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
walked slowly over to a white board on the wall. He picked up a felt marker and wrote three words: “Let it go.” Then he walked back to his chair and sat down.
I won’t lie and tell you that this pivotal moment stopped all of my worry. It didn’t. But it did help me catch my spiritual breath and begin healing. Let me share three thoughts that have helped in my struggle to drive a stake in the heart of this monster.
1. It’s important to discern the difference between the loving, healthy conviction that God brings to us through his Spirit and unhealthy worry. Remember that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” Anytime a worry lingers but doesn’t resolve into a healthy, productive conclusion, it’s a safe bet that God is not involved. It is very easy for us to stay preoccupied with negative stuff. Such a focus keeps us from being productive for God.
2. I appreciate the words of a man who himself had committed plenty of sins and hurt lots of people. Paul had jailed and murdered a multitude of Christians before he accepted Jesus himself.
What a burden to carry! Can you imagine how many times he must have looked out at an audience and caught the eye of a woman whom he had widowed? How many young people did he preach Jesus to whom he had orphaned? And don’t you suppose that Paul wondered over and over, “Paul, you hypocrite! What right do you have to preach when you are the worst of the bunch?” Paul had to deal with this. I suspect he frequently drenched his pillow with tears and filled his waking hours with self-loathing. But instead of melting into a pity puddle, he saw the big picture.
These words from the good apostle have brought a lot of us through some deep waters. “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14).
3. Lastly, I am learning to judge trees by their fruit. For instance, what if Paul was convinced that he was unworthy to minister? Who would have evangelized the first-century Greek world? Who would have written a dozen of the New Testament books? Who would I look to for real world advice on how to overcome worry when it tends to decimate me?
Thank you Paul for showing me how to say boldly, “Jesus’ grace is sufficient for even me.”
Steve Diggs has presented the No Debt No Sweat! Money Management and ReTooled & ReFueled Essential Life-Skills Seminars over 500 times at churches, colleges, conferences, employee groups, and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve at www.NDNS.org, www.RetooledAndRefueled.com or www.SteveDiggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of seven books, Steve has been a TV commentator, syndicated columnist, minister, and, today, is a fulltime speaker. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four grown children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.
No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar teaches God's people how to use God's money God's way. More at www.NDNS.org.
ReTooled & ReFueled: The Essential Christian Life-Skills Seminar shows Christians how to live for the beautiful bye and bye—while dealing with the nasty now and now. More atwww.RetooledAndRefueled.com.
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