Forgiving yourself

Connecting the dots

As much as I hesitate to begin a post with a story about my sister—Pam, The Almighty; I mean the malignant narcissist—I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Back in the days when we were on Dysfunctionally-Good Terms, Pam confidently posed a one-question quiz to me—her sub-standard servant—Frankie Ann, the loser. Please picture her with a smug, “I’m so smart” look on her face.

Question and answer
Pam’s quiz:
“Name one thing that was true during Bible times that isn’t mentioned in the Bible.”

Frankie Ann’s prompt answer:
“Electricity.”

You should’ve seen her face. And, believe you me, the exceedingly-uncharacteristic silence gave me a victorious pay-off.

Later in this post, you’ll read my one-question quiz. I think you’ll like it.

Myths 1 and 2
I can tell you right now that today’s post will be controversial. So be it. I’m not remotely afraid of rocking the proverbial boat, as the case may be.

In Choosing Peace, I’ve addressed several myths.

Myth 1
In this post, we went over The Five Myths of Grieving and we replaced the lies with truth.

Myth 2
Later in the Grieving series, I focused on Debunking the Pop-Culture Myth.

The destructive myth
In the first post in this series, I mentioned a popular myth today—the myth that you’ll never leave The State of Grief. This myth is a destructive lie. But the reality is this: If you want to spend the rest of your life grieving, you can. Will this choice help you? Will it be healthy? Will it enrich your relationships and what you accomplish for God? No—to all of the above.

Many speakers, writers and so-called experts will tell you that once you experience a significant loss, you’ll grieve for the rest of your life. This is untrue. Either they misunderstand the word grieve or they believe grieving is a badge that people should wear perpetually with pride. This, too, is a lie.

For more on the distinctive difference between the word grieve and the word miss, see Time for Grieving, part 4.

Myth 3
Today we’ll dig into a fairly big and controversial myth in The Christian Community—the myth that says: “Forgiving yourself isn’t a biblical concept.” I first became aware of this myth at a Christian women’s event earlier this year. It boggled my mind. I laid awake in bed that night trying to wrap my head around it. A few months later, another lady said the same thing to me on the phone. Clearly, this myth was presented to me twice in a fairly short period of time for a reason.

In researching this issue, I found that proponents of this myth attack Forgiving Yourself from three customary vantage points.

Option 1: Scare tactics—calling it heresy
Some writers call the concept of forgiving yourself “heresy”—a very serious accusation. In other words, if we were living in the olden days, the belief that forgiving yourself is a true issue/need would’ve bought us each a ticket to being publicly burned at the stake. We would’ve been put on trial. We would’ve been greatly pressured to recant our belief—to say that we were wrong. And if we refused to recant—or “take it back”—we would’ve been executed most-painfully by being burned to death.

Obviously, some people have very strong feelings about this issue.

Do some Christians struggle with the need to forgive themselves? If so, does this struggle bring into question the sincerity or veracity of our faith? We’ll answer those questions, and many others, today.

The dangerous tendency
Have you ever believed an expert and later realized that the expert was dead-wrong? I sure have.

We have a dangerous tendency to trust “experts”
even when their statements contradict our own experiences.

What I already knew
Here’s a recent example. I walked out to my car in the morning to go to work. I felt rain drops on my skin and I saw rain drops on the pavement. I pulled out my Smart Phone (capitalized for emphasis). I opened the weather app and noted that the forecast said Sunny. I decided that The Expert on my Oh-So-Smart Phone knew more than I did. I ignored the rain drops that I felt and saw, and I chose not to get my umbrella. Did it rain that morning? It sure did. Did I get wet when I arrived at work? Yep. Did I feel like an idiot? Yes, indeed.

Why do we do this? Why do we believe “experts” when their authoritative statements blatantly contradict our own experiences—what we already know to be true? Why? Hmmm. That is a very good question.

So-called experts
I allowed The Expert Weather App People to tell me whether or not it was going to rain when it was already obviously raining! In my 50-some-odd years of living, has The Weather Man ever been wrong? Uhhh, habitually. Often. It’s actually a common joke. I’m not dissing weather people. I appreciate their service and I know that God Almighty is full of surprises. But, seriously. My “decision-making process” was ridiculous.

Here’s my conclusion to the aforementioned question: Why do we believe “experts” when their authoritative statements blatantly contradict our own experiences—what we already know to be true?

We defer to “experts” because it allows us
to be lazy and to stop thinking for ourselves.

This is dangerous. It really is.

