Authored by Steve Hearts
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The title of this article may have already made you cringe. Or perhaps it’s brought to mind a certain someone (or some ones) who have grievously hurt or offended you in some way, or who you’d love to see pay for their words or actions toward you. The idea of forgiving them may seem unpleasant or even downright absurd. Forgiving your “worst enemy” is an important part of the forgiveness journey that must not be overlooked. Nevertheless, forgiving others is not the focus of this article.
Now, before you let out a sigh of relief, I suggest you read a little further, as you may find what I will talk about no less of a challenge to put into action. The “worst enemy” I’m referring to here is none other than our very own selves. We are often the most difficult ones to forgive.
We often beat ourselves up over things we wish we’d done differently, or we torture ourselves with remorse over things we wish we hadn’t done at all. Even though we’re aware that God has forgiven us, we ignore His forgiveness and stubbornly continue in our state of self-recrimination.
When my grandmother had a stroke a couple of years ago and returned to her home country where she could receive better care, both of my brothers visited her before she left. Due to numerous reasons, I was unable to be there. Although my family understood this, I felt terrible about it. The next time I saw my brothers, I told them how rotten I felt. They told me to stop beating myself up, assuring me that everyone understood why I couldn’t be there—my aunts and uncles had told me the same thing—so I finally forgave myself. But it took a while.
For years after my mother passed away, I consistently played the “if only” game. If only I’d tried harder in spite of my blindness to live a more independent life while she was alive, I could have helped her better during her illness. If only I had shown her more appreciation for the many sacrifices she had made for me. If only I’d had the guts to spend more time with her when she was the most ill, instead of turning away in denial, seeking to hide from the painful reality of her illness. And on and on it went.
In an article I wrote last year, “Faith Versus Sight,” I spoke of having been transformed and cleansed of resentment when I obeyed the Lord’s formula of praise and thankfulness, using it in relation to my mother’s passing on—specifically thanking Him for seeing my mother through her illness and taking her when He did. Here is one small but important detail that I did not share in that article: what also helped bring complete spiritual healing was thanking Him for my seeming shortcomings and mistakes as her son. I say “seeming” because no one else has ever accused me of these shortcomings and failures—the only accuser was myself. I came to realize this as I praised the Lord for all the blame I had placed on myself in the “if only” game I’d been playing. I found that the use of such extreme praise propelled me along the path of self-forgiveness—causing all condemnation, remorse, and regret to dissipate.
What also encourages me to learn how to forgive myself is when I recall the many biblical examples of God’s boundless forgiveness of His people, no matter how great the offense. I can only imagine the difficulty those in Bible history must have had to receive God’s forgiveness and to forgive themselves.
Jesus’ disciples most likely felt like hell after they “forsook Him and fled” as He was taken by the Roman soldiers.1 Today we have great respect for the apostles, but they probably felt undignified and like traitors at Jesus’ trial and execution.
No doubt Peter felt the worst of them all. He must have felt brave for not having fled along with the rest of his buddies when the soldiers first came. But he’d stayed by Jesus’ side only to deny Him three times, just as Jesus predicted he would. So much for his initial show of bravery. The Bible tells us that when Peter recalled Jesus’ foretelling of his denial once it had already taken place, and how he had insisted that he’d die with Jesus before denying Him, “he went out and wept bitterly.”2
After that, he undoubtedly felt like an outcast from the rest of the disciples. He might’ve figured that even though they ran, at least they hadn’t outright denied Jesus. For this reason, once Jesus was resurrected, the angel at the tomb told Mary Magdalene and her companions, “Go, tell His disciples—and Peter—that He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him, as He said to you.”3 Jesus wanted Peter to know that he was still considered His disciple, and that he’d been forgiven.
Judas, on the other hand, upon realizing he’d betrayed his own master and savior, succumbed to the guilt and hung himself. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if he’d simply repented and accepted God’s forgiveness. Who knows?
Paul the apostle is someone else who, I believe, battled with guilt and condemnation. Although there is no exact statement about this in the Bible, I imagine he felt quite unworthy of God’s forgiveness and willingness to use him, considering the role he’d played in persecuting and arresting Christians prior to his miraculous conversion. I have no doubt that he truly spoke from his heart when he said, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”4 That statement had to be based on his having experienced firsthand the amazing love of Jesus, which washes away all guilt and liberates us from condemnation. He had to have known the feeling of being haunted by the past, since he talked about “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.”5
You may have heard the saying we are our own worst enemy. In many cases, being our worst enemy is due to our refusal to accept God’s forgiveness and to forgive ourselves. Hard as this is for me to put into practice, striving to do so has worked wonders in my life—drastically changing my spiritual and physical health for the better. More recently, I’ve been doing the following exercise which the Lord suggested to me. When haunted by my past failures and shortcomings, I repeatedly tell myself, “I forgive you, Steve.” In the past, I’ve used this exercise to forgive others and it’s worked wonders. Yet more wonders are worked as I use it on myself.
I am further motivated by God’s promise, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”6
If God promises to blot out our sins and remember no more our iniquities, who are we to hold on to them? God is faithful to forgive us. But it’s up to us to take the final step and forgive ourselves. So what are we waiting for?
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International