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By Julie Cole

Forgiving yourself can be a huge mountain to climb, territory that many people refuse or are hesitant to explore. After all, how can someone be both the forgiver and the forgiven?

Whether it’s for a deliberate act or a tragic accident, releasing yourself from the grip of a painful event you caused can feel impossible and sometimes even wrong. But it’s the only way to receive God’s grace and walk free from regrettable actions of the past.

In his book Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve,* Lewis B. Smedes lays out several key points about self-forgiveness;

1.You don’t have to be a bad person to do a bad thing. While there are those few people who seem to have no conscience, most people eventually have remorse for their hurtful actions toward others. In fact, “the more decent we are, the more acutely we feel our pain for the unfair hurts we caused,” Smedes writes.

2. Unhealed pain from hurting others can turn into self-hatred. When we don’t forgive ourselves, those negative emotions can grow into self-judgments that form a roadblock to the grace God extends. Even though we may look fine on the outside, on the inside we have judged and convicted ourselves and determined we don’t deserve happiness.

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3. Self-forgiveness needs to be specific. It’s tempting to try to take shortcuts in self- forgiveness by making blanket statements like “I forgive myself for any bad things I’ve done.” However, for self- forgiveness to be truly effective we must allow ourselves to feel the remorse and name the specific actions we are releasing ourselves from. For instance, “I forgive myself for cheating on my spouse” or “I forgive myself for stealing from my boss.” Being specific allows God’s grace to enter the wound with laser precision. While you can go through this process by yourself, it’s helpful if you do it with another mature Christian, pastor, or counselor. This provides someone to encourage you and hold you accountable on your journey toward self-forgiveness. There may be more than one thing for which you need to forgive yourself, but focus on one thing at a time until each feels sufficiently addressed.

4. Self-forgiveness takes courage. It takes courage to believe God’s grace and forgiveness is so big that it extends to the awful things you’ve done and that His grace can free you from their grip. It takes guts to walk that reality out step by step even as other people remind you of your past. “Self-righteous people do not want you to forgive yourself,” Smedes states. “They want you to walk forever under the black umbrella of permanent shame.” Surround yourself with other Christians who encourage you to receive God’s grace and forgiveness.

5. Self-forgiveness is a process. Even though God’s healing work begins the moment we extend forgiveness to ourselves, it often takes time to learn how to live in this new place of freedom. “When you forgive yourself, you rewrite your script,” Smedes explains. “What you are in your present scene is not tied down to what you did in an earlier scene. The bad guy you played in Act One is eliminated; you play Act Two as a good guy.”

6. Self-forgiveness is a gift from God. The amazing truth is that when we submit to God and receive His grace to forgive ourselves, we find that no horrible thing we’ve done can mess up His plan for our lives. We move forward more intimately tied to God, and our lives become a living declaration – a powerful testimony of the hugeness of His love and redemption.

About The Author

Julie Cole

Julie Cole, a licensed marriage and family therapist and an Open Bible minister, serves as an adjunct counseling professor at The King’s University in Southlake, Texas. She and her husband, David, live in Trophy Club, Texas, and have four children and three grandchildren.