It’s toughest to forgive ourselves, so it’s best probably to start with other people. It’s almost like peeling an onion. Layer by layer, forgiving others, you really do get to the point where you can forgive yourself.
We wonder sometimes, whether it’s easier to practice the art of forgiving others or easier to forgive ourselves? Some of it depends on the person. But for all of us, for all that we need to forgive, forgiving ourselves is certainly paramount and a tough challenge. Many of us live with a lot of guilt, shame and disappointment. We think that we are the only ones – who feel a certain way or who have certain thoughts or who have made certain “mistakes”. But when we can come to a place of trust with others and we begin to open up and share our feelings, our thoughts, our “mistakes”, we come to realize that we are rarely alone in them. Ultimately, we can realize that we are not nearly as “bad” as we sometimes think we are. It’s very easy, alone with our thoughts, to conjure up all kinds of guilt and remorse for ourselves. We can be masters at dumping that guilt and remorse on ourselves. And yes, without doubt, we all need to grow better in caring for one another and loving more graciously. But in our humanness we all need to know that we carry many common experiences and that we are all confronted by common weakness and fears. When we can truly understand that we are not alone, that others have been there and deal with the same frustrations and fears, we can come to know that our reactions, especially some of our more negative reactions, are not so uncommon after all.
We have some friends who became pregnant with their first child before they were married, while they were engaged. The wife of the couple’s father was absolutely mortified that this had happened to his daughter. And he expressed his displeasure and disapproval passionately and often. He was so angry that he cut off this relationship with his daughter for several years, even after his daughter married the baby’s father and his grandchild was born. This bitter estrangement lasted for years.
His judgment and condemnation contributed to making the cour friends feel very guilty. They didn’t need that guilt; raising a child is hard enough without it. But that judgmentt forced them to carry around the guilt as a heavy burden for many almost seven years. It’s only recently that the father has come to a place where he can even interact with the couple – and his grandchild. It took a lot of work on the couple’s part to throw off the baggage from that guilt and to forgive themselves. But by that time too many years of estrangment prevented this family from the relationship they deserved and needed.
Surrounding ourselves with people who show us how to forgive ourselves, people who have forgiven themselves of their inadequacies, of their humanness, is key. Those people who can teach us how, by their example, of living with grace for themselves and learning and growing from all their experiences, are essential to our growth. And practicing daily our own forgiveness of others is key, too.
The more we peel off the layers of self-righteousness, indignation and judgment, and the layers that separate us from one another – getting to know others better and seeing that we are all in this together, that we need each other on this challenging life journey, that we have so many common feelings and needs – that too can help us to begin to forgive ourselves.