“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Matthew 6:14
I vividly remember the first time I forgave my alcoholic father. I was 20 years old and was having a conversation with a good friend. She was a fellow Christian and knew my situation very well. I told her how I was ready to move on. She asked me if I had forgiven him yet. I said, “Well, of course!” But the same familiar pain and anger towards him was still there. Clearly, I had not.
I went home and did some deep praying. I asked God to help me forgive him in my heart, not just in my mind. I asked for guidance with this, as well as grace while I worked through it. I told God I was done holding on to the hurt.
Forgiveness started in me when I decided to let God take over. I realized I couldn’t fully forgive on my own. I was holding on to something God never intended me to hold on to. I could not move until I gave it over to God.
The most surprising thing about the entire situation was my dad wasn’t even present when all of this happened. He didn’t need to be because honestly, he wasn’t going to ask for my forgiveness at that point. In his eyes he didn’t see all the destruction he had caused, and if he did he was too consumed by his disease to care.
Everyday we do things to hurt God. We sin time and time again with no end in sight. But, each time we ask for God’s forgiveness, we will undeservingly receive it because of His love for us. Not because we earned it, but because Jesus died on the cross. “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22b
Forgiving isn’t easy, nor is asking for it. I believe it is one of the hardest things we as Christians are asked to do. About a week later my dad called me and was drunk. But this time, instead of that anger welling up inside, I felt sad for him. I didn’t want to be defensive anymore, but helpful.
Jesus said in Matthew 18:22 to not forgive just seven times, but seventy times seven times. That means every time my dad did something to hurt me, I had to find it in me to forgive him. Each time became a little easier knowing I wasn’t in this alone.
Eventually he noticed a change in me, and years later finally kicked his addiction. We had a conversation on my couch one day about how he was sorry for everything he had done because of the alcohol. He said it consumed him to the point where he couldn’t get out from under it. He asked for my forgiveness, and I had the pleasure of telling him I had already done it. He asked how. My response was, “Dad, because Jesus loves me and you, and we aren’t in this alone.”
Everyone has done something in their lives that causes them to feel guilty. Whether it was a white lie you told your boss, or something bigger like a friendship ruined because of selfishness, we have all experienced guilt.
But what happens when guilt starts to consume your thoughts and actions? That’s when it turns to shame.
Guilt says I DID something bad.
Shame says I AM something bad.
When you feel guilty you acknowledge what you feel responsible for and try to fix it. When you feel shame, it alters your whole self. It causes pain and makes you feel people see you differently. You start to believe that whatever caused you to feel guilt is a reflection of your character, not just a poor choice.
The enemy works deep in us when we feel shame. He tells us we are not worthy and drives a wedge between us and God. He makes us feel alone and isolated.
The truth is we ALL fall short and we ALL makes mistakes.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23 ESV)
It is ok to make mistakes. Because of sin we will never be perfect, and God doesn’t expect us to. He knows our human nature will never allow that and we will all fall short. How you respond and move on from those mistakes is what is important.
You are not defined by your past choices. When you allow shame to take over, you miss out on the wonderful blessings God has for you. And dear friend, He has amazing things planned for you!