhold it?
For Christ-followers, the word of God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves. It also says that love covers a multitude of sins – meaning love forgives. (1 Peter 4:8) How can we truly forgive others without first forgiving ourselves? How can we respond to the call to forgive seventy times seven without first applying this principle to our own shortcomings? (Matthew 18:21-22) If you are in Christ, then there is no condemnation for you. (Romans 8:1) Because of the love of Christ, forgiveness is a gift freely given to you to enjoy – not just everyone else. (John 3:16; Ephesians 1:7; Ephesians 4:32)
Loving yourself fully looks like forgiving yourself fully.
Self-forgiveness leads to personal growth.
We’ve all heard these words before: learn from your mistakes. But do we really take these words to heart? Self-forgiveness matters because it provides opportunities to stop and reflect on whatever it was that we did to ourselves or another, then own up to the specific ways in which we fell short. Only then can we begin to take responsibility for ourselves, acknowledge what could be done differently, and grow.
One of the saddest things we can do as adults is stifle our own growth and maturity by rejecting life’s lesson or merely letting ourselves off the hook by ignoring them. Sure, we’ll never embrace every life lesson perfectly, but it’s important to at least be open to them; and who knows, you might be able to help someone else along the way. Someday, you may have an opportunity to share how you learned to process your mistakes and personal failures in productive ways and how you moved on from them. A huge part of that process is self-forgiveness.
If we fail to engage in the process altogether, then growth won’t happen; and the cost of that is far too great.