I always thought of forgiving yourself as psychobabble bunk, but in light of what I wrote yesterday about the prodigal son, it makes sense. (If it is, in fact, psychobabble bunk, that’s what the comment box is for: please tell me.)
When I ask God to forgive me, there’s an implied promise that I’ll accept God’s forgiveness. Asking forgiveness pre-assumes that I believe myself to be forgiveable.
One of the big impediments to forgiving others (according to Mariah Burton Nelson’s book The Unburdened Heart: 5 Keys to Forgiveness and Freedom) is the thought, “But won’t that let him off the hook?” And no, it doesn’t necessarily. Damage was still done, and there may still be consequences. The forgiven person still ought to make it right or make a gesture toward making it right. But the forgiver lets go of the anger.
Burton Nelson points out that forgiveness and reconciliation are separate actions. I can forgive the man who robbed my house; I’m not going to become friendly with him. You may well reconcile with the person you’ve forgiven, but that’s a decision of its own. Forgiveness consists only in letting go of the anger and reaching a state of acceptance about the deeds of the forgiven person, no longer holding the injury to heart.
In forgiving yourself, I bet the biggest impediment is the same as in forgiving another. “If I forgive myself, then I’m tolerating my own bad behavior. I’m letting myself off the hook.” And worse, “If I forgive myself, I might let down my guard and do it again.”
It’s the equivalent of deciding not to reconcile with oneself, isn’t it?
And if God forgives someone, but the person refuses to forgive himself, it’s an impediment to a relationship with God. It’s a perpetual holding-back. It’s an attempt to take control and keep it. And maybe, when you think about it, that’s the last vestige of pride because I think all people of integrity want to pay back their debts. Only sometimes, when we mess up, we simply can’t. In those cases, accepting forgiveness is all we can do.