A few weeks ago, the pastors at my church taught on the primacy of forgiveness in the life of a community of believers. Forgiveness is the underpin of positive, vibrant and affirming relationships. For several weeks, the leaders and pastors led us through several teaching sessions on this important lesson.
First and foremost, God has forgiven us of all our sins. Through Christ's death on the cross, He has purchased forgiveness for all of us. We are all free from guilt and shame. We are all free from God's eternal wrath. We are all free from judgment and we are all free to enjoy full grace in Christ. All we need to do is to accept this free gift of forgiveness.
Next, we need to be willing to ask for forgiveness from, and be humble towards, one another. We need to be vulnerable to each other and be willing to seek forgiveness from one another in a transparent manner. This attitude is the key to tranforming and intimate relationships.
Third, we need to understand what it means to forgive one another. We need to understand that Christ's forgiveness has been extended to each other and therefore, we need to be Jesus to one another and extend the grace of forgiveness in all of our relationships. This enables us to enter into deep, trusting and affirming relationships with one another.
Finally, we must be willing to let go of all those who have hurt us intentionally or unintentionally. This includes our parents, dead or alive, as well as people in the past who have wronged us and who have hurt us. We must let them go, for if we do not, we will only carry those hurts and wounds with us. When we do not forgive those who have wronged us we not only hold their wrong acts against them, we entrap ourselves in the vicious cycle of unforgiveness and continued hurt. If we do not let go of our past, we are unable to fully be transparent in our present relationships.
As I listened to the series of messages, I resonated with each. I searched myself and could honestly say to myself that I have done all that. Yet there was an ache in me and I couldn't understand what it was. As I prayed and reflected on the messages further over the ensuing days, it dawned on me. I was very quick to accept God's forgiveness, and to seek others' forgiveness of my wrongs. It was also very easy for me to forgive others, and to release those who have wronged me of accountability and judgment. I forgave others very easily.
One thing I could not do for a long time was to forgive myself. So often, I found myself reflecting on so many of my past sins, shortcomings, foolishness, foolhardiness, stupidity, tacklessness, and on and on. I was overly self-critical and refused to let myself off the hook. When I finally realized how paralizing this was, and how it was stifling me and robbing me of the abundant life that Christ has already given me, and how it was grieving the Holy Spirit, I repented and sought God's grace, mercy, and strength to give grace to myself and to accept God's full forgiveness of my sins. It was then that I realized that I never ever accepted God's forgiveness if I don't forgive myself. And if I don't forgive myself, my forgiveness of others, and my acceptance of their forgiveness of me will not be complete.
And when I finally did, I was free not only of my own judgmental and critical spirit against myself, but I also found that I was on the road to recovery from my stresses and depression. I finally learned what it means to be a child of God, and what it means to enjoy His grace, mercy and love.