How to Forgive the Fiend in the Mirror

For many of us, the deepest grudge we hold is against ourselves. We can ignore it or pass off the blame on others, but we know it’s there, eating away at us with all the things we’ve done and all our missed opportunities. It tears at our self-confidence, telling us that we’re bound to fail again, that we’ve learned nothing from all of our past mistakes and are thus doomed to repeat them.

There are three types of things you hold against yourself: simply being who you are, the mistakes you’ve committed, and missed opportunities.

The first is a difficult one because even though it’s often based in failures or missed opportunities of some sort, it goes beyond that to a general feeling of worthlessness, to a sense that even if you had not committed a certain sin or had jumped on an opportunity, you still wouldn’t be successful. This feeling of unworthiness is actually at the heart of both your sins and your missed opportunities, making you sabotage yourself so you can collect evidence to prove you’re nothing.

It sounds crazy to hear it put like that, but I did it for years. I was terrible around women, but instead of learning from my mistakes, I’d proudly display each successive failure in a mental trophy case. It was a sick cycle, with my belief in certain failure causing more failure, which then strengthened my belief in yet more future failure.

And in much of this, I blamed God. I couldn’t find anything wrong with what I was doing, and so I reasoned it must be a part of who I was. Since He made me, I blamed Him almost as much as I blamed myself. Blaming Him removed some small amount of the hatred from me, but kept me from seeing His wisdom and blinded me to what I was doing, to myself and those around me.

I used to have a false image of God as some cruel tyrant who made me as some sort of sick joke. He is now my loving Father, my King, my Teacher, and much more. And I am not the cruel joke. In fact, there is nothing wrong with the way He made me. I am His beloved son, valuable enough that Jesus would have come to earth and died just for me. I am formed specifically this way for a purpose, one that I am so grateful God has revealed to me. I am His, now and forever, and He is my Father, my everything in this world.

God has a purpose for making you the way He did as well, whether your purpose is in your talents or so He can use you as He did with Moses or Gideon, making His strength perfect in your weakness. God has a use for you if you will let Him work in your life. Realizing this will help you let go of any grudge you have against yourself for being the way He made you. Embracing your future in Christ is the only way to truly let go of the past.

It’s important to separate these things you don’t like about yourself into two categories: things that are actually wrong and things that aren’t. For example, my lack of confidence was horribly wrong. Not only was it ruining my life, but it was a slap in the face to God to say that He had messed up when He created me or that He was cruel in intentionally making me a failure.

For the other category, these are things that make you who you are, such as being a melancholy. There is no right or wrong in being introverted or extroverted, being melancholy rather than phlegmatic, having one love language instead of another, or not liking certain things. You need to embrace who you are. God does.

The second category of grudges against yourself is for sins you have committed. Every last sin is worthy of eternal separation from God. The good news, though, is that Jesus has already taken your punishment for you.

Imagine that you had done something terrible, worthy of being beheaded. There’s no doubt about your guilt, and you’re sentenced to death. Then the judge offers to take your place on the chopping block. This man only asks that the jury give him a year before carrying out the execution, so he can see what kind of person you’ve become with your new life.

Do you really believe your benefactor wants to see you muddle through that next year, continually kicking yourself and not trying to do anything with your life? No, he’d want you to wake up whistling every morning because you’ve been forgiven, because someone else was willing to take your punishment. The law doesn’t affect you anymore because the debt has been paid, so why should you live like you are still in chains? This man would want you to make the very most of the life he has restored to you.

God doesn’t want you to live under the burdens of your past sins. He is willing to forgive you, to erase all of them. He died to set you free, so why would He want you to live in bondage?

No child of the King should ever be beating themselves up over something or calling themselves worthless. To do so is a sin against both God and yourself. Everything has already been forgiven by the One whose opinion matters.

Consider this aspect of the cross for a moment: Jesus was on it only once. One sacrifice for all sins, for your entire life, and for everyone who believes in Him.

Not only does this mean you’re forgiven no matter how many times you’ve messed up, it means that God isn’t looking for evidence against you. If He was, He wouldn’t have to look for very long and just one sin would doom us for eternity. He’s not looking to harm you; He sent His Son to die to save you.

Right now, think of the very worst thing you have ever done in your life. However painful it is to think of, however horrible and despicable it was, concentrate on it for a moment. Now realize that according to God, that never happened, that your sin has been washed away and you are free. When God looks at you, He sees someone as spotless as His Son. Is it more than you deserve? Without question. Is it more than you could ever hope to repay? Absolutely. Is it still yours just for the asking? Yes.

There is conviction when we sin, a feeling of guilt that drives us to repentance. Once you have repented, though, there should be no more shame. To say that shame should remain is to say that Jesus’ blood is strong enough to wash out only part of the sin, that He can wash away the spiritual effects, but not the emotional ones. He died so you could be completely free, not just partially free.

If you’re holding a grudge against yourself, you’re saying that your life has been messed up by your actions or inactions past the point of God’s ability to restore you. Not only is sin an indictment of a lack of faith in God, but so is unforgiveness. It takes realizing that God can fix anything for you to be able to truly forgive yourself.

It’s not easy to forgive yourself of your sins, but what is much harder for most people is realizing Jesus died to free them from their missed opportunities as well.

Most people have that one person in their life that they’ve had a really deep crush on yet never pursued or that one opportunity they knew they should have gone for but didn’t. It’s a horrible feeling looking back on it because you always wonder what could have been had things been just a little different, if you had said or done something a different way or at a better time or if you had been bolder.

For me, the one that got away was the opportunity to go to my first-choice college. I ended up at another school instead, where I was offered a floor leadership position my freshman year if I’d move to a different floor. It was a rare honor, but I declined, not even knowing why I said no.

