Sometimes the person we have the most trouble forgiving is ourselves. We can’t forget the mistake we made that cost us a relationship or hurt or disappointed someone we loved. We struggle with what we did or didn’t do, and we hold back from doing anything because we don’t want to repeat what happened before. We can’t change the past. But we can change what we do moving forward. The first step is to forgive.
1. Write a letter to God.
Tell him everything you’re struggling with and why you’re finding it hard to forgive yourself. Then read these scriptures and tell God why you know he’s already forgiven you: 1 John 1:9; Isaiah 43:25; 2 Chronicles 7:14; and Proverbs 28:13.
Pray and ask God to help you forgive yourself. You may find it helpful to tear up or burn the letter after you’ve prayed. As you see the letter vanish, understand that God has also forgiven and removed your sin. You can freely forgive yourself because there’s nothing left to hold on to.
2. Focus on what’s good in your life.
We often let the negative far outweigh everything else that’s wonderful. When in a state of unforgiveness, it’s easy to see everything with a gloomy cast or tint to it. But there are blessings in your life right now that God wants you to see and remember. What about your kids? What about your spouse? What about the work you do or the volunteering or ministry you’re part of in your church or community? What about the friends who have stood by you, especially during the hard times?
Make a list of those blessings or a list of what you’re grateful for, and read that list daily so you can start seeing the good that’s in your life and not just the bad. Ask God to help you see his little blessings each day and make a choice to look intentionally for them and be grateful.
3. Let go a little bit each day.
Just as forgiving someone else can be a process and not happen immediately, the same can be said when it’s about forgiving yourself. Give yourself time—but don’t stop being intentional. Each day ask God to heal your heart a little more, and each day allow yourself less and less time to focus on what went wrong.
4. Believe today is a new day, full of promise and of hope.
We have hope because of the promise Christ fulfilled for us. Think about the day after his crucifixion and what that must have been like for the people who loved and followed him. But what about the next day? When Jesus came out of that tomb, he brought with him hope for the world. We can hope for nothing greater than a relationship and eternity with him. Everything else pales in comparison. We have hope because of Christ. We have second chances because of the gift of God’s Son to us all.
5. Focus on growing into the person God wants you to become.
We hear often that God loves us just the way we are, and I believe that’s true. He loves us and asks us to come to him, just as we are. Broken, banged up, or bruised. But I don’t believe he wants us to stay exactly how we start. That’s because all of us are born sinners (Romans 3:23) in need of a relationship with God, who saves us and who loves us and who wants us to become more like him.
Peter ends his second letter with these words: “Therefore, dear friends, since you know this in advance, be on your guard, so that you are not led away by the error of lawless people and fall from your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17-18a, emphasis mine). Learning to forgive—others as well as ourselves—brings us that much closer to him.
Have you struggled with forgiving yourself or someone else? Let me invite you to read my new book, How Can I Possibly Forgive: Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret, available Oct. 1 wherever books are sold. Or pre-order your signed copy from my online store at sarahorn.com/shop. What distracts our hearts distracts our souls. Say no to distraction.