The Toughest Job: Forgiving Yourself
- Friday, October 21, 2011
So you have a hard time forgiving (and forgetting) your past? Me too. As a matter of fact, I probably have the tee-shirt, the coffee mug, and the tattoo to prove it. I tell of grieving about past mistakes is a problem I’ve struggled with for most of my life as I present the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar. So let’s spend a few moments together and share some thoughts on this all-too-common problem.
First, I am assuming that you are a Christian. If not, then the guilt you feel is real. I didn’t say that it’s unforgivable—just real.
Second, like so much else in this little book, if you miss my heart, you are also likely to miss my point. It is not my purpose to turn liberty into license. Taken to the extreme, what I’m about to share can do more harm than good. However, I grew up in a world where many of the religious types so intent on keeping us away from wrong scared us to death of God. I believe
from my core out that there is a very real need for deep, contrite, humble repentance in all of our lives. Why? Because we’re all sinners. We break our promises. We let down the people who trust us. We allow our greed to drive our financial decisions. We brag and are prideful about things that are actually gifts from God. We break the confidences of our friends. We behave badly. But there also comes a time when forgiveness and forgetfulness need to be extended to oneself by oneself.
Some of us are better at apologizing than we are at forgiving ourselves. As I get into this, let me make a sexist observation on this point. In general, I believe that this is a greater problem for women than it is for men. Being neither an anthropologist, sociologist, nor psychologist, I have no way to document this theory scientifically but still I believe it to be true. As a matter of fact I have conducted my own “research.”
Much to my wife’s chagrin, I’ve performed a little test that illustrates how many women seem poised to apologize for practically anything—whether or not it’s their fault. More than once I’ve told Bonnie, “A woman will apologize to furniture.” What do I mean by that? Simply that for many women, if they bump into a chair, they are likely to say, “Oh, excuse me”—before they realize that it’s not even a person! Like I said, I’ve tested this little theory in the field. More than once in a public place, like a supermarket, I have deliberately nudged my cart against a woman’s cart in the store. Obviously, to any unbiased third party observer, I am the one at fault. But, almost without exception, the woman will look at me with an embarrassed face and say, I’m sorry.”
Brothers, and especially sisters, it’s high time that we begin to extend some of the grace that we extend to others to ourselves! It is time to knock it off, get over it, and go on with life.
A number of years ago, an especially troubling and trying experience came my way in the business arena. I had sold a business to a dear friend of mine. Without going into the details, the business situation did not turn out how anyone wanted it to and because it hurt so many people, this was quite traumatic for me. I felt that I had been honorable in the whole matter, but there were people who didn’t know the facts, and blamed me. Thankfully, those who had worked on the deal were Christians, and to a person, they all assured and re-assured me that I had done nothing wrong. But still, I couldn’t lay it down. For months I grieved. I lost sleep for hundreds of nights. But one of the things that helped the most was when I asked for a meeting with the leaders at my church. In that meeting, Bonnie and I were totally open and frank. We told them of all my worries, self-doubts, and regrets. I admitted to having made mistakes. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what they would say or do. But I will never forget what happened. After Bonnie and I poured our hearts out (and cried a bucket-full of tears) one of these wise, godly men stood up and
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