I became friends with a guy on my floor who eventually got me a job in Virginia, where I was blessed with enough money to pursue writing as a career. Had I moved off, it’s unlikely he and I would ever have become friends, so I wouldn’t have gotten that job and likely wouldn’t have made as much money in any job I did find.

By passing up one opportunity, God opened another, which led me down the path He wanted me to take to get where I am today. I certainly made some decisions along the way that were outside His will, but He knew the decisions I would make and planned things to bring me where He wanted me anyway. All of the other opportunities I passed up and all the ones I should have passed up but didn’t weren’t enough to take me from His plan for my life. I don’t know how things would have worked out had I gone to the other school or moved off the floor, but I know now God had a plan for me that whole time.

Think about the one that got away from you, be it a person, job, or other opportunity. Now realize that you’re idealizing it in your head. You don’t know what would have happened in 99% of the cases and in the very small chance you do, you don’t know that it would have been better off for you. Most lottery winners are back at their jobs with no money in less than two years. No person you’ve set your eyes on is perfect. And every job comes with its bad days. The certainty is that if it is not in God’s will, it will lead you to a worse place than He would.

Even if that thing you wanted was as good as you’d imagined, your life with it would still be worse for you in the end than if you had followed God’s will for you. Why? Because God’s will has something that nothing else does: more of God.

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Analysis Paralysis

I have a friend in Virginia who has a very difficult time making decisions if she’s presented with more than three or four options. She calls it “analysis paralysis.” She starts thinking about all the things that will happen with each decision and what she’d lose by not going with the others and just keeps cycling through without being able to make up her mind. 

I have something similar, only mine works backwards. I keep thinking about all the decisions in my life and how it seems the vast majority of them have been wrong. For example, I could have invested in Amazon back when it was losing money every quarter. A lot of people thought that Internet sales were the next big thing, myself included, but I thought Wal-mart would take over or there’d be another company that did the same thing as Amazon, only better. I thought their business model must not be very good to have lost money every quarter but one in their history. With their meteoric rise, I’ve been kicking myself since, telling myself I could have gotten it for less than $50 in 2008 and as of now, it’s worth $339.04. I could have invested in Google or Apple, too, but I didn’t see how Google would make enough money and thought Apple products were only for graphic artists. I keep telling myself I could have been rich, and I would be if only I were smarter. There are a few problems with this:

1. I don’t know for certain what would have happened had I made a different decision. Let’s say I had invested in Amazon. If I had been able to make nearly seven times as much as I put in within just six years, I probably would have been able to buy a small home, perhaps in Virginia, which would have made it difficult to leave there when God called me to Colorado. If I hadn’t bought a home in Virginia, I would have almost certainly gotten one when I got married, which would have made moving to Houston when He called us here much harder. In all of these missed opportunities, God has a purpose. Even if I hadn’t bought a home and we just moved here with a good chunk of money, I don’t know where our other decisions would have led us, but those decisions affect who we meet, whether we’re in a car accident, where I look for jobs, and a host of other things.

2. I analyze only what I missed out on. It’s human nature to look only at what you could have gotten and totally forget about what you missed unless it’s blindingly obvious. We hear a few stories about people who couldn’t get to the airport on time and the flight they were supposed to be on crashed. Most of the time, though, we look at the stock we should have bought, the woman we should have asked out, the life decision that would have worked out beautifully. Are there times we miss out on opportunities through fear, laziness, bad attitudes, etc.? Yes, but we don’t know how they would have worked out and there are some awful decisions we’ve avoided as well. Were you ever tempted to invest in a stock that later tanked? Did you miss out on a job with a company that went under? Did you not date someone and then find out later they had a screw loose? Be fair in your analysis. You’ll likely find that most of the results of your decisions lie somewhere between awesome and horrible, meaning that you’ve missed out on as much bad as good.

3. I’m analyzing decisions by their results, rather than by my decision-making process. If I skip work one day and buy a Powerball ticket and win, was skipping work a good decision? Most of us would answer “yes” pretty emphatically. I would disagree. It’s a decision that worked out exceptionally well, but that doesn’t make it a good decision. Likewise, if I went to work as normal and got t-boned by someone who ran a red light, that doesn’t make going to work a bad decision. A decision should be analyzed by the information I had available at the time, my thought process to arrive at my decision, and how much of my decision was based on logical reasoning rather than on impulsive emotions. When I decided to marry Leah, I took care to separate reasoning from emotion as far as I could. I thought about our fit together with personality, attraction, opinions on major subjects, interests, etc. I knew I loved her, but I wouldn’t have married her if I could not reasonably see long-term love rather than a love that lasts just a couple years. 

4. Endless analysis keeps me from forgiving myself. This is perhaps the most important one. We’re commanded to forgive; if we don’t, we won’t be forgiven. (Matthew 6:15) This includes forgiving ourselves. Forgiving yourself is probably one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do, yet it is also one of the most necessary. Everyone makes mistakes, plenty of them. Even those people whom you look at and wonder how their lives got so perfect have made their share and continue to make more. You’ll make more mistakes in the future. Just don’t dwell on them. Dwelling on them puts fear in your heart of making any more changes or decisions and prevents you from being able to analyze new opportunities. Let your past decisions go and just move on. Staring at the past won’t change it any more than hoping for a better future without working for it will make it happen. 

This post is mostly for myself. I’ve been struggling with all of these lately, fretting about frittering away so many opportunities to provide for my wife and the family we want to have. I don’t know what’s going to come in the future. All I know is that worrying about the past won’t help me to the future I want or, more importantly, the future God wants me to have.