Learning to Forgive Yourself

Recently, I had a huge parenting failure. I lost my temper and unleashed every emotion I had been keeping bottled up on my poor, unsuspecting child. Looking at the tears in his eyes as I ranted, I knew I had crossed the line. Once I gathered myself, I apologized and, as kids are prone to do, he forgave me right away. I prayed and asked the Lord to forgive me too. Then came the really hard part, forgiving myself.

When my former husband and I first separated, I struggled with self condemnation then too. I would recall all the ways I had failed in my marriage, all the ways I had been selfish and self-serving. I didn’t need anyone to punish me. I was doing a fine job of it by myself.

We all know how important it is to forgive others quickly (Matthew 6:14). But why does it seem okay to somehow keep beating ourselves up over our mistakes? When God says in Psalm 103:12 (ESV), “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” we counter with, “No, you’ve got it wrong, God. This time I’ve gone too far. This time I can’t be forgiven.” When He says He “… will cast our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19b, ESV), we grab our fishing poles. Why? Why do we somehow think we know better than the God of the Universe when it comes to forgiving our own sin?

David knew what it was like to have an epic failure. He committed adultery, then tried to cover it up with murder (2 Samuel 11). Psalm 51 was written after the Prophet Nathan confronted him about his sin: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (vs. 1-3 ESV, emphasis added). I’m sure David felt as I have felt, unforgivable. I’m sure he kept replaying in his mind the errant choices he made. That’s why he says, “my sin is ever before me.”

When we are in self-condemnation, we hide from God, feeling unworthy. That’s exactly what the enemy of our souls wants. He wants us to feel shame for our sin and hide just like Adam and Eve did in the garden. But when Adam and Eve sinned, God came looking for them. He didn’t storm in with bolts of lightning and cracks of thunder, ready to condemn. He simply came looking for His children (Genesis 3). He does the same for us. While we’re busy trying to cover up our mess, He comes with arms wide open, ready to forgive, if we would only come to Him.

That’s what David did. He went directly to God, without covering up: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement” (Psalm 51:4 ESV). He goes on to say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10-12 ESV).

Forgiving ourselves is really just learning to receive the forgiveness that God has already given us through the death of His Son. We need to take God at His word when He says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).

In the immortal words of Jesus: “Your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5b). Now “pick up your bed and walk” in that forgiveness (paraphrase of Mark 2:11).

My two cents: walking through divorce

I recently saw a post on Instagram asking for advice from women who have gone through a divorce. The tips given were varied, anywhere from don’t become bitter to make his pockets hurt. As I read through the comments, I began thinking about what advice or encouragement I would offer another woman going through a divorce. While my hope and prayer are that no one else would ever have to walk through a divorce, I know the realities of this broken world. So with that in mind, here’s my advice:

Don’t let go of God’s hand

During the dissolution of a marriage, it can be easy to feel like God has somehow abandoned you. As things were falling apart, I begged God, on countless occasions, to save my marriage. But when the divorce papers were served and it was clear things weren’t turning around the way I had hoped, I had to fight the urge to blame God. Like Martha and Mary, I wanted to say, “Lord, if only you had been there…” (John 11:21, 32). But the reality is, He was there, the entire time and continues to be.

God didn’t abandon me or let me down. He fought for me and continues to do so.

I experienced my greatest growth during this time because I didn’t let go of God’s hand—even when tempted. See, God didn’t abandon me or let me down. He fought for me and continues to do so. When He says, “He will never leave you; he will never forsake you…” (Deuteronomy 31:8), those aren’t empty words, said in bad faith. It is a promise from an everlasting God who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19).

But often, because we don’t experience God through our senses, hearing, seeing, touching, etc., we can sometimes transfer the characteristics of our spouse on to God: “My husband left me and made me feel like I was hard to love. God must feel the same way!” But that’s not how God sees you or me. Our spouses loved us imperfectly, because they are imperfect, just like us. But God’s love is perfect. This is what God says about you:

“I love you so much that I sent my only Son to die on the cross for you. I have loved you with an everlasting love. With unfailing love, I have drawn you to myself. I rejoice over you with joy. I quiet you in my love. And I rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry along and save you.

“Even if your father and mother leave you, I will hold you close. Don’t be afraid, for you are very precious to me. Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go. I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who says to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you.’

“Even before I made the world, I loved you and chose you in Christ to be holy and without fault in my eyes. You’re so beautiful! I love you!”

(John 3:16; Jeremiah 31:3; Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 46:4; Psalm 27:10; Daniel 10:19; Joshua 1:9; Isaiah 41:13; Ephesians 1:4; Song of Solomon 1:15)

Stay in the Word

This one goes hand-in-hand with my previous point. The enemy will throw every lie known to man at you during a time like this. One of the lies of the enemy I had to fight against was that the failure of my marriage was completely and totally my fault. But I have found, the only way to combat a lie is with the truth. And there is no better truth than the Word of God.

It may be hard to believe what God says about you, at first. But the more time you spend reading, listening, reciting and memorizing Scripture, the more convinced of the truth you will become. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” (ESV).

When everything began to fall apart in my marriage, I bathed myself in the Word. I read it and when I couldn’t read it, I listened to it. I would often listen to podcasts from trusted pastors or watch them on YouTube. I even sometimes had Scripture playing in my room as I drifted off to sleep.

It’s not going to be positive thinking or “good thoughts” that silence the lies of the adversary. It’s God’s Word and His Word alone.

There is a reason God’s Word is referred to as the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). It is the only thing that can cut the enemy down to size. It’s not going to be positive thinking or “good thoughts” that silence the lies of the adversary. It’s God’s Word and His Word alone.

