What does it mean to forgive yourself?
First of all, what is forgiveness? Let me share a quote to help make things clear:
“Forgiveness doesn’t mean you’re no longer hurt. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with this person again, and forgiveness doesn’t mean you trust them. … Forgiveness is not a matter of feeling, it’s a decision.” -Father Mike Schmitz
Father Mike Schmitz has a YouTube video on the channel Ascension Presents that could not explain forgiveness any clearer. He also talks about understanding forgiveness in terms of justice, meaning what you owe another person or what they owe you. When it comes to forgiveness, it means the person who wronged you doesn’t have to owe you anything in return. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a parable about a king who lends money to his servants. One servant was unable to pay him for his debt and begged for forgiveness, and, with pity, the king released the servant from his debt. However, soon afterwards, the same servant went up to another servant, grabbed him by the throat, and demanded to be payed what he was owed.
When the servant demanded to be paid back, that was not forgiveness. That was holding a grudge.
When the king released the servant from their debt, that was forgiveness. He didn’t have to do that, and the servant definitely didn’t deserve it, but the king did it anyway.
People often use “excusable” and “forgivable” interchangeably, but that’s not technically correct.
To excuse a sin means to justify that it was reasonable, and that’s just never the case. No sin is ever excusable, but any sin can be forgivable.
Now that we’ve talked about forgiveness in general, what does it mean to forgive yourself?
Growing up in the church, I heard all the time about how important it is to forgive others and to ask God for forgiveness. But one thing I rarely, if ever, heard was how important it is to forgive yourself.
During my senior year of high school, I made some terrible mistakes. I said things I shouldn’t have said at the wrong place and wrong time. It all came back to bite me in the butt, and strained my relationship with my friends and God. Eventually, my friends forgave me for what I did, but there was something inside of me that couldn’t let my guilt and shame go. In attempts to let it go, I continuously prayed every night for God to take my trash and burdens, but no matter how hard I tried or how often I prayed, the weight was still on my shoulders. Being raised Catholic, I also went to confession a lot, but nothing was changing, and I still felt all of my burdens weighing me down. I was angry at God because I constantly offered my burdens to Him, yet I felt like He wasn’t taking them from me, leaving me to continually suffer.
That summer when I watched the Tony Awards, one of my favorite actresses, Rachel Bay Jones, was asked on the red carpet if she had any tips for aspiring actors. I was expecting to hear the cliché responses such as “work really hard” or “never give up.” Instead she said, “forgive yourself.”
That was when it hit me. I suddenly realized why I still felt so ashamed of myself. Not because my friends hadn’t forgiven me (because they did), not because God hadn’t forgiven me (because He certainly did), but because I hadn’t forgiven myself.
I had to realize that yes, I indeed messed up. No, it was not okay to let my tongue slip like that. But now it’s over, and it’s time to move on. There’s still so much more in store for me in the future. In order to live it to the fullest, I needed to let go of my past mistakes, learn from them, and move on. When I realized all of that, I finally was able to not be weighed down by my guilt anymore and felt stronger than ever.
So, what does the Bible say about forgiving yourself? Here are some helpful verses:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” -Mark 12:31
If you switched the sentence around, it would say, “You shall love yourself as your neighbor.” Right here, Jesus is literally saying to love yourself just as you love any other human! And to love your neighbor includes being able to forgive them. If we are able to love ourselves as we do our neighbors, then we can definitely forgive ourselves as we do our neighbors.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love…For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” – 2 Peter 1:5-7,9
This was the last letter written by Peter, who was one of the first leaders of the church, and Peter messed up too! He denied he knew Jesus three times before the cock crowed twice, and he wept out of guilt after realizing what he had done. However, Peter didn’t let his guilt weigh him down for the rest of his life. Instead, he asked and received forgiveness from Jesus. Had he not also forgiven himself, he probably would not have been willing to take on a role as big as leader of the church. And in this last letter he wrote, Peter reminds his audience to work towards keeping their faith and to not forget that their past sins are forgiven. Even though he sinned, Peter was still able to do great things for the Lord by letting go of his sin.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17
I don’t have much to say about this one, because it says it all right there. When you submit yourself to Christ, you are made anew. You are no longer your past mistakes. When you forgive yourself and let go of your past sin, you finally allow Jesus to break your chains. It’s a pretty awesome feeling.
In conclusion, forgiveness is not easy in the slightest, and self-forgiveness is no exception. But when it happens, it can transform the course of your life. It only makes you stronger from there on.
Malia is a sophomore, coming to the hill from Germantown, Tennessee! She is a musical theater major, and has a passion for the arts. She loves to play her Nintendo Switch, and dreams of performing on Broadway one day!