Help for Forgiving Yourself

We can be hardest on ourselves. We can find grace and forgiveness for others when they fall short, but often we can’t forgive ourselves for our failures. We would never talk to others as harshly and dismissively as we do to ourselves. We may struggle to forgive ourselves knowing the pain that we have caused others or for just not meeting everyone’s expectations. We can be generous with one another, but somehow that grace does not extend to ourselves.

The Ideal Self

It helps to realize there’s a fantasy at the root of self-disappointment. We all want to be superheroes. We all have an idea of what we could be like if we were perfect--thinner, richer, smarter, more charming, more punctual, more accomplished, meeting every expectation from everyone we know. We can imagine this ideal self, and then feel bad about ourselves when we’re not as perfect as our imagination. That image, that projection, is just as unrealistic as teaching yourself to fly like Superman. Your Pinterest-perfect ideal might be inspiring at points, but it’s an impossible standard to sustain.

The You God Sees

Forgiving oneself begins with acknowledging we are not that Ideal, but just a regular person like others. We too are broken, sinful, and in need of a Savior. We break things, hurt others, and never do all that we could. But God loves us anyway. God knows we need help. God sees you as his child, even with your flaws, and loves you anyway. He knows it all, and he loves you anyway. He sent his son for you at Christmas and died for you at Easter. That’s whom God sees.

That One Bad Thing

Or sometimes, we’ve made a major mistake. Maybe we hurt someone, failed our family, or committed a crime. Sometimes there’s that one huge failure, maybe publicly known or maybe still private, that we can’t let go. Our regret and shame keep sticking our nose back into that one failure. It may feel like it now defines our identity. Because it happened, it can never be undone, and we'll have to live with it forever. But what role should it play?

Into the Name of God

In truth, you can’t undo the past. That one thing is part of your story. An acknowledgment that this is a scar you will always carry is a place to start. But your scars are not you. You are bigger than the worst thing you did. You are more than one chapter from your past. Your future still has much opportunity. God is much bigger than any failure you’ve ever experienced. Moreover, your identity is not “One-Time Screw-Up” but “Child of God Most High.” When you were baptized, you were baptized into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are a member of God’s family, a child and an heir. Your identity is now first and foremost “Christian,” which comes before all other names and titles. Your family, your ethnicity, your citizenship, your profession, your orientation, your failures are all gathered under your membership among God’s people.

Following God's lead

God has a lot to say about forgiveness. Our recommendation is to spend time in God's word hearing what God has to say about forgiveness. Commit the verses to memory and recite them back to yourself when you realize that you are being hard on yourself.

  • We can have assurance that God has completely forgiven us. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
  • We know that he loves us and forgives our sins. "For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:11-12).
  • We also know that he invites us to do the same. Jesus calls us to practice his grace, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).

We are called to be generous channels of God's grace and not withhold it from anyone, even ourselves. Don't hesitate to enlist the help of a Christian counselor to help you forgive yourself and find healing in God's unfailing love for you. We are holding you up in prayer asking that you would experience God's grace and extend it generously to yourself.

About the author — Rev. Dr. Steven Koster

Steven Koster is a writer, speaker, and producer with Family Fire. Formerly the Director of ReFrame Media, Family Fire's parent organization, Steven currently serves at Grace Church and consults on ministry through The Joshua Lab. He also leads a hospitality ministry at The Parsonage Inn and enjoys family tree research as time allows. Steven and his wife Deb enjoy leading marriage retreats and family seminars to encourage people in their most intimate relationships. The Kosters are the parents of three awesome young adults and reside in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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