Forgiveness has so many facets, and Fiona Lloyd touches on one we often overlook. I love her thoughts in this post, and invite you to take a moment to read and ponder.
There’s a woman at my church who really gets on my nerves. It’s not that she deliberately sets out to antagonise me: in fact, I know she means well. If I wrote a list of the ways she offends me, you’d probably think I’m overreacting. But when she admits she’s failed (yet again) to follow through on a promise to pray for someone, or confesses she’s missed another opportunity to share her faith, I can’t help cringing inside. I know I should be forgiving, but all too often, critical phrases jostle for attention at the forefront of my mind, leaving little space for gracious words.
If at this point you’re tempted to pull up the comments box and offer a timely reminder about specks and planks, please bear with me. In case you haven’t guessed – and at the risk of being self-indulgent – this irritating individual I find it so difficult to forgive is me.
Why is it that we can read and understand Jesus’ words about the need to forgive one another, but fail to apply this to ourselves? However offensive the actions of others towards us, we generally accept that Jesus meant exactly what he said in this regard – even if the reality feels harder than attempting Everest in roller-skates! But somehow, the need to extend the same abundant grace to ourselves doesn’t register. We agonise over simple mistakes and clumsily-spoken words. We clutter our thinking with regrets and what ifs, beating ourselves up over what might-have-been, if only we hadn’t been such a pathetic example of what it means to follow Jesus.
For the last few years, I’ve picked a word to focus on for the year, based on the book My One Word, by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen. In 2016, my word was beloved. I have to confess I felt intimidated by this word. In my prayer times, I dropped unsubtle hints to God that maybe He would like to give me an alternative. I did my best to consider other options; mostly pro-active words (such as honour or serve) that would allow me the opportunity to be more self-critical. But it was no use: beloved clung to me like a stray piece of sticky tape.
For the first couple of months, I kept my word at arms’ length. I knew in my head that I was – and still am – a beloved daughter of God, but allowing that truth to take up residence in my heart was far too threatening. I struggle with making myself vulnerable, and acknowledging that I was His beloved would require me to dismantle the barbed-wire fence of self-criticism I had constructed over many years as a protective mechanism.
The challenge of my word was that in taking it seriously, I had to learn to listen afresh to what God thinks about me, rather than clinging to my own blinkered perspective. All too often, my names for myself run along the lines of failure, no-hoper and misfit; but God calls me beloved, acceptable and included. Furthermore, He tells me I am forgiven. He’s aware all the times I’ve wandered off and ignored Him. He sees the minor slip-ups and the whopping great messes that are far too embarrassing to share in a blog post. He knows it all, and He still delights in me. His forgiveness is not based on my ability (or otherwise) to earn his approval, but on His tremendous love for me; a love that sent Jesus to sacrifice Himself in my place.
So, if God finds it easy to forgive me, why should I persist in condemning myself? It’s a slow process, but I’m learning to reject the harsh words that spring to mind whenever I get things wrong. And in choosing to receive God’s forgiveness, I am also taking the decision to forgive and accept myself. I’m starting to feel more at ease with the notion of being God’s beloved. The ugly names I’ve called myself in the past have (mostly) lost their power – and I’m convinced that every time I opt for forgiveness rather than self-loathing, their grip loosens a little more.
Lewis B Smedes once wrote: To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. Forgiving one another is a vital part of the Christian life; but to fully experience the freedom Jesus offers, we must also learn to forgive ourselves.
Fiona Lloyd lives in Leeds with her husband, where she pretends not to mind that her three children have grown up and are moving on. She spends her working days teaching violin in local schools, and her spare time doing as much writing as she can get away with. She worships at her local Baptist church, and is a member of the worship-leading team. Fiona blogs at fjlloyd.wordpress.com, and you can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. She is vice-chair of the Association of Christian Writers.