Let’s move on to the second Forgiving Yourself attack vector.

Option 2: Pretending it doesn’t exist
“Say No to The Gospel of Self-Forgiveness” from The Gospel Coalition can be summarized by this sentence: “You don’t need to forgive yourself, because you can’t forgive yourself.” I understand what they’re communicating, but I heartily disagree with it. Their position reminds me of The Rainy Day With a Sunny-Day Forecast. Saying that something doesn’t exist doesn’t eliminate its existence. People who say “There is no God” have not eliminated God.

I’ve experienced an inability to forgive myself. Was I lying to myself? Was I, indeed, not experiencing the inability to forgive myself? Was I making it up? No. It was a painful reality. I wasn’t making it up. To be sure, I would’ve preferred not to be experiencing this pain. But it was there. And a remedy was available. I actually did forgive myself. How? More on that later.

Option 3: Calling it something else—something it isn’t
This article from Focus On The Family tells me to replace my experience—The Inability to Forgive Myself—with this biblical concept: The sin of unbelief. Since the Bible uses those words—the sin of unbelief—and it doesn’t use my words—The Inability to Forgive Myself—I supposedly have a problem in my theology. Translation: “Trust the experts and their wording. Your own experiences are invalid. Your investigation into this topic, with the inspiration of The Holy Spirit, is also invalid.”

From dangerous ground to wisdom
I realize that I’m treading on some dangerous ground. I don’t get to rewrite the Bible. But I do get to use the good brain that God gave me; I need to read what the Bible clearly says; and I would be wise to draw well-thought-out conclusions, with the help and guidance of The Holy Spirit. In other words, I need to carefully and wisely Connect The Dots.

Memory lane
Now I don’t know about you, but I totally dug Connect The Dots exercises when I was young. I was not gifted as an artist, so drawing lines and coming up with a picture was super-dog-cool to me. Then I got to color my fun Connect The Dots picture. Yay.

The two virtues
Earlier in this series, I did a Connect The Dots exercise in part 2 of What Forgiving Is and Isn’t. I looked at two scriptures (and considered other things that I know about the life of Jesus Christ) and I discovered this truth: “Love and forgiving are intertwined.” Love is a virtue and forgiving is a virtue. They are, in fact, related to each other.

Two statements from the cross, plus two more
The crucifixion of Jesus pointed me in this direction. The most loving thing Jesus ever did was to willfully be executed in the most excruciating way as payment for our sins—for my sins. Jesus took on my rightful punishment so I could be forgiven and reconciled to God—so I could be adopted into The Family of God. Jesus’ crucifixion was an act of both love and forgiveness.

A forgiving heart
While he was on the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness twice. “Father, forgive them….” One of the criminals crucified beside him showed repentance and humility, and he asked, “Jesus, remember me….”

And [Jesus] said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Luke 23:43, New Heart English Bible

To welcome the criminal into heaven clearly communicated that this man belonged to The Family of God and had been forgiven.

Love and forgiveness
Jesus also spoke words of love—arranging for his mother’s care. Before his final breath, Jesus said: “It is finished.” These final words communicated, powerfully, both love and forgiveness. His greatest act of love—the atonement for our sins—was complete. God’s forgiveness could now be poured out on his people.

The two scriptures
See the Question and Answer section toward the end of this post as I dug into Ephesians 4:32–5:2 and Colossians 3:12-14 to answer this question: “How is forgiving related to loving?”

You may be thinking, What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Stay with me. We’re about to Connect The Dots.

Love and forgiving are intertwined. We find this truth in Ephesians and Colossians. How does that relate to our need to forgive ourselves?

The two great commandments
Jesus tells us the answer in Matthew 22:39 toward the end of this passage.

But the Pharisees, when they heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, gathered themselves together. One of them, a Law scholar, asked him a question, testing him. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?”

He said to him, “‘You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and first commandment. A second likewise is this, ‘You are to love your neighbor as yourself.’ The whole Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:34-40, New Heart English Bible

The last two words
The hot-shot religious scholars were trying to trick Jesus. He boiled everything down to two commandments, the second one being, “You are to love your neighbor as yourself.” The last two words are as yourself. In other words, Love others as you love yourself. It’s understood that we love ourselves—that we look out for ourselves, tend ourselves and do what we believe to be in our best interest. We all know that we think much and often about ourselves. Often, too much. That’s a topic for another day. Translation: “Love others too.”

