The movie wasn’t my favorite, but for some reason, everytime I think of the word “forgive”, the ridiculous song lyrics from the movie Just Friends comes to mind.
“Forgiveness is more than saying sorry”
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, good for you. And if you do, you know you can’t say those words without singing them in your head in the tune that Anna Faris sang them in. Don’t deny it! But I digress...
For a reason unknown to me, lavishing grace upon others has never been that hard for me. And it’s not because I haven’t had terrible things occur to me or around me, because I most certainly have. No, sometimes I think it’s because I’m a second born child. It just seems to be something in our nature… a survival skill perhaps in order to deal with having less photos taken of us in childhood than the first-born had? (For you mommas, don’t worry, I’m kidding… but for you second-borns like myself, I’m only kidding in part, because we all know it’s actually pretty true for most of us).
Now I’m not saying I have mastered the art of forgiveness. Of course, I have had my days and my situations where it has been more challenging than others. I’m married — it’s pretty much implied that showing grace and forgiving your spouse without resurrecting situations from 6 years, 5 months, and 10 days from the grave in order to throw it in their face is going to be a challenge. But by and large, forgiving others and showing them the grace that Jesus shows them, and that Jesus shows me, has never been that difficult or caused anger to rush through my body until I am shaking with rage and spitting fire and venom on all of those around me.
No, showing forgiveness to others has not been my major issue, but forgiveness has still been a struggle in many ways… well, one in particular.
If you have read the Scriptures, you have probably come across many verses on forgiveness. But there is one passage, in particular, that has caused me to stop and ponder — to really think on the practicality of it all. It is words that Jesus spoke and that Matthew recounted. You can find it in Matthew 5, starting at verse 43. Jesus said,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”
When I heard someone read this verse in a talk about forgiveness, I had to stop and ask myself (and God) the question…
How do you love your enemy when your enemy is you?
And furthermore, how do you pray for the one who is persecuting you, when the one persecuting you is you?
Like I said before, giving grace upon grace to others is challenging at times, but that’s not my main struggle when it comes to forgiveness. The hardest battle I have fought, and am still fighting, if I’m honest, is how to forgive my own self. Maybe it’s a battle that has become all too familiar for you, as well. And let me tell you, it is a tough one. There’s a reason the “self-love club” exists. It’s because the self-hate club is strong and is no respecter of persons.
When talking of forgiving others, people often say that of course you should forgive people because look at your own self! Look at all the wrong you have done and how much grace is required for you (obviously, I know there are circumstances where perhaps you were preyed upon, situations outside of your control, where the weight of the circumstance cannot be talked about in such light and flippant ways, and if that is your story, I am so sorry, friend). But when it comes to these pieces of advice — to look at your own self — what happens when that is exactly the issue? What happens when it’s you that you can’t forgive? What happens when looking at yourself and your own depravity is part of the problem? What then is the solution?
If this is your struggle like it is mine, first of all let me lay out a hard truth I have to swallow often.
IF WE CAN’T FORGIVE OURSELVES, YET GOD CAN — WE ARE SAYING THAT OUR STANDARDS ARE NOT ONLY HIGHER THAN HIS, BUT BETTER THAN HIS.
Oh friends, when we come to a place where we are telling God “thanks for forgiving me but I just can’t forgive myself”, we are in dangerous territory. We are communicating by our actions that we have higher standards than God does. That our ways are in fact higher than His and not the other way around.
And listen, I get it. He and I wrestle about this one regularly, on the daily sometimes, because I am so stubborn that I just can’t seem to get it through my head. But we are not the Author of love and forgiveness. He is. And if He looks upon us as His followers and deems us worthy, forgiven, and righteous, then, friends, that is exactly what and who we are, regardless of what we think or how we feel.
So then how? How can we love and pray for our enemies, as Jesus calls us to do, when our enemies are ourselves? Will the standard answers and practical ways of forgiving others also apply to us when attempting to begin the process of forgiving our own selves? In some ways, after much thought and a bit of practice, I believe the answer is yes. And if you want to know how I am attempting to fight against my own self and beginning to walk in freedom, I’ve outlined a few practical steps that will hopefully work for you, too.
FAST AND PRAY
If you are having problems getting past something that you have done, if you have not been able to forgive yourself for mistakes you have made — FAST and pray about it. I will talk about fasting until I am blue in the face, because I believe it is such a critical practice that we followers of Jesus don’t actually follow Him in enough. Our faith is a practice. Yet for some reason, most of us only “practice” this part of it — fasting — once a year… if that. If athletes only practiced one time a year, they would be rather weak athletes, don’t you think?
If you are struggling with unforgiveness towards yourself, fast. Take it to God, ask the Holy Spirit to help you with it.
JOURNAL AND PRAY
I know not everyone is a “journal-er” or writer, but this is a great way to get things out of your head, so that you can potentially make sense of it all. Spill all of your feelings and negative thoughts out onto the paper. Not in a self-deprecating way but in a journalistic approach. Try to get to the bottom, the root, of why you are so angry and holding onto bitterness towards yourself for whatever situation or reaction occurred — why you can’t seem to see yourself in light of the cross. You can even make it a drawing or tree diagram rather than writing paragraph after paragraph, if that’s not your thing. If you start but then struggle trying to get to the root, then just pray a simple prayer — ask the Holy Spirit to help you and reveal to you different things and reasons in regards to the issue. Trust me, it’s amazing what He will show you when you really want to know.
(Side Note: If you haven’t noticed already, prayer is a pretty large key to this whole process)
REPEAT… OH, AND PRAY
For real, this is a process. It’s not a one and done. The enemy will always creep back in and bring it up when you are at your weakest. Don’t beat yourself up for it either. It’s completely normal. The problem is only when you allow yourself to wallow in it and get stuck there. That’s why this last step of repeating is so critical. Be aware that it may come back up and be prepared to fight yet again through prayer, fasting, remembering the root of it all, and knowing that God (Whose ways are indeed higher than ours) has forgiven you.
So how do you love your enemy when your enemy is you? How do you pray for those who persecute you when the one persecuting you is you? What I am learning in my journey is that it is through dependence on the Holy Spirit – the Helper — that we can begin the process and start experiencing true healing. So what are you waiting for? Let us go to Him and seek Him out, seek the truth out. Freedom and forgiveness are waiting for us there.