“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
– Paul Lewis Boese
I’ve dealt with guilt my whole life. I stood in front of a Texas judge in 1975 at 19 years of age after a horrible crime and heard a verdict: GUILTY. It’s been 44 years, and I can easily confess my life-long and hard-fought battle with guilt, shame, and condemnation. I deal daily with knowledge of my past, pain that I’ve caused, and continued condemnation from those that don’t recognize grace, God’s love, and redemption. Yet . . . there’s a path to victory. These are 3 ways I’ve found that will allow you to function in freedom, free of self-destructive feelings, actions, and thoughts.
1) Accept Forgiveness
In the human body, the kidney is responsible for taking away waste products. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a guilt kidney to filter out shame and wasted time? God didn’t give us a guilt kidney, but His intention is still for us to live life without guilt. When we sin and aren’t able to live the life God’s called us to live, guilt becomes our constant companion.
Misery loves company, and
guilt loves unforgiveness
We have to experience the grace of God in His forgiveness of our sins.
In the Old Testament, God gave the people a series of laws for offerings and sacrifices to deal with sin. Now, God has given us GRACE. You may wonder HOW do I receive that grace of forgiveness? We need only to admit our wrongdoing, repent, and ask for His forgiveness and it is given freely. Wake up and deal with your guilt head-on NOW.
You can’t rise and shine
if you’re running and hiding
2) Forgive Others
I don’t know about you, but if there was an Olympic medal for getting angry about a conversation that hasn’t happened yet, I would win the Gold! I can make myself more upset than a situation requires just by dwelling on it. The fact is: people will hurt you in life. No matter how awesome you are, someone is going to say something bad about you, treat you poorly, disappoint you, leave you out, or hurt you in some way. We live in the land of imperfect people who have been damaged, downtrodden or just denied access to hope for way too long. YET we are called to forgive others.
Matthew 18:21-35 tells the story of a man who was forgiven much, but refused to forgive even a little.
“And his lord moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:34-35 NASB
We too will be turned over to the torturers because unforgiveness produces negativity. We literally find ourselves consumed with grief, depression, bitterness, and anger. We’re tormented by thoughts and emotions that we have no business dwelling in. Refusing to forgive others harms us much more than the person who wronged us. Until you let it go the torment remains.
3) Forgive Yourself
No one knows how badly you’ve blown it or what you could’ve had, more than you. We have to learn to forgive ourselves the way that God forgives us.
I recognize that I am a new creation, that the old has passed away and all things become new. I choose every day to forgive myself and forget the past so that I can experience freedom and move forward to lead others. That doesn’t mean I don’t deal with guilt and shame, but it does mean that I don’t live in it.
We have to recognize that just because we can forgive ourselves and God has forgiven us doesn’t mean that other people will. And so the cycle of extending grace and forgiveness to others goes on and on. Sometimes it feels like a lot more than seventy times seven, and that’s okay.
There are so many things in the world that can bind us: disease, death, poverty, greed, etc. The last thing we need to do is place ourselves in bondage because of an inability to forgive.
Guilt and shame trap us in time – time that we’ll later have to redeem. We can’t lead right, love right, or live in joy until we deal with our guilt through the power of forgiveness.
I want to challenge you today to examine yourself when it comes to these three areas of forgiveness. Take some time and give yourself space to reflect. Make a list of areas of guilt, anger or offenses you’re holding onto. Now, like the song says: Let it go!