Why You Must Forgive Yourself
Sheldon Kopp’s last item on his Eschatological Laundry List is, “Learn to forgive yourself, again and again and again and again.” I think all the agains say it best: it’s important to forgive yourself.
In our culture, we tend toward the opposite. We tend to hold things against ourselves (and others), forgiving only after much struggle and anguish, if at all. We tend to see only shortcomings and dwell on mistakes. If you doubt this, then try this little exercise: name five things you don’t like about yourself, and five things you do. Which is easier?
I thought so.
It’s probably not just our culture, it’s every culture. The reason is simple. As with most worthy things in life, forgiving is harder than not forgiving. Just like it’s easier to be fat than fit and it’s easier to be complacent than take action, it’s easier to hold a grudge than let go of it. Because letting go is harder, it’s less understood. So before you can forgive yourself again and again and again, you have to understand why it’s important.
Forgiveness is an advanced spiritual principle and the basis of many religions, myths, and philosophies. Christianity provides perhaps the most interesting allegory on forgiveness. Jesus died for the sins of the world, allowing fallen mankind a way into heaven merely by believing in His sacrifice and His willingness to forgive us. All we have to do is soften our hearts and ask for forgiveness, and we receive it instantaneously. God does not keep score, he does not make exceptions, and he does not need to think about whether we deserve forgiveness. If we ask, it’s given. God’s forgiveness is immediate, unconditional, and earnest. It is also the only way into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Whether you see the crucifixion literally or metaphorically, few can argue that the point of it is God’s forgiveness of man. But if you see it metaphorically, as a window into the human condition, it paints a much more interesting picture. Jesus represents humanity, and if we want to recreate ourselves at a higher level (become born again), we must sacrifice our current life. That sacrifice is painful (the crucifixion), but necessary if we want to grow. Sacrifice brings rebirth and salvation; salvation happens through God’s (our own) forgiveness.
Metaphorically (which I believe is the most sophisticated and useful biblical interpretation), the crucifixion story is about the difficulty and necessity of personal growth. It is not something that happens once and forever changes us; it is a mythical representation of the ongoing process of dying and being reborn as we gain more awareness and wisdom about who we are and what our purpose is. Without a softened heart, a heart willing to forgive, a heart earnest and desirous of change, this process is not possible.
This softening of the heart is the key to all growth and change. This is why the New Testament was a revolutionary change for the better over the Old Testament. The Old Testament provided laws for behavior and worship, which were necessary, but not sufficient, for true personal change. A person can obey laws for his entire life without once having a spiritual experience, awareness of higher states, or any understanding of his own internal longings and possibilities. Laws, by their nature, do not address such issues. So Jesus came along and provided a way for us to see beyond law, to see into our own true nature. His story exemplifies spiritual growth, and this makes Him one of the most important figures in all of mythology. Not because he died for our sins, but because he showed us the way out of our own hard-hearted hells.
This way out is not easy. Achieving true forgiveness is often as mentally and emotionally painful as the crucifixion depicts. Becoming a truly forgiving person is one of the most difficult undertakings imaginable, but also one of the most necessary for, well, for everything. Not the least of which is your own serenity and capacity to love.
Salvation is what happens when you forgive yourself. Forgiveness frees us from the fetters of our old ways and bears us into a higher state of consciousness, which the Bible calls Heaven. A literal interpretation has us believing Heaven and Hell are otherworldly places we go after we die, but the metaphorical view shows us that hell is what happens when we don’t soften our hearts, and heaven is what happens when we do.
To understand all is to forgive all. If you don’t yet believe this, keep pondering it. You will.