Do some people have problems in this area? Do some people not love themselves? Certainly. We’ve all met people who are extremely self-destructive, say hateful things to and about themselves, and seem to be on The Fast Track to the end. The people I’ve met who fall into that category had extremely abusive and neglectful parents. Sadistic ones. Other traumas can also lead to a chronically self-destructive lifestyle.

Connecting the dots
Loving yourself is fundamentally essential. God is love. He created us in his image. He loves us. He has good plans for us. We are to love ourselves too. Love is the highest virtue. Love seeks the highest good. To love others well, it’s understood that we have to love ourselves well.

To love ourselves—as Jesus clearly indicates—
we must also forgive ourselves
because love and forgiving are intertwined.

My quiz
I was talking on the phone with a lady not long ago. During a recent sermon, her preacher said forgiving yourself isn’t a biblical concept. She believed him. I, of course, disagreed. Shock of the world. I asked her this one question. Call it The Frankie Ann One-Question Quiz. “Can you harm yourself?” Can. You. Harm. Yourself. We all know the answer to that one.

Every sin I’ve ever committed harmed me, wronged me. Each sin, each mistake, each failure to be truthful or courageous—every single one hurt or damaged me in some way. And that’s a long list, Peaceful Readers. Super long. In fact, no one on the planet has wronged me more than I have. Which begs the ultimate question for today. Do I need to forgive myself? Absolutely!

If Jesus tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself” and he tells us to forgive others, that logically means that we need to forgive ourselves too. Right? Right.

More answers
Earlier today, I asked these questions. Do some Christians struggle with the need to forgive themselves? Obviously, yes. If so, does this struggle bring into question the sincerity or veracity of our faith? No, it most certainly does not. Since our own sin obviously hurts us, the need to forgive ourselves is a natural occurrence. When someone hurts me—whether that someone is another person or me, myself and I—forgiving is needed.

Healing together
Many people forgive themselves freely, daily, naturally. But when we’ve greatly traumatized ourselves, sometimes this self-forgiveness isn’t so forthcoming. From what I experienced after my abortion and what I’ve heard from many other post-abortive ladies, we couldn’t forgive ourselves without the help and healing we experienced in a structured, Christian-based, group program.

Two keys
This scripture holds some of the keys to healing and forgiveness—mutual confession and sincere prayer:

Therefore confess your sins to one another,
and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
The prayer of the righteous person is powerfully effective.

James 5:16, New Heart English Bible

The third key
For me, compassion held another key to unlocking my unforgiveness of myself. When I heard the other ladies’ abortion stories at that weekend retreat, I felt such compassion for them. And the Holy Spirit asked me in my thoughts, “If they deserve my compassion, why don’t you? Why not you?” The light bulb came on in my mind, clearly. And I laid it down—the trauma, the shame and my unforgiveness of myself. Because I finally felt compassion for myself, I was finally able to forgive myself. God did an amazing, healing work in me.

For more of my post-abortion healing story, read this post. If you need post-abortive healing and you could come to Dallas for a weekend retreat, contact Someone Cares. If you need a post-abortive healing retreat in another area, contact Rachel’s Vineyard to find a retreat near you.

Knowing yourself and getting help
Yes, there are people out there who want to convince you that you don’t need to forgive yourself. They say you’re using the wrong words. They say that what you really need is to receive and acknowledge God’s forgiveness.

You know your own heart and thoughts and struggles.
Don’t allow other people to tell you that your spiritual needs
don’t exist or that you’re using the wrong words to describe them.

Do you need to forgive yourself? Do you need help from a quality group program? See the end of this post for referral information to several wonderful groups, whether you’re struggling with grief, the pain of separation or divorce, or post-abortion trauma. Many larger churches also offer 12-step programs and much more.

Recommended articles on forgiving yourself
This article, “Forgive Yourself” from The Bible in One Year, includes excellent scripture references and good quotes from C.S. Lewis. My favorite article on this subject is “Forgiving Yourself” from All About God. I highly recommend this article in its entirety if you or anyone you know has ever struggled in this area.

Remember, sometimes this kind of deep healing and forgiving requires a skilled group setting. Pray and ask God what your next step needs to be. Seek and you will find.

Coming next: You’ll read about frostbite, the core message and perks, plus a lot more. Until then, thanks for reading and for Choosing Peace.

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Colossians 1:9-14

Song for Healing: When we sing this song at church—in person or during the live stream—it moves me powerfully every time. I raise my hand in the air and I get teary-eyed, proclaiming the majesty of Jesus, My King. Enjoy “God, the Uncreated One (King Forevermore)” by Keith & Kristyn Getty.

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