26 September 2015

Forgive Yourself

This morning I prayed day five of the St Therese Novena. If you would like to join in the one I'm doing, you can find it here. Part way through the prayer of the day, it says:

"Loving God, You gave St. Therese the gift of forgiving others even when she felt hurt and betrayed. Help me to be able to forgive others who have wounded me, especially..."
Do you know who popped into my head? Myself!

I lay in bed for a moment, stunned into silence by my response. Perhaps for some, forgiving oneself sounds cliche. Perhaps several people pop into one's head: "My siblings, for being insufferable annoyances. My spouse, for doing everything the wrong way. People in general, for altered bus schedules, crappy work days, taking all the close parking spots, and global warming." For me, though, there are no truer words when it comes to me forgiving someone. The person I am worst at forgiving is myself.

Now, there are different ways this manifests.

One way is in day-to-day inner monologues. I make a mistakeforget to return library books on the right day or slosh a cup of tea all over myselfand I think, "What an idiot!" I remember all the fights I had with my sister and think, "There is no worse sister than me." I realize that I haven't talked to a friend in months and think, "We shouldn't be friends anyways. Why would they want me as a friend?" I ask my husband a question I've asked him three times before and think, "He probably can't stand me. He should have chosen someone who paid better attention."

Obviously, this cycle of negativity does no good. Not only does it confuse other people (for I withdraw into myself when I am upset and then they probably do think I am upset with them), it makes me treat myself in ways I would never treat another person. I would never tell another person they are lousy, undeserving, or the worst person/sister/daughter/friend/wife ever. So why do I do it to myself?

Some flaws, though, may help me realize when I am wrong. Maybe I have serious sins on my soul that need to be confessed (and I need to brush up on a guide to Confession). In that case, I should make myself right before God. For the most part, I find Confession to be a truly freeing experience. I am blown away by the mercy of God. But sometimes, in my imperfect heart of hearts, I'll confess something and still be thinking on it months later. Why? If God can forgive me, why can't I forgive myself?

If I have been forgiven, what use is it to dwell on the past? In the Gospels, Jesus told those he healed, "Go and sin no more." He did not say, "Go and dwell on your past failures." What did I say my favorite verse is? "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) This verse is a reminder that in Christ I can be new. So why do I insist on holding on to the old?

The St Therese Novena continued: "I try to forgive, Lord. Help me to forgive 70 times 7 times!" 70 times 7 times! Could I forgive myself that much? I should forgive myself that much! If Our Lord can forgive the people who denied Him and crucified Him, surely I can forgive myself for burning my morning toast.

If you struggle similarly, I don't know the secret to treating yourself with the respect you deserve. I do know that if God lowered Himself and became man for our sake, if He endured ridicule, persecution and a gruesome death for our sake, then we can all manage to be a little bit nicer to ourselves. Let's talk in the comments.

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