At some point, someone has told you that you need to “forgive yourself.” The idea of practicing self-forgiveness is so popular that a quick Google search of the phrase yielded 95,700,000 results in 0.48 seconds.
It sounds good - in theory. Who hasn’t done something or made some mistake they wanted to forget?
Plus, the shame and guilt we carry from our bad behavior just seems to follow us wherever we go, sometimes for years.
So, shouldn’t we just find a way to forgive ourselves?
Self-Forgiveness is a Myth
There is a big difference between being forgiven by someone, accepting forgiveness, and forgiving yourself.
For example, if your behavior has hurt someone else, then you hope they will forgive you. If they choose to forgive you, then you must choose to accept their forgiveness. However, how many of us have been forgiven but have still struggled to forgive ourselves?
This is because self-forgiveness is a myth.
In truth, forgiveness is something that is given and something we must choose to accept. It is not simply something we can grant ourselves for ourselves any more than a debtor can forgive his own debt.
In fact, try calling your mortgage company. Proclaim to them how you have forgiven yourself of their mortgage and listen carefully to their reaction.
If someone on death row proclaims to the judge that he has forgiven himself of the crime he committed, what would the judge do? Release him? Of course not. His crime has not been forgiven, and the penalty for his crime must be paid.
Fortunately, there is an answer. Those who accept what Jesus Christ did for them on the cross can receive the ultimate pardon and forgiveness for their sins because the penalty was paid. We’ll talk about this more in a bit.
Have You Tried Any of These Ways to Forgive Yourself?
Because shame and guilt weigh so heavily on us, it makes sense that we look for ways to make ourselves feel better.
However, attempts at self-forgiveness without Christ only lead to repeated attempts to bury our guilt and shame. Look at some of the many ways people try to practice self-forgiveness.
- Compare your decisions to everyone else’s. Do you compare your mistakes to everyone else’s to make yourself feel better? When you discover a “bigger” sin, does that make you feel “more forgiven”? Of course not, because the regret remains. What can wash away my sin?
- Have a “nobody’s perfect” attitude. Some people try to cover their shame by embracing a “nobody’s perfect” mindset. This person says, “So what? I messed up. Everyone does.” Do you think this will make the shame and guilt go away? No. What can wash away my sin?
- Make excuses for behavior. Many of us have excused our poor decisions or bad behaviors – and many of these excuses are true. “I was young.” “I was drunk.” When you think through your excuses, do you feel better? Do you feel forgiven? What can wash away my sin?
- Acknowledge it but only as a learning experience. Psychology Today says, “Retain what you learned from the event but release everything else.” A popular theory says by accepting our mistakes as learning experiences, we can forgive ourselves. While we can learn from our mistakes, it does not mean we are no longer burdened by them. It does not mean that our past behaviors no longer hold pain for others. What can wash away my sin?
- Focus on being less self-critical. Psychologists often encourage people to be less self-critical as a way to practice self-forgiveness. While we are children of God and should not live in a perpetual autopsy, constantly being critical of ourselves, it will not make us forget when we’ve done something wrong. When you look in the mirror and practice positive self-talk, do you forget what you did that caused such pain? Of course not. What can wash away my sin?
- Use PERT (Positive Emotion Refocusing Techniques). Another self-forgiveness method, according to Prevention, says, “Simply close your eyes, draw in a long breath that gently pushes out your belly, then slowly exhale as you relax your belly. Draw a second breath, and exhale. On the third deep breath, create a mental image of someone you love or of a beautiful place in nature that fills you with awe.” The key here is RE Ahhh, that did it! I’m going to now have to rewrite this entire article. I’m so sorry to be sarcastic, but you’ve got to be kidding me. This does not bring self-forgiveness in our life. What can wash away my sin?
- Attempt mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation is a popular practice where individuals attempt to be mindful of experiences occurring at the present moment. Mindfulness can be a helpful tool to focus on the moment instead of dwelling on the past, but the practice does not help you forgive yourself because the past remains. What can wash away my sin?
- Try to make amends. Others will spend significant time or money trying to do better in hopes it will help them forgive themselves. Ask someone who tried this method if it worked or if they just continued to do more and more. I have a feeling I know what they’ll say. What can wash away my sin?
All the above practices are merely coping mechanisms to help us bury the things we have done and are most ashamed of, but they actually do nothing to deal with the root cause of our guilt and shame. The best they can do is to cover feelings up for a short time.
You’re Attempting the Impossible
“You don’t have to forgive yourself; yourself has already been forgiven.”
– Andy Stanley
Here’s what you need to understand. Modern coping mechanisms or psychological methods will only help you redirect your thoughts of guilt for a brief moment of time.
The feeling may temporarily fade, but the past always creeps back in.
Fortunately, there is a solution. God saw how the world was full of people who committed all sorts of sins and was in desperate need of real forgiveness.
So, He sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for your sins, all of them. So through Jesus, permanent forgiveness is possible. You don’t have to forgive yourself; yourself has already been forgiven.
“If our greatest need had been information,
God would have sent us an educator.
If our greatest need had been technology,
God would have sent us a scientist.
If our greatest need had been money,
God would have sent us an economist.
If our greatest need had been pleasure,
God would have sent us an entertainer.
But our greatest need was forgiveness,
So God sent us a Savior.”
– Roy Lessin
What Can Wash Away My Sins? – Nothing but the Blood of Jesus
A popular hymn says, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
People all over the world are looking for a way to feel whole and forgiven. People want to feel at peace with themselves.
But, the only way to true forgiveness is to believe Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed to take away our sins. All the earthly means of striving for self-forgiveness will never take the place of what Jesus did on the cross (John 1:29).
So What Now?
We all need forgiveness. It is why God sent His Son!
If you recognize that all you are doing to try to forgive yourself is not getting you anywhere and want to learn more about true forgiveness, we’d love to talk with you.
We also have other blogs on forgiveness that you may find helpful.
But first, we encourage you to confess your sins to the Lord and accept His forgiveness.