Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the power of making peace with yourself. Most of us are ashamed by something in our past, and we often are prevented from moving forward by the unforgiving chains we have imposed on ourselves.
While we should never treat our sins blithely, forgiving ourselves once God has is essential to making spiritual progress. Here are four basic but bold steps that will help your bygones be bygones.
1. Openly Admit Your Faults.
Too often we try to sweep our mistakes under the rug because they just seem too painful to admit. Or we may even deny that what we have done is sinful. But false denial just paves the road to more guilt and shame. If you are plagued by something in your past, the first step is to admit it to yourself. Then go to confession and tell a priest. Once you have received absolution and done penance, seek out a family member, trusted friend, pastoral counselor, or even a professional to talk over the issue. Facing your sins is the first step to healing.
2. Offer Yourself Some Good Advice.
No one appreciates unsolicited advice. But perhaps you might accept some from yourself. If you have trouble receiving forgiveness for some indiscretion in your past, imagine that you are talking to someone you love, like a friend, child, or spouse, who has revealed some fault or mistake similar to your own. What would you say to that person? Would you suggest clinging to guilt, holding on to humiliation, or persisting in self-imposed punishment? Or would your advice be to forgive the error? A simple thought experiment like that can help you move past self-reproach and blame.
3. Reflect on God’s Mercy.
Unremitting guilt can easily declare war on our sense of happiness and freedom. Considering the wideness of God’s mercy is a powerful defense. Scripture offers many positive messages to combat negative feelings of worthlessness. “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in mercy,” declares Psalm 145. “I praise you, because I am wonderfully made,” sings the author of Psalm 139. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us,” recounts the psalmist (103:12). Make these and other uplifting verses from scripture your mantra to free you from the grip of self-doubt.
4. Don’t Thumb Your Nose at God.
Cheap grace presumes upon God’s mercy by using it as an excuse to live a life contrary to God’s will for us. But we can also squander divine mercy by refusing to accept it. God’s mercy is unconditional. Never take it for granted by refusing to forgive in yourself what he already has.
After all, you can’t make a bold move until you let yourself off the hook.
Father Roger Gustafson