God’s mercy abounds. We see it in all the sacraments as he breathes new life into us at Baptism and Confirmation, feeds us in the Eucharist and forgives us in Reconciliation. As I wrote in How God gave his gift of mercy through me, he brings us into challenging circumstances and allows us to be merciful beyond our capacity.
He never stops giving us opportunities to heal as I wrote in How God’s mercy gives us second chances. We can ask for his mercy in every situation that needs his forgiveness, and expect healing to follow.
St Augustine said that forgiveness is what happens when we “surrender our natural desire for revenge.” How do I ask for and receive God’s mercy in forgiving myself for my failings? For the hurts I’ve caused others? Sins confessed, forgiven by others and God that still haunt me?
I get to the point where I’ve forgiven everyone else and stopped wanting to hurt them for hurting me. Then I realize the next step is to forgive myself, but it’s hard to expect to heal when I know myself and my failings so well.
Refusing to punish myself
I know that forgiving myself doesn’t mean believing my excuses and allowing myself to continue doing what’s wrong. It means refusing to give into the temptation to punish myself for having failed. Using the wisdom of St. Francis deSales and St. Augustine, Dr. Greg Popcak in a blog post on Patheos taught me the folly of this approach. Dr. Popcak writes that in Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales, “notes that our sins tend to be a flawed attempt to make ourselves feel better.”
Therefore, the worse we make ourselves feel about our sins and failings the more likely we’ll be to sin again in that same pathetic attempt to make ourselves feel better for having sinned! It is a vicious spiritual cycle. If we were to apply Augustine’s formula for forgiveness to ourselves, we’d have to say that forgiving ourselves means surrendering our natural desire to hurt ourselves… for having hurt ourselves. Think about that a minute. How quick are we to heap pain on ourselves for having hurt ourselves? Does that even make sense? How is that supposed to help?”
Applying God’s mercy
What helps is God’s mercy, applied to ourselves. Here are eight reasons to forgive yourself and stop hurting yourself:
- God loves you just as you are. Yes, he really does! Still, he wants you to grow spiritually. When you block his love with unforgiveness you hinder his grace from reaching you.
- We enter heaven through a series of doors of forgiveness. His forgiveness of our sins. Our forgiveness of the sins of others. Our forgiveness of our sins. Don’t hesitate at the last door.
- We are all cells in the Body of Christ. When one of us is broken, through sin or self-condemnation, we weaken the whole body and everyone suffers.
- When we accept God’s forgiveness, we show our trust in him. When we don’t accept his forgiveness by forgiving ourselves, we show dishonor and distrust.
- When we withhold forgiveness from ourselves like a punishing parent, we set ourselves above God, the highest authority and final word on forgiveness.
- When we don’t forgive ourselves for how we hurt others in the past, we put a barrier between God’s healing power and us.
- When our conscience prompts us to forgive others, we know how to forgive them and seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If we leave the confessional without peace, we can pay attention to our restlessness of conviction and let it prompt us to forgive the self-accusations already forgiven by others and God.
- When we say that we forgive ourselves and yet don’t take any action to change our attitude about ourselves, we are not seeking or accepting the power God gives us to forgive.
Three components of effective apology
We can use the three components of effective apology to help us let go of the desire to hurt ourselves for having hurt ourselves. We ask for God’s mercy to help us
- Understand how we have hurt ourselves and give us empathy and compassion for ourselves.
- Make a plan of action to be merciful to ourselves.
- Recognize that we can treat ourselves better. We have a right to do stop hurting ourselves and heal with God’s grace.
God wants to give us his mercy and free us from every impediment to loving him wholeheartedly, including being at peace with ourselves. With our cooperation in receiving his mercy, he will do it.
Which of these eight reasons is hardest for you to accept and act upon?
(© 2016 Nancy H C Ward)