Don’t weaponize your kids

Don’t try to use your kids against your former husband. Your children are innocent in all of this. Any time you use them to “hurt” your former spouse, you are just hurting the kids. He may not parent the way you would. He may be more permissive or more restrictive than you would like. He may be less attentive or too much of a “hoverer.” But unless he is a danger to your children, don’t try to limit his access to them.

One of the promises I made myself (and my children, though they don’t know it), was that I would never be the one who hinders their relationship with their dad. If that means I have to give up extra time with them so that he can invest in their lives, then that’s what I have to do. It’s not always an easy promise to keep, but I know in the end, I’m doing what’s best for my kids.

And as hard as it may be, don’t speak ill of your former husband in front of your kids. You may not be able to extol his virtues as a husband, but if you can, speak well of him as a parent. Chances are, he loves them as much as you do. And if that’s too hard, do what your mother always said, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Don’t try to make him suffer financially

If you’re still in the process of settling the details of the divorce, don’t seek an opportunity to make him “pay.” It’s easy to want to exact revenge through his wallet. But before you ask for a certain amount for child support or spousal support, check your heart.

When I was starting the divorce proceedings, I wasn’t working. So not seeking spousal support wasn’t a realistic option for me. However, I had to stop and check my heart to make sure I wasn’t trying it to punish him, financially.

I remember the first time I realized money was a hot-button issue for my former husband. He had always been so cool and collected when it came to ending our marriage. But where finances were concerned, I found I could finally elicit a response from him. It felt empowering. That night, I wrote in my journal, “I want to make him pay!” But thank God for the Spirit! The Holy Spirit helped me to see clearly that using money to harm him would only make me feel better temporarily. It would not help me heal or give me back the broken years.

It’s important that you can take care of yourself and your children. So if spousal support is needed, please seek it (child support is non-negotiable). Just make sure your heart is free from reprisal when seeking it. Romans 12:17-19 says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord’” (ESV).

Don’t ignore your feelings

Whether you’re angry, sad, or lonely, don’t sweep your emotions under a rug. I’ve had to learn how to acknowledge what I’m feeling, take the time to sit with my emotions, then lay them at the feet of Jesus. So sometimes that looks like screaming out, “Lord, I’m so ANGRY!” Or it could be a headache-inducing crying fest. But through the whole process, I’m holding on to God—even if my anger happens to be directed toward Him (trust me, He can handle it).

The book of Psalms is a beautiful template for how we can have all the feels without letting go of our ultimate trust in God:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, ‘I have prevailed over him,’ lest my foe rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me” (Psalm 13 ESV).

Forgive

This one may seem like a “no-brainer.” But it bears mentioning. Don’t wait for that heartfelt apology for all the trauma and pain your former husband caused before you forgive. Truth is, you may never get it. Do you deserve one? Probably! But don’t let that be a condition for you to forgive him.

When you’re tempted by unforgiveness, just remember how much your Heavenly Father has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (ESV). I know it can be easier said than done. But for the sake of your own heart, forgiveness is necessary.

I’ve shared a bit of my journey with forgiveness previously. You can check it out here.

I know there are a lot more nuggets of truth from people far wiser than me. And I’m still learning and walking through the healing process. But I hope that some of what I’ve shared is encouraging to anyone who is facing one of the most difficult circumstances you’ll ever encounter. I’m praying that your heart will be healed, and you will experience all that God has for you.

If you’ve been through a divorce and have encouraging words or bits of advice, please share them in the comments.

But It Still Hurts: The ongoing struggle to forgive

Has this ever happened to you? You bump into something and bruise your arm or leg. It smarts for a minute or two. But after a while, the pain subside and you move on. But then you bump that same spot again, and suddenly the pain of the original injury comes flooding back. You realize that there’s still a tender bruise there. That’s been my process of forgiveness. I’ve tried to be quick to forgive, not wanting bitterness to take root (Hebrews 12:15). But sometimes a situation will come up, unexpectedly, that will renew the pain and I find myself in need of forgiving all over again.

“Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”
– C.S. Lewis

Keeping my heart free from unforgiveness hasn’t been easy.  C.S. Lewis said it best in his book Mere Christianity, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.”

I’m reminded of a time when Journey hurt Faith. As I was mediating between them I encouraged Faith to forgive her brother. Her response was so innocent and real: “But it still hurts!” Years later, as I think back on that incident, I know exactly how she felt. How do you forgive when you still feel pain?

I think God must have had a similar dilemma. Over and over, from that first moment when Adam and Eve took a bite of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 3), mankind has rejected God in one form or another. Yet even in the pain of rejection, He made a plan, through Jesus, to reconcile us to Himself: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).

I’m learning that walking in forgiveness isn’t pretending like the offense never happened or the pain isn’t real. I’ve found that it’s important for me to process through the emotions of the hurt. And as good as it feels to vent to my friends and family, I have found no better listening ear than my Heavenly Father. I can be ugly honest with God. I can tell Him that I’m hurt or angry or some combination of the two. I can tell Him that I’m having difficulty forgiving. Then I can ask Him to heal me and help me forgive by the power of the Holy Spirit. And He always helps me. It’s not always instantaneous. Sometimes it takes crying out to Him several times. But I’ve also learned that forgiveness isn’t an emotion, it’s a choice. It’s not a one-time event. But an ongoing, daily–sometimes minute-by-minute–decision to let go of my desire for retribution.

I’m hopeful that one day soon those tender spots in my heart will heal. And the enemy of my soul will no longer have a bruise to poke. But until that day, I will continue to cry out to God to help me forgive as He has forgiven me (Ephesians 4:32).

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