I will forgive their sins and remember them no more. Jeremiah 31:34
Over the last 45 years, I have spent a lot of time helping people accept God’s forgiveness. I may have spent even more time helping people forgive those who have hurt and disappointed them. I have also spent a lot of time helping people forgive themselves, which is an even harder nut to crack!
Is there any one of us who has not regretted some past bad decision and discovered just how bitter it is to live with the thought that if only we hadn’t done this or said that we’d be a whole lot happier today?
We all have regrets, including missed opportunities, wrong turns, poor choices, outbursts in the heat of the moment, and other things we would like to take back or do over again but can’t.
Was it a decision to get in a car while drunk and killing someone, a decision to “try” crack cocaine or heroin and finding that you cannot quit or a decision to marry someone hastily that you barely knew because you were “really attracted?”
Was it partying too much and losing a full scholarship to medical or law school or your inability to control your “roaming eye,” which led to the ruin of your marriage and loss of your kids?
Forgiving yourself is essential, but maybe you are one of those people who can forgive others, even for a heinous offense, but cannot forgive yourself for an equal or lesser offense. Perhaps you believe there is a price, some form of life-long penance that you must pay.
The Scriptures teach us that what is done is done. When King David sinned, God punished him for that sin and he grieved over it. Then, recognizing that his grief would not undo what he had done, David put away his grief and went on with his life. In this, King David can teach us a valuable lesson.
When you reject the forgiveness extended to us by God and others, when you refuse to forgive yourself, what we are doing is setting yourself above others and that is pride! When you can forgive others, but not yourself, you are saying that you are special — less capable of making bad decisions.
Forgiving yourself is also important for those around you. It is a well-known fact that people who are hurting hurt others. The longer you avoid forgiving yourself and the longer you allow yourself to harbor the feeling that you “deserve to suffer” for what you did, the more explosive you will become and, therefore, the more apt you are to hurt others.
The reality is that you cannot change what has happened. You cannot restore lives to where they were before the event, but you can forgive yourself and let the healing begin! Forgiving yourself will change the direction of your life and help those around you. That’s better than regretting holding on to your regrets!
Father J. Ronald Knott
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