Robert and I did a podcast earlier this week about self-forgiveness.  There are a lot of times when smaller infractions – like snipping at our children to take the trash out or making a rule that inadvertently ends in a badly broken arm – interrupt our lives and fill us with guilt.  Through those times, it is really important that we are intentional about seeking forgiveness – even with ourselves.  It is also important to focus on loving others and ourselves well rather than fixating on our mistakes.

Yet, I also know all too well that, as a solo parent, there may be a bigger regret that keeps us up at night.  I watched shame and guilt completely destroy my husband of 14 years. Actions that end relationships are rarely things we easily get over, especially when we are the ones behind those actions.  When we betray the trust (in any form of disloyalty of thoughts, words, or actions) of the people we vowed to love the most – our spouse and children – there are often enormous consequences that change the courses of our lives and of those we love the most.  Those are the times we are truly the most vulnerable to shame and guilt that will not let go.  

In those instances, when we cheated on our spouse or abused substances or gambled away our children’s college funds, we may find it hard to look at ourselves in the mirror.  Despite efforts to forgive ourselves,  we may still find ourselves watching the clock tick away the minutes we should be sleeping, looking for solace in places that really offer none, believing the lie that ours was the one unforgivable sin or fixated on that one thing that we would go back and change if only we could.

King David found himself in that same spot once.  He slept with another man’s wife.  When the woman became pregnant, David had her husband killed by putting him on the front lines of battle so he would never find out about the betrayal.  Realizing the weight of what he had done, David wrote Psalm 51.  “Be gracious to me, God, according to your faithful love,” he cried out.  “Wash away my guilt,” he begged.  He knew that if he was not right with his God, he could never forgive himself.   He acknowledged his guilt, saying, “I am conscious of my rebellion.”  Then he set his intention to resume a pursuit of integrity.  “Surely You desire integrity in the inner self, and You teach me wisdom deep within.”  He sought refuge in God, pleading with Him to restore his joy, “Restore the joy of Your salvation to me, and give me a willing spirit.”  David vowed to teach others from his failure.  “Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”  He declared praises to his God and recognized that it was not burnt offerings that God wanted, but rather that “the sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit.  God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.”  David did not offer excuses for his behavior.  He did not try to hide.  He brought it out and dealt with it.  

Unfortunately, there are no time machines and no magic pills that will fix everything.  We can, however, find forgiveness for ourselves by following David’s model.  

  1. Seek God and rightness with Him first.  “Against You – You alone – I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight”, David wrote.  He knew that God had the right to pass judgement on his behavior.  We should acknowledge our sin and ask for God’s forgiveness.  
  2. Return to seeking integrity.  God knows we will fail but when we do, we don’t need to stay in our failure.
  3. Take refuge in God and hope in His redemption.  God does not make everything okay by undoing it; He makes it okay by redeeming it.  He turns the most difficult stories into the most amazing testimonies.  It may be too late to undo what we have done, but it is not too late for God to do what He is going to do with what we have done.  
  4. Teach others God’s ways.  We learned lessons the hard way.  Are there are others whose paths we can steer before they head down the road we’ve travelled?  Are there people to whom we could show love and compassion, even when they have made mistakes?
  5. Sing God’s praises.  Even when our hearts don’t feel like singing, praise God anyway.  Praise Him because He knew we were going to be here and He planned ahead.  Praise Him because He loved us so much that He sacrificed His only Son rather than leave us in this place.  
  6. Let your heart be broken.  As painful and miserable as it is, sometimes we have to allow ourselves to feel the hurt that our circumstances demand.  Whether grief or heartbreak, sorrow or pain, all can humble our hearts and get us ever closer to the holiness that God is trying to create within us.
  7. Seek honest help.  Whether we are talking to a professional, a mentor, or a friend, people cannot help us if we are not honest about our struggles.  Sometimes the thing we need the most is for someone else to know and forgive us so we know it is okay for us to forgive ourselves (that someone does not have to be the offended party – often we never have that privilege).     

If you are struggling to forgive yourself, you are not alone.  Like David, Judas and Peter both struggled over their betrayals against Jesus.  Judas turned inward and took his own life, never redeeming the crime he committed.  Peter became the rock on which Jesus built His church because he turned to God and asked Him to redeem his guilt.  I pray that you will know the grace of God that offers forgiveness and that our God would be allowed to work amazing miracles into your testimony because of His redemption.