“I think that if God forgives us we must forgive ourselves. Otherwise, it is almost like setting up ourselves as a higher tribunal than Him.” C.S. Lewis
The last few years have been plagued by health troubles, some of which I’ve caused myself: I fell down the stairs. I went to a salon and had a bad reaction to the hair dye. I didn’t see the car flying into me soon enough to avoid getting rear ended. I chose to get an MRI and the doctors caused damage with their contrast shot. I decided to deeply stretch my neck in the car and hurt myself when we went over a bump. I tried a new vitamin and got sick for a week. It’s been relentless.
No one thing would discourage me, but together- they piled up, along with my self-resentment. Why couldn’t I have been more careful? Why didn’t I assume something would hurt me? Why did I have to try something new? Sometimes, my anger turns outward, onto God and others, but mostly, lately, I’ve had anger towards myself.
And I’ve learned the importance of self-forgiveness.
In a normal session of healing prayer, the person receiving prayer may forgive the people who’ve hurt them, they forgive God (even though He is perfect- it still can shift our brains’ resentment) and then they forgive themselves. Forgiving themselves, for whatever reason, is often the hardest step. We have very high expectations of ourselves, some of which are harsh. Would I think it was someone else’s fault for getting an MRI at the suggestion of their doctor? Of course not! Would I think someone else was dumb for making mistakes- like falling down the stairs or for forgetting to drink water? No! So why do we have such little grace with ourselves? I wonder if, in those moments, there is more going on under the surface.
We aren’t just dealing with the anger of being hurt, we are dealing with the regret of hurting someone (us). If someone hurts us, we only deal with anger. If we hurt someone, we only deal with regret. But suddenly, when we hurt ourselves (accidentally or not), we deal with the combination of anger and regret, causing this complex emotion.
So how can we feel less ‘stuck’ in these complex emotions of self-anger? Maybe one tool could be to separate those emotions.
When I hurt myself, I have two roles. I was the hurt and the hurter and how can I partner with Christ in the healing process from both roles?
HURT: I can count the costs. I can pinpoint the consequences of the the act. And I can envision the person who hurt me in front of me and say I forgive them. I can let go of the resentment and choose to forgive them. This exercise can be done when you’re envisioning yourself on the other end, too.
HURTER: Then, you can envision yourself as the one who hurt someone.
When we hurt others, we can’t see the full extent of the pain. But when we hurt ourselves, we can see every bit of damage caused, leading to potentially greater feelings of regret. Pair that knowledge of pain with the primal desire to protect ourselves. Suddenly, the idea of “What if I’ve cost myself” is debilitating. We suddenly see the huge cost of our actions, maybe more so than when we’ve hurt others.
Understanding regret so wholly makes forgiving ourselves hard. We fear how our mistakes will impact our futures .
But in those moments, it is one of our most sacred chances to trust God. Will God use truly all things to bring us good? CAN we forgive ourselves, knowing NO mistake of ours is unredeemable? That WHO He is is a a redeemer. And that what He always looks to do is redeem.
To forgive ourselves, despite the regret, is the way to freedom. Because, in that, we decide that God is bigger, and we free ourselves from the prison of unforgiveness and anger. And then, in that freedom, we can look to what we CAN do, working with God to best care for myself.
For example, I can know my body doesn’t react well to certain things and I can pray and find doctors. Once my self-hatred is softened, I can work with God to finding some comfort and/or solutions.
I know…easier said than done.
But God has been walking me through this process, and I hope it helps you too. Is there something can can forgive yourself for? If so, I hope you do.
God looks upon you with kindness, understanding, grace, and forgiveness. And He wants for you to be able to see yourself in the same way. Forgiveness always offers freedom, and this is just as true when the forgiveness is for ourselves.