A Note from Kelly King: One definition of forgiveness is to cease to feel resentment against someone or an act done to you. Most of us understand this concept, but the concept of forgiving ourselves can be more difficult. How do I stop resenting my past? How do I accept God’s forgiveness and move on—away from guilt that can plague me for long periods of time? Deb Douglas discusses ways we can all seek to forgive ourselves because we serve a God who forgives and forgets.
I cringed as I typed the title. Not because I have a laundry list of things to forgive myself of…well, maybe I do, and I’m just unaware. I cringed because forgiving ourselves is a messy concept.
Somehow in all my years of Bible study, I have missed where God demands for us to forgive ourselves. Forgive others, yes definitely, and often. Ask for forgiveness? Yes, frequently. The concept of God’s forgiveness is a major theological foundation of our faith. But where does it say I have to forgive myself?
Why does this bother me? Because I see people who use the inability to forgive themselves as a reason not to move on from their past. It is as if when we fail to forgive ourselves, we have a free ticket to stay right there in the comfortable mess we’ve made of our lives. There’s no challenging change to make. No habits to kick. No reconciliation requiring humility.
The main reason the concept of forgiving ourselves is messy in my mind is because the big forgiveness work is already done, and it is not by us. It is God’s forgiveness that is eagerly given as soon as we ask. If we truly believe that God has forgiven us when we ask, why should we hang out in our own inability to forgive ourselves?
Think of it this way: If the most high God of the universe who is perfect, pure, and holy can forgive us, shouldn’t that be enough? He is the righteous one, while we are unrighteous. He is Holy Holy Holy, while we struggle to understand the concept of holiness. He has chosen to cover our sins in His purity. He remembers our sins no more. They are gone.
So, why are we holding on?
- Are we trying to control God’s ability to forgive us?
- Are we failing to move on because we fear letting go of our past or fear having to make changes in our lives?
- Are we stuck in shame?
- Are we allowing pride to cause us to stay put or stumble?
- Are we fearful of what God may ask us to do? Forgive someone else? Apologize? Admit our sin? Repent and change?
- Are we unsure of how to move on?
Here are some helpful tips for forgiving yourself and moving on:
- Ask for God’s forgiveness.
- Ask others to forgive you if necessary.
- Repent. That means making changes in your behavior. Turn from what you have done and behave in a new way.
- Ask God to help you move on from your past behavior.
- Remind yourself—daily if necessary—that you are forgiven.
- God’s Word says He is faithful to forgive us. Believe it!
- Re-route your life if necessary in order to make it easier to stay away from past behaviors.
- Take on God’s perspective of sin. We all sin. God does not expect us to be perfect; He is eager to forgive when asked.
- Make holiness a priority. Notice I did not say a holier-than-thou attitude, but holiness! Be in pursuit of living a holy life. It is easier to pursue holiness than deal with the consequences of sin.
- Understand that sin has consequences. God forgives, but the natural consequences of sin still impact our lives. For example, unprotected sex carries a risk of disease and pregnancy even when forgiven.
Still struggling to forgive yourself from the messiness of life? Seek out help. Talk to your pastor or a counselor. Do not put it off! There is freedom from the shame and guilt that is part of unforgiveness. Shed the messiness of feeling the need to forgive yourself and move on!
For more help and resources on ministering in the messy, check out Women Reaching Women in Crisis and Steps: Gospel-Centered Recovery or refer to the other articles in the Hurting Women or Ministering in the Messy categories.
God has called Deb Douglas to make a difference in the world, one woman at a time. For over 39 years, Deb has served in women’s ministry. Now she spends her time ministering to women in the sex trade ministry and serving as the Director of Biblical Counseling at First Baptist Bossier City. Deb is a contributor to LifeWay’s All Access blog, a freelance writer, and an event speaker. Deb was the first to graduate from New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary with a Masters focusing on women’s ministry and has earned a Doctor of Education in Ministry degree from NOBTS. Deb is “Pearl” to 3 sweet grand babies, “Mom” to Jared Douglas and Katie Chavis, and wife/sweetheart to Paul Douglas.