I’ve written quite a bit about forgiveness since I declared 2012 as The Year Of Forgiveness.
I wrote about forgiving others, acknowledging that it is a difficult, even heartbreaking, undertaking. In the 12 Principles of Forgiveness, the suggested way of starting is by forgiving the small, less traumatic things first. Perhaps a pet stole some food or soiled the carpet. I certainly had plenty of practice with my dog!
It is, of course, easy to forgive our pets, so this is a good place to start. We then work our way up to forgiving those who hurt us deeply, maybe even traumatized us, or changed our path in life because of their transgressions. But perhaps the most difficult experience, and the person who is hardest to forgive, is ourselves. What do we do then? Surely an inability to forgive ourselves for our past transgressions is just as challenging, if not more so.
Many of us have carried around guilt about something, long after others forgave us for it. We might even remain feeling awful about it, even after we’d been absolved through confession. I believe this is a normal, human experience. Certainly I am proof of that. I think back to how I behaved towards my family growing up and in my relationships as an adult. I’d done these things with no regard for the consequences – a prime example of the “Impulse vs. Instinct” issue I’d written about.
Eventually I asked for their forgiveness, and it was granted to me. But I was still grappling with my own guilt and remorse. I couldn’t bear to think of the past without cringing inside at the things I’d done and this was not letting me move on and develop. I knew I needed to do something about it. Maybe you also recognize this need. So how does one begin to rectify this?
Making it better
I’m left thinking about how I can face the reality of my sins with kindness and compassion towards myself, rather than judgement and condemnation. And this leads me to an extremely valuable piece of advice. The words came from a personal hero of mine who is also a dear friend and colleague. She is a wonderful woman who has carved out an exceptional career helping other women realize their full potential. She advises that we look at our past as a “kindly researcher,” noting without judgement what our motives might have been.
As she, and many others, have pointed out, every action we take is an attempt to take care of ourselves, to solve a problem, or to meet a need we have. Our foibles, sins and transgressions that result surely had good intentions; we just went about it all wrong. Or maybe that need wasn’t really in our best interest and we didn’t realize it. Recognizing this is a good place to start. Ask yourself, “What need did I have that I tried to meet? How did I meet that need? Why did I think the way I met it was the best way? Were the consequences as bad as I initially thought? Faced again with this situation, what would I do differently?” Writing the answers in a journal would be very helpful. And of course, praying for the ability to detach from judgement about it is the best way to handle this venture.
I wrote before about how healing and effective the God Box is. Asking for the ability to see yourself as a kindly researcher, to let go of judgement, and to ultimately forgive yourself are excellent entries for your God Box. I truly believe that if we meet Him halfway, even a tenth of the way, He takes care of the rest.
I was haunted by the way I’ve treated relationships in the past. With the advent of this new relationship, I decided now was the time to clean the slate so that I avoid repeating the same mistakes that haunt me still. As a result, my God Box is stuffed with intentions! I chose to address each sin I committed individually, asking for release from my own judgement. So far, I’m sleeping a little more easily, my conscience a little clearer, as time passes.
Self-forgiveness isn’t easy, but the most rewarding experiences in our lives rarely are. I urge CatholicMatch members to become kindly researchers about the past, examine the mistakes and the motives for them, and ask God to ease the guilt. I’m sure He will provide, as He did for me. It might be time to get out your God Box and get to work!