Friday, October 03, 2014

Forgiveness: A Gift We Give Ourselves by Rose McCormick Brandon

 My friend arrived at the airport early for her flight from Toronto to London. She piled her bags on a cart and headed to a coffee shop for lunch. A woman came up behind her and asked for directions. A kind person, my friend tried to help. During the exchange her handbag was snatched from the cart. Her passport, credit cards, cash, everything she needed for her vacation was missing.
 Authorities explained that she'd been played. As she'd turned to look at the woman asking for help, another woman had stolen her purse. She felt devastated. Several phone calls later helpful airline staff had her on the plane. "Don't let this ruin your plans. Go and enjoy yourself," her husband said. But as she settled into her seat on the plane, a knot of despair lodged in her chest. How could I be so stupid? Why didn't I have my purse looped over my shoulder? I must look naive, that's why these thieves picked on me. This is the story of my life, always getting picked on. Ugly, self-accusing thoughts rolled through her mind.
            She leaned back on the headrest. God, help me, she prayed. A thought, quiet but firm, came into her mind - you need to forgive yourself. She prayed again, "I do Lord, I do forgive myself. I recognize that anyone can be taken advantage of." Immediately, self-accusing thoughts stopped, her shame vanished.
            A stolen purse may rank low on the list of things we need to forgive ourselves for but the despair my friend felt wasn't much different than the despair we feel over bigger issues. She hadn’t sinned; a sin was committed against her. Often it isn’t sin that causes us to accuse ourselves but perceived failures, unwise decisions, missed opportunities, lack of confidence, unsophisticated social skills and dozens of other human frailties.
An important step toward forgiving ourselves is acceptance. We can work on our weaknesses and emphasize our strengths but we can’t change our personality. Years ago I read a few Christian books on the four basic temperaments. I found these helpful but not as much as when I later discovered the more refined Myers-Briggs personality analysis. Results pegged me as a true introvert. This fact alone settled many anxieties for me. Understanding our temperament can help us develop a healthy self-respect. It also gives us an appreciation for other personalities.
Too many Christians spend too much energy trying to live someone else’s life. “I’ve tried to be quiet and gentle,” a close friend said, “but it’s just not me. I couldn’t keep it up.” As a new Christian, she had looked around the church and concluded that the best Christians were the quiet, gentle ones. She tried on a few personalities before she realized that God had changed her from a sinner into a saint but He hadn’t turned her into a completely different personality.
A devoted Christian of more than thirty years recently confided, “I've tried to be someone other than me as far back as I can remember, thinking maybe if I was like so and so, I’d be a better me. The other day, I told God I couldn't do it anymore. He told me He liked the real me.”  God-moments like this produce inner changes that free people to develop deep, personal relationships with Him. Replicating someone else’s personality is not only dishonest but exhausting.
Another obstacle stands in the way of self-forgiveness. It’s revealed in this question - “Why do we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others?”  The same believers, who accept major flaws in others, often deride themselves for minor infractions. Reasons vary. A personality with a strong tendency toward perfectionism, being first-born in a large family, taking responsibilities at a young age and pride are possible answers.  God helps each person to answer this question. (The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman, a Christian author and speaker, has helped many first-borns understand their tendency to hold themselves to higher standards.)
Harsh preaching causes sensitive believers to imagine God’s disapproval. Most people possess an enormous capacity to make themselves miserable without any help from judgmental, condemning sermons. God enjoys His creation. He takes pleasure in all of it but especially in the people who are redeemed by the sacrificed life of His own precious Son. We delight Him, imperfections and all. The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin but once that sin is confessed there’s no further condemnation. We’re loved (and liked) by a God who rejoices over us and doesn’t accuse us. (Zephaniah 3:17). We serve a kind Lord, One aware of our frailties and full of compassion.
When my friend with the stolen purse prayed, she received immediate release from self-accusing thoughts. God helps us, not only to forgive others, but ourselves.
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children. Visit her website at: Her blogs: Listening to my Hair Grow and Promises of Home.


Peter Black said...

Rose, thanks for sharing the story of your friend's distressing experience of the stolen purse and its contents. It is a cautionary account.
Thank you also for the insightful lessons you bring forward. Forgiveness is divine, even when we in sincerity and faith express it towards, and embrace it within, ourselves. ~~+~~

Rose McCormick Brandon said...

Thanks Peter. We all need at some point to forgive ourselves for past mistakes and sins. So glad God helps us with this.

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