I recently read my first RT Kendall book, Total Forgiveness. Kendall reminds us that forgiveness is not an emotion but an act of the will made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s challenging to forgive loved ones and enemies but even more difficult to forgive ourselves.
Many live without joy and confidence because they’ve never forgiven the worst offender, the one looking back in the mirror. We think condemning thoughts like, “How could you? You should have… If only you would have… How could you have been so weak?” Unforgiveness toward ourselves is a form of self-punishment.
I had loving, godly parents. Mom made us fried chicken. Dad read the Bible and prayed for us before school. In the middle of my sophomore year of high school, they took us to Peru for a mission trip. But I squandered some years, like a prodigal, wasting my God-given abilities. After fully committing my life to Jesus, I still had a cloud of guilt and condemnation hanging over my head. I wasn’t a very happy person. I began working for Jesus like I was working off a debt I still owed.
I remember one Sunday morning, asking God to forgive me again for the sins of my youth. I still feared I might even be punished for what I had done and not done. I wondered what that might look like. One thought was I might have to marry an ugly woman and have ugly kids as punishment to satisfy the justice of God. As I poured out my heart that morning, I heard God say to my heart, “Arlie, I’ve forgiven you long ago. It’s time for you to forgive yourself.” At that moment, a heavy load lifted off my shoulders, and I experienced total forgiveness. By the way, I’m so thankful for my beautiful wife Wendy, and our 6 children, 5 girls and 1 son.
I believe forgiving yourself will lead to a breakthrough in your life. You’ll start liking yourself more. You’ll have more joy. You’ll be fully present, ready to listen, and able to forgive others.
Let’s remember Paul. By God’s grace, he was able to forgive himself and minister with confidence and endurance. He tells us how in Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Here’s the one thing, the secret, to moving on. Forget what lies behind. Forgetting is a daily decision. Tear up your record of wrongs and throw it away. Then don’t dig in the trash can and try to tape it back together. Your past is covered by the blood of Jesus. Leave it there and press on. A sprinter would never run with his neck turned, looking behind. Get your eyes off the past. It has passed. Strain instead for your future, the prize of knowing Jesus and his grace more and more.